water

While the pipeline network has been expanding in Himachal Pradesh as a result of the emphasis placed on speeding up drinking water supply, at the same time drinking water scarcity from an increasing number of places is being reported. One basic reason for this is that a significant number of natural water sources including rivers, streams and khuds are being depleted due to a number of factors including excessive mining.

At the time of a recent visit of  Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Dharamsala, several representatives of environment groups In Kangra region who have been working on protection of water sources got together on 16 June to issue an appeal to the Prime Minister to save the rivers and streams of this region from mining. They told media representatives that during a visit three years back the Prime Minister had promised that this ecologically crucial Himalayan state and its water sources will soon be freed from the ravages of the mining mafia. However, the environmentalists pointed out, the mining mafia has continued to flourish and the tragic result is that several rivers and khuds have been seriously harmed by indiscriminate mining using heavy machinery. The Neugal river which is of crucial importance for a very large number of villages of Palampur has been very badly affected and as the river is closely related to important drinking water schemes of the region this will affect the drinking water supply very adversely.

In addition the Beas, Baner, Mandh and Binwa rivers and Mol Khud have also been adversely affected, the environmentalists pointed out, and this too will adversely affect drinking water supply.

Even before this latest warning was sounded, there have been several reports of the indiscriminate mining from not just the Kangra region but from all over the state. Several water springs have become depleted or even vanished. In addition there have been several reports of water pollution and at times there have even before problems in identifying source of water pollution.

Diversion of water of rivers for hydro electricity projects into tunnels has also raised the issue of water scarcity in villages located along the earlier natural path of rivers. In the course of construction and widening of highways a very large number of trees have been cut and water sources have been disturbed. Construction rubble has sometimes found its way into water sources.

In recent times severe water scarcity has been reported not just from remote villages but even from leading cities like Shimla and Solan. This has also raised the issue of finding water for the excessive needs of ever-increasing hotels. In some places local panchayats have reported big hotels located near them have been illegally extracting excessive groundwater leading to scarcity in the water sources meant for villagers. The state policy is aimed at increasing the number of tourist but what will happen if there is extreme scarcity of a basic need like water for local people at the same time as more tourists are pouring in. Such a dilemma was in fact seen very recently seen in Shimla and such cases may be seen more often in future as warming trends are further aggravated. Already during this summer many people here were complaining that they had never experienced such hot weather before.

Hence the recent focus on drinking water schemes should have a wider orientation of protecting water sources and also ensuring some restraint on demand side also, giving adequate importance to the needs of common local people, particularly villagers who should not be denied their basic water needs in the rush for tourism.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day In 2071, Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.


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