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With civic body polls round the corner, politics over Shimla's water woes heats up

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 1 April 2017, 15:39 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

Shimla – the former British summer capital and the Queen of the Hills – is reeling under water scarcity. And it is not even summers yet when thousands of tourists flock this town on daily basis.

The issue is all set to take the centre stage in the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) polls that are due in a couple of months and would set the tone for the Assembly polls later this year. As expected, politicking around the issue has picked up with charges and counter-charges flying all around.

Locals point out that the scenario is such that the so-called VIP localities are getting water every third day while others are getting water every fifth day and the supply lasts barely an hour.

“We are getting water almost after a week. Even managing daily affairs has become a problem. We have to purchase water from a tanker by paying Rs 450 for 1,500 litres,” said a resident of Jutogh village at the tip of the town.

While water scarcity is a routine affair in the town for the last several years, the prediction of a long and harsh summer and its early onset has put the residents on tenterhooks. All this has set the stage for politics over water in a big way.

Water politics

Earlier this week, local BJP workers, led by MLA Suresh Bhardwaj, held a demonstration by beating empty vessels. They accused local authorities of a lack of coordination and mismanagement.

Reports say that after suspension of water supply from Ashwani Khud, the availability of water was reduced by seven to eight million litres daily (MLD). Earlier the supply was hit due to the interruption in the power supply from 6 to 18 January.

This was followed by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh directing the Irrigation and Public Health (IPH) department officials to immediately restore water supply from the Giri scheme. Presiding over a meeting of officials from the IPH department and electricity along with SMC, the CM said action will be taken against those who have failed to plug leakages and overflow of the water tanks.

He directed IPH officials to complete the work on the Rs 105-crore Garoh-Gandal water supply scheme in the Shimla rural Assembly segment by mid-April to cater to a population of around 75,000 in 41 panchayats.

It was reportedly informed that the town has a total requirement of 44 MLD within the limits of the SMC and four MLD outside SMC limits. With the repair of the Giri rising main pipe, around five MLD to six MLD of the total water supply should increase. 

In the pipeline

SMC mayor Sanjay Chauhan and deputy mayor Tikender Panwar, both of whom are from the CPM, have pointed that the SMC is doing its best to address the problem and the situation will improve soon. They added that Ashwani Khud supply that catered to 25% of requirement has been frozen because of contamination. The water is being lifted from Koti Brandi which is able to provide just 20% of the total need.

“The SMC is aware of the challenges and has initiated efforts to augment supply from other sources. It is because of this that the SMC has allowed spending of nearly Rs100 crores for complete rejuvenation of water pipelines, replacing old pumps and refurbishing the water tanks. This has started pouring result and augmentation of Giri water supply has been successfully tested.”

It has taken over seven months for the replacement work of laying over 2,000 metres of pipeline.

“The SMC would like to point out that Giri was installed and commissioned in 2008 by the then government and right since its inception it was underutilised as the water leakage ranged from 50 to 60%. It was the wisdom of the present SMC that the money was transferred and work was started after water lifting was stopped from Ashwani Khud. This initiative of the SMC will ease out the water problem but would not completely mitigate the woes as there is a huge gap between the supply and demand of water,” Chauhan and Panwar said.

They have pointed that while the total demand ranges between 45 MLD to 50 MLD, the city gets not more than 35 MLD. The SMC is working to get the World Bank support to lift water from Sunni which will should be able to address the water woes of the city.

Chauhan and Panwar criticised the state government for creating a mess of affairs in the water supply system pointing out how the IPH kept its eyes closed and worked with underutilised capacity showing callousness.

“Both the BJP and the Congress have been successively in power since 2000 but none of them have been instrumental in addressing the water woes and have instead stuck to their crouched politics. It is because of this reason that such a natural immaculate water stream (Ashwani Khud), that was functional since 1994, was contaminated by the construction of a sewerage treatment plant (STP) on top of this stream,” they said.

Both these Left leaders have reiterated the commitment of the SMC to provide potable water to the city residents pointing out that the water supplied is being tested by different agencies. The tests are being conducted by the Indira Gandhi Medical College's (IGMC) the high-quality microbiology labs and complete transparency is being maintained as these tests are all up on the website.

Poll prep

The SMC polls are scheduled to be held in two months. SMC is one of the oldest civic bodies of the country that was established way back in 1851. The upcoming polls will see the number of elected members go up to 34, from last time's 25, after fresh delimitation. Apart from the Congress and the BJP, the Left also has a strong presence at the local level.

Never having won the SMC polls, it was the BJP government in 2010, under Prem Kumar Dhumal, who had brought about an amendment in the law to elect the mayor and deputy mayor directly.

Observers say that this was done with the view that the BJP could wrest these seats with ease. But both the Congress and the BJP were in for a shock when the people chose two CPM leaders for the post.

Among the other elected members 12 were from BJP, 10 from the Congress and three from the CPM.

Once again the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government amended the law to the effect of choosing both the mayor and deputy mayor indirectly from among the elected representatives.

It was in April 2014 that the state Assembly passed the Bill clearing indirect elections for the posts of the mayor and deputy mayor in Shimla along with chairmen and vice-chairmen of municipal committees in Dharamsala,Solan,Mandi,Kullu and Nahan.

Observers say that despite the little strength of their party in the house, both Chauhan and Panwar have done a good job and have tried to provide a good and clean administration.

Veteran CPM leader Subhashini Ali in a write up in a vernacular daily had praised the SMC's efforts, taken under the leadership of Chauhan and Panwar, for providing clean public toilets, particularly for women.

She has pointed that the SMC has built 20 new toilets having adequate power, water and cleanliness while renovating 123 old ones and placed Shimla higher than Mumbai on this parameter.

First published: 1 April 2017, 15:39 IST