Ex mayor of Shimla on why the hill town is facing a major water crisis

Tikender Panwar
Tikender PanwarMay 30, 2018 | 14:19

Ex mayor of Shimla on why the hill town is facing a major water crisis

Over the last few days, a series of meetings have been held at the state secretariat of Shimla. All of them were chaired by Jairam Thakur, the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. The sole reason for holding these meetings is the accentuating water crisis in Shimla, the state capital which also happens be a popular tourist destination.


The accountability for the current crisis lies squarely with the BJP because not only is the party in power in the state but is also in command of the Municipal Corporation Shimla.


A year ago, when the BJP won the municipal elections, it promised to provide water on daily basis to the city. But the serpentine queues formed to collect water in the city show how the BJP has failed to deliver on its promises.

By the civic body's own admission, water is being distributed once in eight days in some localities, while in others it is once in 10 days. What this means is that the administration is able to provide water just thrice in a month. The institutions have miserably failed to either comprehend the situation or effectively manage the crisis. Even three days of regular meetings chaired by the chief minister have not cut much ice. The people continue to face the crisis and as a result are forced to fetch water from the adjoining natural sources (bauris) which are highly contaminated.

What brought the crisis?

The Shimla city gets its water supply from five main sources. These are Gumma, Giri, Ashwini Khad, Churat and Seog. The overall installed capacity is 65 million litres per day (MLD). The demand in the city is approximately 45 MLD. The figures would suggest that the installed capacity is far beyond the requirement and there should be no reason for the scarcity.


Despite the installed capacity being high in reality the city never gets more than 35 MLD on an average throughout the year. More than 50 per cent is lost in leakages. This leakage takes place at both the pumping and distribution stages.

The only time a serious effort was made to check the leakages from Giri, Gumma and Ashwinin Khad was when the corporation was run by the CPI(M) from 2012-17. The Giri scheme has an installed capacity of 20 MLD whereas not more than 8 MLD was being pumped. When the 2-km-long pipeline was changed, Giri was able to supply over 20 MLD.

Another major problem is the contaminated water in Ashwini Khad. This source, which is one of the best, got contaminated in 2005 when a sewage treatment plant (STP) in Malyana was constructed just 5km upstream.

Since then there have been periodic episodes of hepatitis in the city.

Since 2007, people have been getting infected with this virus and many have even died. The previous municipal corporation (2012-17) stopped lifting water from Ashwinin Khad. This source was able to meet the requirements of 25 per cent of the city's population. Stopping water lift from this source is a major challenge as this cannot be compensated even by an increase from Giri. At present, not more than 2-3 MLD of water is being pumped into the city from Ashwinin Khad. The corporation has to take this challenge seriously because if it insists on lifting water from this source then the chances of outbreak of hepatitis loom large. If they do not then the persisting crisis would further deepen. There has to be a proper mechanism to deal with this source.



The third reason for the deepening of the crisis is that there are over 50 sources in and around the city which are run and operated by the irrigation and public health department (IPH) of the state government. The IPH has virtually stopped lifting water from these sources on the pretext that these are contaminated. This has further mounted burden on the civic body to ensure that water is supplied even to such areas which are not under its jurisdiction.

The present corporation run by the BJP is completely callous and the management is very poor. The elected council is not only apathetic to people's needs but also does not have the experience of running a city.

Shimla's corporation has traditionally been run either by the Congress or the CPI(M). The BJP got elected in 2017.

It is also believed that the BJP leadership wants the situation to further deteriorate so that there is a ground to privatise the water supply.

Is climate change also a reason?

Believe it or not but the impact of climate change has been profound on Shimla's water supply system. The winters were by and large dry. The average rainfall was 80 per cent deficient. It rained in March and April. But retention of water in these months is very less. The sources of water have gone 50 per cent below their average. It must be noted that Shimla uses only surface water for its needs. Over a period, the impact of climate change is manifesting itself.

The city is witnessing less snow and more rain. But the period of rainfall isn't long enough. It means that there is less retention of water through the natural water ecosystem and more flooding as rain comes in torrents.

Such water cannot be harvested.

The overall building plan in the city is also a matter of concern. What is needed are more embankments so that the flow of the water is restricted and allowed to percolate and recharges numerous water bodies. But the infrastructure built for drains, houses etc is such water gushes fast and is hardly retained.

What is the alternative?

There has to be both immediate and long-term planning. In the short term, there must be proper monitoring and management. Proper distribution of water and checking of leakages must be done at war pace. The government offices and colonies - both the central and state - occupy almost 50 per cent of the land mass (minus forests) in Shimla city. It has to be made mandatory that at least the government offices ensure that they become resilient and ensure that they have 100 per cent rainwater harvesting in their offices and residential colonies. This planning is hardly there.


The Greater Shimla Water Supply and Sewage Circle (GSWSSC) must be strengthened for its autonomous functioning. The duality of water supply and distribution has ended. The strengthening of the GSWSSC will make it more accountable.

But this is not sufficient. The city requires to find another major source of water which is perennial. The growth of the city has been massive.

From a population of 30,000, the city has moved to over 2,00,000 people with over 1 lakh entering and leaving the city every day. The city also has more than 4 million (40 lakh) tourists visiting every year. Hence the present water sources cannot suffice.

The previous CPI(M)-run corporation was instrumental in signing a memorandum of understanding with the World Bank for lifting water from Koldam Dam. The plan is expected to ensure a water supply of at least 100 MLD.

This is almost three times of what the city gets right now. By now, the plan should have been in the execution stage. However, it is still being negotiated.

The BJP government has to take the initiative to ensure that the Koldam Dam scheme is executed at war pace.

There can be no excuses for not fixing Shimla's water supply. What is required is a cohesive strategy with a plan that has to be well executed and monitored. If this is not done, the city will soon see loss of people, jobs, and cause the economy dear. It is time for action.

Last updated: May 31, 2018 | 13:32
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