What ails these hill-stations?

Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015

What ails these hill-stations?

Poor quality
GANGTOK: Gangtok has plenty of water and a regular supply. But the snag is water quality. "Bacterial contamination is very high -- a total of 180 coliform in 100 millilitres of water. Diseases like jaundice, cholera and stomach problems are common. Clearly, somewhere the sewage is getting mixed with the drinking water supply," says Satyadeep Singh Chhetri, lecturer at Sikkim Government College, Tadong. The Bureau of Indian Standards specifies that coliform should be absent in water. Admits Sally Rynveld, community development advisor, Gangtok Water Supply and Sanitation Project, Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID): " Jhoras (traditional water drainage systems) are used as an open sewer. Septic tanks open straight into them. There is bound to be contamination. Whereas Rs 23 crore has been organised for water supply, no funds are available for sewerage."

MAHABALESHWAR: In July this year, there were news reports of a jaundice outbreak. Within a month, about 332 cases were registered, of which 52 were pregnant women. Kishore Borde, of the Mahabaleshwar municipal council, underplays the incident. When contacted by Down To Earth, he said that as a precautionary measure, four wells and 35 bore wells were shut down and the citizens were instructed to drink only boiled water.

“This year for the whole of April, we did not receive a drop of water. The government is just not serious. It only keeps floating new schemes. The situation is going from bad to worse”
— Manoj Khatri, a resident of Darjeeling

Down to Earth“Lack of sewerage has led to jhoras being used as sewers. This has resulted in contamination of drinking water running through pipelines close to jhoras”
— Satyadeep Singh Chhetri, lecturer, Sikkim Government College

“Construction of a resort in a village near Almora has added to the woes of the villagers. The resort has bought land, which includes the village’s source of drinking water (pond). Women now daily trek 4-5 kilometres to fetch water”
— Member of Uttarakhand Seva Nidhi Shiksha Sansthan

Offical disinterest aside, this wasn't a stray incident. The reason for the outbreak is that lake Venna, the source of drinking water, is heavily contaminated. In 1998, a committee set up to look into the problem submitted its report. The Bhatia committee averred: "the residential structures erected by the railway department are polluting Venna lake. The discharge from the septic tanks...is allowed to flow into the lake."

Peak problem
SHIMLA: Summers make Shimla reel under acute water crisis. Its four major water sources -- the Ashwani Khad, Gumma Catchment Area, Churat Nullah and Chairh Pumping Station -- simply cannot meet the needs of its 142,161 people. And the situation goes out of hand during the peak season, when tourists outnumber the local population.Water demand leaps to about 36 million litres per day, but the supply is only 20 million litres.

The primary reason for the crisis is ageing infrastructure -- distribution lines, faulty meters and burst pipelines -- that results in up to 50 per cent of the water leaking away. Also, authorities have failed to preserve the town's natural water sources, mostly surface waterbodies that today have been built upon.

The municipality is used to taking desperate measures, such as supplying water on alternate days to areas facing shortage. Recently, a Rs 40 crore Giri Water Supply Project was floated to augment the water supply, according to Shimla municipal commissioner Mohan Chauhan. But such reliance on piped water supply is bound to boomerang.

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