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July 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         June 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:May' 2018


A fallout of reckless development

Rakesh Lohumi

India’s colonial era hill station, Shimla, grabbed international attention this summer for an unprecedented water crisis. Environmentalists drew parallels with Cape Town, South Africa’s most affluent metropolis which faced extreme shortage of water early this year, raising global concerns over the threat to water security. There are good reasons for the world community to be worried as the acute water scarcity in the two cities is largely being seen as an unmistakable pointer to the impeding global crisis.

Shimla and many other hill stations provide perfect examples how flawed policies and “environmentally destructive” model of development being pursued by successive governments, irrespective of party in power, affect the quality of life. The severe degradation of environment being caused due to increasing human activity in the ecologically fragile Himalayan region, particularly in relatively more developed states like Himachal, has now started taking its toll. The impact is discernible in the escalating water crisis, declining snow and rain, fluctuating and dwindling apple production, wanton deforestation and spurt in landslides.

The fact that the hills have a limited carrying capacity due to topographical constraints has been completely ignored. The true value and importance of forests is in maintaining the mountain ecosystems, which yield fresh water and clean air, has also been overlooked. Reckless and excessive urbanisation has transformed lush green hills into veritable concrete jungles. The hills have been burdened beyond their carrying capacity. Consequently, the natural sources of water like springs and streams, which sustain life in the hills, are not being recharged adequately. Large chunks of population in the state face water scarcity every summer as sources virtually dry up with discharge dropping to a trickle.

The fact that the Giri Lift Water Supply Scheme(commissioned in 2009), which was designed to ensure adequate water for the next 25 years, failed to meet the demand for even 10 years reflected poor planning.

If Cape Town drove home the point that a global water crisis is much closer as never before, Shimla provided a glimpse of the fate that awaits the dwellers of Himalayan region. The problem of water scarcity was not confined to the erstwhile British summer capital alone, it extended to rural areas and officially 1481 drinking water supply schemes out of the total 9,590 schemes in the state were either critically affected or partially affected. People in the neighbouring Uttrakhand, Nepal, Sikkim and other regions of the Himalayas are also facing water shortage.

Cheif Minister Ram Thakur The shortage of water during peak summer has been a regular feature in Shimla in recent years due to increase in demand and decline in discharge of natural sources of water which cater to the needs of the city. The residents were being provided water on alternate days for the past many years and even during periods of acute shortages water supplied after a gap of two or three days at worst. However, during the current summer tap remained dry in a majority of localities for eight to ten days as the problem was aggravated due to inequitable distribution. The people were forced to stage protests against the failure of the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) and the government to effectively deal with the crisis.

The government has now planned a new Rs 774 crore world bank-funded scheme to lift 55 MLD Sutlej water from Kol Dam. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has directed officials to fast-track water supply projects.

The gravity of situation can be judged from the fact the residents of the famous destination, which plays host to lakhs of tourists every summer, posted appeals in the social media urging visitors not to come to the city in view of extreme water crisis. Schools and colleges had to be closed and even restaurant without water. In many localities water was supplied through tankers.

The availability of fresh water from natural sources has been declining but this summer the discharge plummeted at the very onset due to lack of snow during winter and a deficient monsoon last year. The city requires 44 MLD (million litres per day) but the availability declined to 36 MLD in the first week of May and dropped to 22 MLD over the next two weeks. This disruption of power supply and excessive silt due to spells of rain made things worse.

While availability of fresh water has been declining, the demand has been increasing due to sharp increase in population. As per the 2011 Census, the population of the city is 1.80 lakh but the actual number of people residing within the municipal area is around 2.80 lakh. There is an additional influx of 50,000 to 75,000 tourists during peak season when availability of water from various dwindles due to decline in discharge.

The fact that the Giri Lift Water Supply Scheme(commissioned in 2009), which was designed to ensure adequate water for the next 25 years, failed to meet the demand for even 10 years reflected poor planning.

To make things worse the successive regimes allowed large scale unauthorised constructions and brought policies to regularise them. They showed no interests in enforcing the orders of the High Court and the National Green Tribunal and virtually gave a free run to builders. Only a drive demolish illegal constructions on the pattern of one carried out in Kasuali on the order of the Supreme Court can restore the majesty of law.

Not surprisingly, Mayor Kususm Sadret cited environmental reasons stating that discharge in most of the sources declined in April itself as the region had little snow during winter. Problem of low voltage and frequent spells of hailstorms also affected supply as pumping had to be suspended due to excessive silt the streams. also disrupts pumping of water.

Sanjay Karol However, Sanjay Chauhan a former Mayor of the SMC asserted that problem was aggravated due mismanagement which led to irregular and inequitable distribution. He said 32 MLD to 35 MLD is enough to supply every alternate day and even if availability drops to 25 MLD water can be supplied after a gap of two days, people going without water for six to 8 days was unprecedented. The VIP residential areas continued to get water regularly in abundance and that has been the main reason for the public protests, he added.

As situation continued to worsen, the High Court took notice and issued a string of directions to the government and the SMC to ensure equitable distribution. It ordered disconnection of water supply to 224 hotels and guest houses which defaulted on payment of water bills and to block the connections given to influential persons from the main pipeline. The court also made it clear to the SMC that there should be no preferential treatment to ministers, judges, bureaucrats and VIPs in supply of water through tankers and imposed a temporary ban on construction activity and washing of cars and other such activities which required large quantity of water.

Chief Justice Sanjay Karol himself closely monitored the situation during the peak of crisis and even went around the city during night to see the ground reality. It did help in toning up the functioning of various concerned agencies and ensuring a fair distribution of meagre quantity of water available.

The government has now planned a new Rs 774 crore World Bank-funded scheme to lift 55 MLD Sutlej water from Kol Dam. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur reviewed the situation and directed officials to fasttrack water supply projects. He said efforts were on to lift additional 10 MLD of water from Gumma, Ashwani Khud and Giri river sources. Besides, nine more tanks with a storage capacity of 17 MLD of water would be constructed.