Vol. XLIII No. 11 March 17, 2019

Water Crisis in Himachal Pradesh

Onkar Shad

LESS snow and rainfall and now dry hot weather has created a water crisis in the state of Himachal Pradesh. In 30 villages, there is an acute crisis of water. In Shimla city, it has reached a dire situation.

There are two reasons for the present crisis. The first one being natural – as the impact of climate change is evident. Less snow and rains which reduced the water level at the water sources, is the principal reason for the present crisis. Secondly, the BJP government has completely failed to manage the water distribution in the state. There is either massive leakage or a tanker mafia is playing the shots. This is happening as the department responsible for water lifting and distribution, the IPH, has very less employees. There are over 18,000 vacant posts. This shortage of staff is effecting the management of water. A water guard is kept for a radius of 3-5 km who gets paltry sum of Rs 1,500 per month. Fitter, lineman, supervisors and junior engineers are very minimal. The strength of the working staff has been reduced owing to neo-liberal policies. The finance commission is mounting pressure to reduce the strength of the employees further.  There is no regular recruitment. In the state, water tanks and pipes are leaking at many places because of which water gets leaked and wasted. The conditions are deteriorating day by day.

In the Shimla city, water is being distributed after 8-10 days. The BJP had promised the people in their election manifesto to provide 24 hours water supply. In the last 50 years, this is for the first time that the crisis has so deepened. Though the city is getting 23 million litres per day (MLD) of water, still the water is not being supplied on alternate days. The BJP led municipal corporation has completely failed to manage the water distribution. Even the government has failed. A committee led by the chief secretary has been formed. The report of the committee is awaited.

Ashwani Khad which is one of the source to supply water to Shimla was stopped in 2015 by CPI(M) led municipal corporation. More than 30 people had died because of jaundice. At that time the city was being supplied 18-20 MLD water and the residents used to get water on alternate days. Now the city is getting 23 MLD of water but the people are getting water after 8-10 days. The management under the BJP has utterly failed. The water is being supplied to big hotels and real estate mafia in the city. The tanker owners are being benefitted.

The people are very anguished with the present mess. The advocates struck work in the HP High Court on May 28 and boycotted the court. People went to the CM’s residence at midnight and protested. Tankers are being run under police guard.

The CPI(M) picketed the office of the mayor, deputy mayor and the commissioner. It is unfortunate that  people are suffering from water crisis but the elected representatives were out from office. The speakers demanded immediate resignation of the mayor and the deputy mayor who have utterly failed in their responsibility. The VIP colonies however are getting water regularly and there is no complaint from such areas. The speakers further indicted the municipal corporation for supplying tankers to big hotels at midnight. The CPI(M) has also demanded action against the officials who were responsible for supplying sewer mixed water in a few localities. An FIR should be registered against such officials. But the government is silent over it and is even planning to lift water from Ashwani Khad which is highly contaminated.

The city is getting near 23 MLD of water daily. Whereas for a population of 2,00,000 with an average demand of 125 LPCD, the total requirement should be 25 MLD. This means that on alternate days the supply can be easily made. But people are getting water after 8-9 days.

The Shimla municipal corporation and the HP government are answerable to people. The mayor is in China and the deputy mayor does not pick up the phone. The local MLA of Shimla who is also the minister is not traceable. The officers do not inform as to when the water supply will resume.

The CPI(M) has also taken the police action on the agitating people seriously. Action should be initiated against those officials who have led this police action. Women activists were not spared and were injured in the police brutalities. These include Shally Sharma, CPI(M) councilor, Falma Chauhan, Rajni, Ruchika, and Aditi.

On the one hand, the BJP run municipal corporation is unable to provide water even after eight days, on the other the state government of the BJP is using police force to intimidate the protestors. It seems that there is an undeclared emergency in the city.

The CPI(M) has demanded that water should not be lifted from Ashwani Khad. The municipal corporation has tried to lift from the bore wells and the samples have not passed. There is a chance of an outbreak of jaundice once again. It also demanded that people should get water on a daily basis.