Water Water Everywhere

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By: Varun Rattan Singh

Come summer’s and you are bound to find “Water water everywhere” especially if you happen to reside in Dev Bhoomi’s own capital Shimla. Well if by any chance you are thinking of owning an accommodation or travelling to hill station, kindly be aware that you will get into situation and think about “Water water everywhere”. As reader you are confused as to what I am trying to convey. Well I am talking about a city which once boasted of being the summer capital of India and today hosts one of the largest populations of tourists travelling to any destination in this country in summers. However the city as of today is running dry. So if you are honeymooner travelling to Shimla, you might get a rude shock at the hotel when staff at the reception tells you “Sir, there was no water supply last night so kindly use water cautiously” meaning you just have water for bare essentials.

Well without building any background I must confess that last week I was hit by absence of water in my place of residence in Shimla. So that led me to sit up and think of all the stories which started featuring in newspapers recently or the highly opinionated talk which I have been hearing in the social circles of the city. The whole discussion revolves around one particular issue and that is water. So here is an attempt to threadbare the whole issue behind water crisis in Shimla.

Most of the reports coming out in public, talk about the scarcity of water which is being attributed to 3 broad reasons. These are:

  • Increase in the population of the Shimla town
  • Increase in floating population of tourists visiting Shimla
  • No substantial water supply works added by the I&PH department or Municipal committee in last few years.

The population of Shimla has increased from 1, 29,827 persons in 1991 to 1, 74,789 in 2001, recording a decadal growth rate of 34.63 percent. The floating population of the city was 75000 as per 2001 census. So effectively at any point of time the population of the city stands at approximately 2,50,000 people. As per the assumptions made in the Shimla Development Plan the population of Shimla Planning Area is anticipated to increase at the rate of 35 % during the decades of 2011 and 2021, which is likely to be 2, 35,970 and 3,18,560 respectively.

On the other hand the tourist inflow to the city has increased considerably. A survey shows that 18,22,059 tourists travelled to Shimla in Year 2005, of which about 3.4% constituted foreign tourists. However the average stay of tourist in Shimla is about 1.35 days which is considerably low. But the quantum inflow of tourists continues to increase. A friend of mine working with a leading travel agency told me in March that all the major hotels in the city were booked well in advance. Thanks to the more organised players in the tourism industry such as Make My Trip and Yatra, more people in the country are willing to travel and willing to see other parts of the country.

Going through the Shimla Development Plan, one will realise that unlike what appears in the media, efforts have been put from time to time by authorities to take care of Shimla water problems. The first water supply scheme for Shimla was started way back in 1875 to supply water for a population of 20,000. After that 6 more schemes have been launched to augment the water supply to the town. The combined design capacity of the sources is 45.96 Million Litres per Day (MLD), although the present yield is limited to 39.21 MLD (from the five sources) due to technical problems. The last such project to augment supply of water to Shimla city is the recently inaugurated Giri lift water supply scheme which is expected to bring 20 MLD of water to Shimla city. However, it is not clear as to what will be the capacity utilisation of the scheme, as quantity of water in Giri river itself reduces considerably in the summer months.

The statistics as of today show that, 27.37 MLD of treated water from main sources is supplied to Shimla and 2.63 MLD from tube wells during the lean period. The total water supplied to the city is 33 MLD. The present water requirement per day for Shimla City during peak tourist season is 39.85 MLD as against the supply of 33 MLD. Thus, there is deficit of water supply of about 7 MLD, which increases to 17 MLD during summer due to shortfall because of failure of snow or rain in previous winter. Therefore, the average shortfall in water supply is 12 MLD till last week. We have not yet accounted for the growth in both the population and the tourists in coming years.

On the supply side I&PH department spends Rs 45 Crore annually to supply water to Shimla town. The main source of funding for urban water supplies is by charging the end user of water. I&PH, which produces water at Rs. 35 per KL, supplies Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) bulk water at the rate of Rs. 8.80 per KL. SMC is charging Rs. 3.85 per KL of water for domestic purposes even though SMC incurs an additional cost of Rs. 6.50 per KL towards operation and maintenance costs. The financial statements of the SMC show an outstanding amount of Rs 18.74 Crore towards I&PH department. The state government had paid I&PH department Rs 16.46 Crore on behalf of SMC in 2003. This clearly implies that citizens of the state are subsidising. The bill collections efficiency of SMC is meagre 69%. Clearly it makes the case that the state of Himachal Pradesh and its citizens are subsidising the cost of water for residents of Shimla by 90%.

The Giri lift water supply scheme comes as a relief to the citizens of the city but it will certainly add to the increasing electricity bill for both the SMC and I&PH department. In another progressive step, the Government has taken up plans for bringing 45 million litres of water daily to Shimla from Pabbar. The Government has envisaged a gravity scheme under JNNURM to tap into water sources at 2800 m and bring the water down to Shimla (2200m) through pipelines. However the project is to be implemented by the year 2011. On successful completion the project will not only solve water requirements for Shimla for coming few years but also save huge electricity bills borne by the I&PH department on behalf of the citizens of the state.

The water supply problem has been taken care of in the short term but there are some pertinent questions which come up now. How to tackle the increasing operating costs of such projects. How to fund the increasing costs of operations and maintenance of the water supply schemes inside the city? Should the burden of maintaining the cost of water supply to the city to be passed on to the citizens of the city or not? How to improve the efficiency of bill collections at SMC? Is there way out in doing such projects in Public Private and partnerships or getting them building in a stake for communities in the city?
Well it is a thin rope to walk for the planners, the administrators and the politicians but we can sincerely hope that some public debate takes place before decision are taken which affect the common man. Till then we can rejoice with the feeling of water water everywhere !

2 COMMENTS

  1. The article is excellent in analysis and draws attention to one of the most important issues of inefficienecies in the system,hidden subsidies and lack of awreness among users essential for water conservation and protection of water quality.

  2. I guess supplying water to Shimla town is a big scam in itself. After PWD, IPH is the money making deptt. in Himachal. Previous govt. kept on showing the lollipop of supplying water from Giri river for 5 years which has hardly given any relief to the citizens. Firstly, the supply seems to be in-adequate for the entire town as we still get the water 3rd day at times. Come rains and the supply breaks down because of the silt. The other day it was reported in newspapers that present govt. is contemplating water supply from Satluj river. This will mean more tenders and work to be allotted to the favorites and end result will still be zero.

    I bet, even if the water was to be supplied from the Indian Ocean, still it will not quench the thirst of Shimaites.. It is only the netas and the contractors which will reap the bonanza of such grand schemes!!

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