Shimla water crisis result of haphazard urbanisation and loss of natural water resources, say residents

Shimla: Shimla's story from having naturally occurring streams to suffering water shortages, is also the tale of indiscriminate constructions that have turned the old summer retreat of the British into a concrete jungle over the past few decades.

Not many people know that buried under the structures and layers of time, is the natural water recharging concept introduced by the British colonial rulers almost 150 years ago in their erstwhile summer capital.

People stand in a queue to collect water from a tanker, as Shimla faces acute shortage of drinking water. PTI

People stand in a queue to collect water from a tanker, as Shimla faces acute shortage of drinking water. PTI

This summer, for the first time in its history, Shimla saw an unprecedented water crisis resulting in widespread protests and even marches to the chief minister's residence at midnight.

Despite the High Court's day-to-day ‘Dos and Don'ts’ to ensure equal distribution of potable water supply for all the city’s citizens, water is still a luxury as it is being supplied once in 3-4 days for nearly 200,000 residents.

Rampant water shortage is forcing residents to lock their water tanks and the government to provide security to water supply employees.

Old-timers blame the water crisis on the loss of green cover and natural water streams and springs, due to unplanned urbanisation. Water experts say deficient snow during the past winter triggered drought-like conditions this season.

"Not only Shimla but also in its suburbs, all water sources have dried up," said long-time resident BD Sharma, who is also a former press secretary to the chief minister.

"I remember that there were a number of natural water resources about four decades ago which are not visible now. Some of them were at Combermere near the post office, the water of which was used by locals”. "The same thing happened to other water sources, which dried up due to haphazard constructions," said Sharma.

Octogenarian Hira Negi, who is born and brought up in Shimla, said the British ensured the protection of water sources by restricting human activity in the catchment areas and maintaining thick forest cover.

"The Britons had dug up several wells in Mount Jakhu (the highest peak in the city), where the snow is stored during the winter. The wells helped recharging the ground water, which enabled spouting of perennial springs in the peak summer.

"Where have those wells gone? All of them have been gobbled up by these huge multi-storied concrete structures in the past 3-4 decades. The water in the remaining natural bodies is contaminated and unfit for consumption," he added.

Similar is the fate of the Chadwick falls, deep inside the Glen Forests on the suburbs of Shimla, which disappeared silently.

"My brother and I went down the slopes in search of Chadwick Falls this summer, a spot from our parents’ memories," said Rajat Sharma, who works with a multinational company. "But after about a half hour of intense search, we felt completely tired. The fall of our memories was not there. One can attribute it to natural causes or reckless urbanisation."

As Shimla makes news for narrowly averting a Cape Town-like situation, water-starved residents turned to social media campaigns to ask the tourists to stay away from northern India's famed hill resort during the peak holiday season.

Members of the hospitality industry say over 50 percent of the bookings, at the height of its tourism season, have been cancelled this month and chances of their return are bleak.

But a state tourism department spokesperson said the influx of tourists is picking up gradually and a 20 percent increase in hotel bookings was witnessed in the first week of June.

Overall, water levels in India's major reservoirs are 10 percent lower than normal, whereas these are 50 percent deficient in Himachal Pradesh, a factsheet by Climate Trends said last week.

Its study also highlights that India's pre-monsoon season from March to May has seen 11 percent less rainfall than the average this year, third year in a row.

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Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 19:23 PM

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