Water shortage in the picturesque Shimla town has escalated to such an extent that a Shimla Municipal Corporation employee, who turns on the valves that control the water distribution network of the capital of Himachal Pradesh, is being guarded by the police
Water shortage in the picturesque Shimla town has escalated to such an extent that a Shimla Municipal Corporation employee, who turns on the valves that control the water distribution network of the capital of Himachal Pradesh, is being guarded by the police. This comes even as Himachal Pradesh government and the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) devised a three-pronged strategy to prevent future acute drinking water shortage in the city once fondly called as the “Queen of Hill Stations” by the British.
Allegations against keymen
Ram is one of the 62 keymen of the Shimla Municipal Corporation and is being guarded by four policemen and his work is being monitored by a Junior Engineer following allegations in the Himachal Pradesh High Court that these keymen were depriving commoners of water and favouring hoteliers and VIPs in the area. During a hearing on June 1, the High Court also remarked that they “hold the key”. The court said, “It is an open secret that the keyman is the key as far as the distribution of water to the… consumer is concerned. He is the first and the last person between the water available for distribution and the consumer. If he performs his duty honestly, prudently and skillfully, he can ensure equal distribution of water to all, but if a keyman happens to abuse his position, then the results can be disastrous.”
“The court is 101 per cent right. Keyman sabse pehle aate hain (The keyman comes first). Unlike towns in plains, which can be supplied from a single feeder, in hilly areas such as Shimla, every locality requires a system where supplies can be manually opened and shut depending on gravity,” says Ram said, adding that these days, people are “very, very angry”.
“Who wouldn’t be without water? But like the court said, we have to act in all fairness.” The High Court, which has been holding daily hearings on the water crisis, responded by ordering security to all keymen.
Steps taken by Himachal Pradesh government
Both the Himachal Pradesh government and the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) have swung into action after facing severe criticism following a major exodus of tourists from the hilly town, dealing a major financial blow on its revenue share. After facing rebuke from the Himachal Pradesh High Court, the state government deployed its Chief Secretary Vineet Chaudhary to personally supervise the situation and augment the drinking water supply to the town. “Due to persistent efforts, we have managed to restore the drinking water supply for the past three days. We have divided 34 wards of the town into three zones and water is being now supplied alternatively to each zones,” Chaudhary told PTI.
“We have devised a three-pronged strategy — short term, medium term and long term — to deal with the situation in the future. The water crisis in Shimla is not something new. It has happened in the past also because there is no permanent source of water,” the top official of the state, who is heading a high-level committee of officers from various departments to deal with the issue, said.
He said that a permanent solution would be there once over Rs 800 crore Kol Dam lift drinking water scheme comes into existence, which would supply 104 MLD of water to the capital city. “Our DIPR is ready for the project and are awaiting sanction from the World Bank which is likely to be done by next year,” Chaudhary said.
He said that for the medium term, in the catchment areas at the Gumma and the Giri river schemes in Shimla district, the state would encourage water harvesting structures and a plan has been worked out in this regard. “There was an issue of contamination of water in 2005 in the Ashwini Khad, which was one of the regular sources of around five MLDs of water to Shimla. Under the medium term plan, we have decided to install an Ultra Violet water treatment plant so that the water becomes consumable in Shimla,” he added.
Detailing the short term plans to deal with the aggravated water crisis, Chaudhary said that three wards in Shimla city will be selected under the pilot project and a new Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) computerised system will be installed for round-the-clock water supply in those areas. “Under the short term measures, we are also mapping the entire distribution network as it is a British era system so that leakages of around 3 MLDs will be plugged. An 8 km-long new pipeline will be laid to plug the three MLDs of water which is wasted into leakages,” he said.