Shimla, May 3 (IANS) The water crisis in the Himachal Pradesh capital, which virtually left the residents high and dry last summer, is turning out to be a major poll issue this time with people literally chanting “tears, tears everywhere, but not a drop of water to drink”.
Locals say the parliamentary elections are generally fought on national issues, but when the day-to-day existence is under crisis there is no harm in raking up such issues with those who are going to be your voice in Parliament.
Shimla for the first time in its history saw an unprecedented water crisis resulting in widespread protests and even marches to the Chief Minister’s residence at midnight.
“Last year’s nightmares are still fresh in our minds. Despite the BJP government at helm both in the state and the Centre, nothing concrete plan to argument water supply to the town has come to the forth,” R.S. Negi, a retired government employee, told IANS.
He and his friends will question candidates of both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress about their plans to ensure regular distribution of potable water for nearly 200,000 residents.
Octogenarian Ramesh Sud, who was born and brought up in Shimla, said national security is not an issue for them.
“For the BJP it may be all about the national security. But for people of Shimla, it is about the issue of inadequate water supply and lack of parking that is affecting day-to-day life. Both need an immediate action plan from the Centre,” Sud added.
Last year, water-starved residents had turned to social media campaigns, asking tourists to stay away from the northern India’s famed hill resort during the peak holiday season.
Civic body officials blame the water shortage to leaks in the distribution network, a significant portion of which dates from British times, and diminishing natural water resources due to over-exploitation.
The water crisis is also leaving the hoteliers high and dry.
They expect a heavy rush of tourists as life in the plains of northern India start becoming unbearable with the rise in mercury.
Shimla, known for wooded deodars and Raj-style structures, supports more than 450 hotels, restaurants and guesthouses.
Most of the prominent hoteliers buy a 13,000-litre water tanker for Rs 4,000 from private suppliers every day during the peak tourist season.
“Our expectation from our MP (Member of Parliament) is to get a financial package from the union tourism ministry to revive the ailing industry,” D.P. Bhatia, Liaison Officer with Shimla-based Oberoi Group of hotels, told IANS.
“We have water shortage problem and lack of air and road connectivity,” he said.
Adding to the woes of commuters is the ongoing four-laning of the 88-km stretch that connects Shimla and Parwanoo as cutting of slopes has been on for over three years.
According to tourism industry representatives, Shimla gets 20,000-30,000 tourists on an average every weekend during the peak season — from May to June and November to January.
Local legislator Suresh Bhardwaj, who also holds a cabinet berth in the Jai Ram Thakur-led government, told IANS the Chaba scheme to augment water supply to Shimla would be operational within a fortnight.
With this, the daily water availability would improve by 10 million litres per day (MLD) and this is a big achievement to avert the water crisis, he added.
Additional Chief Secretary Srikant Baldi, who presided over a water conservation meeting here last week, said an inter-departmental task force would be constituted to conserve water.
Initially work will be started in three catchment areas of the Ashwani Khud, Gumma and the Noti Khud, all located in Shimla’s catchment.
He said as advised by Rajendra Singh, who has undertaken extensive water conservation efforts in Rajasthan, to set up check dams for water management would be implemented in the state.
Himachal Pradesh’s economy is highly dependent on tourism, besides hydroelectric power and horticulture.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at [email protected])