Shimla, a summer-getaway for many, has been facing a water crisis for 14 days now, with residents urging tourists to stay away and protests erupting over inequitable distribution of water in different parts of the city.
According to experts, several hill stations and metro cities could face a similar crisis within a decade and the warning signs may start showing in the next three or four years.
“Cities like Bangalore and Delhi depend on groundwater. But, with increasing population and the natural sources of water — Yamuna in the case of Delhi and several lakes in the case of Bangalore — either being cemented over or being polluted, even the groundwater is not getting recharged,” said Sushmita Sengupta, programme manager of Centre for Science and Environment’s water programme.
Sengupta said moving away from traditional conservation methods has added to the problem. “The hill stations usually receive high rainfall, but without conservation methods in place, it just runs off. More and more people are depending on piped water, which is taken from the valley and needs continuous pumping, leading to a shortage if there is any interruption ,” she said.
According to experts, other hill stations might also face a situation similar to that in Shimla.
“Shimla is not alone. The problem in hill stations is aggravated by a huge number of floating population of tourists that drives up the (water) demand ,” said Arun Kansal, department of regional water studies, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).
Water conservationist Rajendra Singh said the crisis is likely to hit metro cities within the next few years. “At least 12 metro cities will face severe water crisis in the next five to six years, and in the next ten years there will be a crisis in almost all parts of the country,” he said .
Water shortage has already become a reality for parts of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka. “More than 70% of the ground water in the country is currently in ‘overdraft’, which means we have taken more water than the recharge,” said Singh, also known as India’s Waterman.
India is one of the most water-challenged nations in the world, with at least 54% of the country being recognised as highly or extremely water stressed, according to a 2015-World Resources Institute report.