SHIMLA: The most abundant natural resource that Himachal has been endowed with is water. Perhaps that is why it is also the cheapest, to an extent free, as we had been made to believe this far. The cacophony over harnessing the hydroelectric potential of the state has already created enough ripples in rivers flowing through Himachal. In fact it has unleashed a torrent of protests, some even ugly enough to have been witnessed for the first time in the hill state. All this goes on to prove that there is a cost attached to water, and that it is certainly not a free-flowing natural phenomenon – imagination of an idyllic mind loafing around a brook.
The recent decision of the government to increase domestic water bills by at least 150% from Rs 40 to Rs 100 has just reinforced the fact that water can no longer be taken for granted. Not that the government wants to make some profit out of it, but for the simple reason that just like any other resource, water too is limited. Parts of the state or for that matter the entire state has now witnessed periods of droughts or severe water shortage. Major towns across the state have been managing there living with just a few bucketful of water as supply lines catering to these cities are no longer adequate to meet the demand.
Water crisis in Shimla is an indication that soon other towns too will face similar shortage. The difficulty authorities are facing to find an alternative source to meet the town’s ever-burgeoning demand has already proved that it is easier said than done to find a solution. In case of Shimla the cost of lifting water from Giri river, as planned by the government, is by no means affordable. Under these circumstances the government is left with no other option but to increase the cost of water.
That our wells and other traditional water sources have dried up is no hidden fact, and also that other perennial sources too are no longer reliable, affected by changes in climatic patterns. But we anyway require water to survive, so there has to be a way out. The government’s decision to make water harvesting mandatory for all building in urban areas is a welcome move. And some work is also being done to revive traditional watersheds, but it needs to be expatiated on a war-footing. More than that, the need of the hour is to have a water resource management body in the state that can monitor and devise ways to maintain the sustainable water cycle. For this an integrated approach needs to be applied involving coordinated management of glaciers, rivers, lakes, artificial water bodies and also ground water.
Water is the most abundant natural resource in Himachal but we should remember that it is also the most vulnerable one and therefore should not be overexploited. Now it is for us to decide the safe limit.