Water scarcity, traffic chaos plague ‘Queen of Hills’

Shimla, June 29 (IANS) Shimla, that was once known as the Queen of Hills, is plagued by water scarcity, traffic chaos and haphazard construction. Driving in the city is nothing short of a nightmare and tests your patience. Pleasant weather, however, remains one of its prime attractions.

Umesh Ghrera, a journalist with a Chandigarh-based English daily who was brought up in Shimla, described the problems of the hill destination, known for wooded deodars and Raj-style structures. Ghrera, who was holidaying with his family here, said the biggest issue in Shimla was the limited space for parking.

“You may be willing to shell out hundreds of rupees but may still not find parking space. It’s high time the government took some drastic steps to improve the situation. Or else Shimla will not be worth living in,” Ghrera told IANS.

Another tourist, Abhimanyu Sethi from Delhi, complained: “There is no water in the hotel. I have seen the first destination in the country where the hotel has rationed water supply.”

He said he was charged Rs.100 for an extra bucket of water provided by his hotel.

Locals say Shimla faces water scarcity in both summer and winter.

The latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor General that highlights the inadequacies of the Shimla Municipal Corporation says the city was getting water only for 1.2 hours a day against the 24-hour norm.

Even the water supplied is less than the prescribed limit of 135 litres per capita per day, it said. From 2009-14, the corporation had supplied 110 litres per capita per day.

Official sources said the normal demand of the city is 42 million litres daily but the availability ranged from 35-37 million litres.

Taking suo motu cognisance of media reports on water shortage, Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan of the Himachal Pradesh High Court this month directed the state government to file a status report and complete data on the actual amount of water supplied by it last month in Shimla.

It also sought to know the steps taken by the government to identify additional water sources so as to mitigate the problem of water shortage.

The court, which listed the matter for a June 29 hearing, observed that successive governments and municipal corporations had failed to mitigate the problem of water shortage, which now is a common feature round the year.

Irrigation and Public Health Minister Vidya Stokes said ensuring round-the-clock supply of water to the people of Shimla was the top priority of the government.

Stokes told IANS that detailed project reports for a water supply scheme to Shimla from the Kol Dam near Tatapani, rehabilitation of water supply distribution system and rejuvenation of sewerage network, totalling Rs.643.05 crore had got technical clearance from the central government.

Planned for a maximum population of 16,000 during the British Raj, Shimla is now home to 170,000 people.

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.

Urban Development Minister Sudhir Sharma said to check traffic jams, the department was constructing a 3.5 km ropeway, the first major ropeway project in the state capital.

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh laid the foundation stone of the Rs 200-crore ropeway project on June 23 that will link the new bus stand with Jodha Niwas above the Mall road.

Usha Breco Ltd, which will commission the project, said the ropeway would carry about 1,000 passengers in one-hour time and it was aiming to transport about 1.5 million passengers in a year.

The agreement between the government and the company was signed on the built-operate-and-transfer basis for 40 years.

Himachal Pradesh’s economy is highly dependent on tourism, besides hydroelectric power and horticulture.

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