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Shimla grapples with water crisis as Giri river, a British era source dries up

Giri river dries up, causing water crisis in Shimla (Image Courtesy: Twitter/@thebetterindia)

A prolonged heatwave in the north and temperature staying above 26-47 degrees C in Delhi –the national capital, makes Shimla definitely a most favored hill station to escape the unprecedented heat. But it is time to check the availability of water before you pack your bags.

There is barely enough water to quench the thirst of the town, which hasn’t yet forgotten the worst-ever drinking water crisis in 2018 when Himachal’s state capital went without water for eight days.

After two years of pandemic and lockdown, which did not see the arrival of the tourists or hotels reporting zero occupancies, Shimla’s water crisis did not make any headlines.

But with the town turning into a full house of tourists –occupancy almost bordering the 100 percent mark at weekends,  taps are going dry. Even ministerial bungalows, upscale residential colonies, and institutional areas like the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) can escape the acute water crisis.

To alleviate the problem somewhat, water rationing has been introduced on alternate days when the water supply will be functional for fixed hours. But over the past 15 days, maintaining this schedule has been a tough ask.

The core problem is more complex, and it is rooted in the river systems that feed Shimla, once summer capital of the British.

“The rivers have dried –up .There is not enough water at all six sources feeding Shimla.The availability of water at Giri river –a source providing bulk water is down from 18 MLD to 13 MLD. Gumma, the most reliable and dependent source for Shimla since the  British era ,has 60 percent less water “ says the Principal Secretary Urban Development.

Of the total 46.75 MLD installed capacity of water, Shimla is currently getting only 32 MLD of water of which 16.85 MLD is available from Gumma against 21 MLD .Other sources like Koti Brandi ,Churat ,Chairh and Seog catchment have also just limited water availability .Officials admit that if there are no rains in next one week, the crisis will deepen further .

Neelam Sharma , a teacher at APG Shimla university told India Narrative: “ Though things are not as bad as 2018 ,when not a drop of water was available for eight days, yet scarcity has definitely created a lot of fears .The authorities are not sticking to fixed supply scheme .That really upsets the household—cooking, washing and  bathing.”

The hoteliers are also complaining about non-availability of sufficient water on the given schedule announced for rationing .The room occupancy being high pushes for a higher demand of water for the tourists paying the rents, or availing services.

Prince Kukreja, a leading hotelier informs that they have hired water tankers to bring water to the hotels, almost paying between Rs 3000 to Rs 3,500 per trip. Had there been sufficient water ,we could have avoided this extra expense.

Most of the hotel chains now have their own water tankers to fill-up their storage tanks .

Former Shimla Mayor Sanjay Chauhan, who is a frequent social media user to highlight civic issues, blames it on Satluj Jal Prabandhan Nigam  (SJPN)  –an agency created to exclusively handle the water supply in the town after the 2018 crisis .

“ There is no line of command. No planning and no accountability. Some of the top officials, who were manning the things efficiently, have been shunted –out of the body to bring in a few favourites having no idea about the system of water supply in Shimla. The whole issue of distribution .Several localities are getting water on the sixth day” he alleges .

 The water crisis in Shimla has been going on for the last 20 days and there is no immediate solution in sight, the authorities say and attribute the crisis to climate change conditions .Till ,there is no rain , the situation is unlikely to improve , admits a senior SJPN official .

In the past two decades, Shimla’s population has grown exponentially,  and demand for water is almost 60 -70 percent high. The population of Shimla has already exceeded the 2.60 lakh mark and there is a daily footfall of 20,000 to 25,000 tourists in the town .

The reckless felling of trees to raise new buildings –including government and private colonies , in the most unplanned manner has created serious problems for the Shimla Municipal Corporation to provide enough water .

This is despite the fact that more than 20 MLD of additional water was added to the capacity and old pipes, laid during the British time, were also replaced in 2017-18 to check wastage of water.

Reduction of water at natural sources viz rivers ,springs and rivulets have led to deepening of the water crisis. Prolong heatwaves ,burning of the forests and soaring temperature ,apart from depletion of forests have aggravated the crisis of water in hill towns like Shimla, Manali ,Kullu ,Dharamshala ,Nahan and Solan .

“The water stress in urban Himalayas is the biggest area of concern . It ‘s due to a combination of factors. Drying-up of the rivers, natural water sources , abandoning of traditional sources like boulis , mismanagement of distribution networks are some of them. Climate change has emerged as a force multiplier as it further puts stress on the system” claims Ankur Chauhan , a Shimla native.  

Also Read: India’s merciless heat wave smashes into Shimla — Himachal’s fragile ecosystem now under threat

Braving forest fires of Himachal – the inspiring story of Raveena Chauhan