Far from noisy protests, angry slogans, midnight dharna and helpless women and men standing in long queues to fetch water from tankers in plastic buckets, the real story of Shimla’s water woes can be read on Ground Zero at Gumma, 32 km away from the state capital.
The Gumma-Nauti khad (stream), which flows along this downhill town of 1100 residents, is now a dry patch of surface with just few strings of water to feed Shimla’s oldest water supply scheme, which was commissioned by the Britishers in 1921-22. The scheme, which was suitably augmented in 1981-82 to 20.77 MLD (million litres per day) capacity, has crashed to just 9.50 MLD discharge, creating an abnormal situation in Shimla.
It was only in 1986-88, recalls Ram Krishan, a Junior Engineer (JE), when the water in the khad had run out of water. The then Governor, Admiral R K S Ghandhi, reached Gumma and signed an agreement with the farmers, who agreed to divert their water for meeting Shimla’s need for suitable compensation.
Since then, this is the first time that source has gone dry due to unprecedented dry spell. The area has not seen rains since November 2017 and whatever meagre flow came was tapped by locals, either through water pumps or laying plastic pipes.
Ram Krishan, a local resident, said the elders in the area had never seen the khad dry even in summers. “There used to be a flow of water which many could not cross. The khad used to feed several local gharats (water mills) and double as a dependable source for Shimla’s drinking water needs and local farmers’ irrigation needs.
This time, the impact of adverse climatic conditions is such that even the farmers have no water to irrigate their crops or meet their drinking water needs.
“There is hardly a drop of water flowing in the khad, which presents a disappointing picture of the change impacting the lives of local residents, both for consumption and irrigation,” says Meera Devi, Panchayat Pradhan.
Currently, the farmers are not allowed to draw water from khad between 3 pm and 6 am and yet the availability of water for Shimla’s needs has hit a low.
Against a total of seven pumps used to pump water to Shimla, working between 16 to 24 hours daily depending upon water availability, only two were functional till June 1, the day rains brought some respite improving the discharge.
The improved discharge has brought some cheers on the faces of 50-odd employees working 24 X7 at the pumping station. Till 6 pm, five out of seven pumps were functional supplying 10.70 MLD of water. But later in the day, one pump had to be shut down as water availability went down.
Apart from natural re-charging of the water in the khad, there was also a manual effort at work. Around 27 water tankers, which Governor Acharya Devvrat had arranged from Haryana, his home state, were lifting water from Satluj river and putting in the Gumma storage. The personnel engaged in the operation to feed Gumma storage claimed 10 lakh litres of additional water would be added to the scheme by mid-night.
“We had some problem at the lifting site after Friday’s rains and thunderstorm, causing disruption of water supply. A generator has now been arranged and will be put into operation,” said Sampuran Singh, convenor of Haryana Mahapanchyat, who is coordinating the efforts on behalf of the Governor.
In Shimla, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur was told in a review meeting by the officials that the total water availability from all sources (six big and small water schemes) was now 28.47 MLD, against the earlier 22 MLD.
However, the major problem remains in the distribution system. Despite the High Court putting the officials concerned under radar, several localities in the day’s schedule to get water went without supplies, causing a series of protests in the town.