India Interior

How Shimla saves water, drop by drop

Sarita Brara | Updated on November 01, 2019 Published on October 18, 2019

A group of ‘jal sakhis’ in a residential colony Pics by Sarita Brara

‘Jal sakhi’ Urmila Kashyap reads the meter

The administration and water friends or jal sakhis ensure that conservation steps are implemented

It was a sight never seen before in Shimla — men, women and children lined up with buckets in the famous Mall and other places in the tourist town to get water from the tankers.

That was last year when many residents of Shimla did not get water for 7 to 10 days at a stretch and were forced to look for natural water-bodies around the town to quench their thirst. Tourists were being turned away. All this caught the attention of the national and even international media. The water crisis in this historic town forced authorities to wake up to a situation that had been building up over the last few years — illegal siphoning of water, contamination and shutting down of Ashwani Khud, one of the main sources of water supply, and the outbreak of jaundice.

The first thing the State government and the municipal corporation (MC) did was to set up the Shimla Jal Prabhandan Nigam Ltd or SJPNL to manage the town’s water supply and distribution. The SJPNL has representation from the government, MC and Independent Directors representing the citizens.

An audit that had been ordered soon revealed that there was 27 per cent leakage in the main transmission pipelines and 24 per cent in the distribution network. According to the Managing Director and CEO of the SJPNL, Dr Dharmender Gill, worn out pipes have so far been replaced along 14 km, which reduced the leakage in transmission pipelines to 3 per cent.

Also, 164 valves were replaced to regulate distribution. Thanks to these initiatives, 9 MLD (million litres a day) are already being saved, claims Dr Gill. Sensors have also been installed in the sector storage tanks in the distribution network to monitor water flow as also the water and chlorine levels. The biggest challenge, says Dr Gill, is to make the old pipelines leakage-free.

An independent director of SJPNL, D Chauhan, says the measures to streamline water distribution and supply have led to improvement in the situation this year.

Earlier this year, the Centre, the State government and the SJPNL signed a $40-million loan agreement. The Development Policy Loan will support the SJPNL in its policy and institutional reform programme to improve water supply and sewerage services in the State capital. This includes bringing bulk water to Shimla from a new source on the Sutlej river, 24x7 water supply and sewage management for Shimla City and sewage services for peri-urban areas. It will also support capacity building for the Shimla Municipal Corporation to take on its new role of oversight.

Volunteer power

The SJPNL is also encouraging community participation. Ten groups of jal sakhis (water friends) have been deployed in different colonies in efforts aimed at conserving water, stopping its wastage and educating the masses about it.

These voluntary jal sakhis report on any leakages they detect in the area assigned to them. They also report on overflowing storage tanks and whether stored water is being sent down the drain. They keep tabs on whether water is being supplied every day. If the jal sakhis find that water has not been supplied on a particular day, they immediately get in touch with the concerned officials.

Urmila, a jal sakhi, is also involved in reading meters and bill distribution. Now that the water bills are based on meter reading, (earlier it was a fixed monthly payment for all) people realise that if they waste water, they will get inflated bills, she says. Also, many a time, community taps or those in public places are left running. So the public is being educated to ensure that taps in their vicinity are closed when not in use.

Nirupama, another jal sakhi, is the Community organiser also involved in forming self-help groups. She has reported cases of overflowing tanks and action has been taken. Members of the self-help groups also spread the word on the need to conserve water.

With some of the initiatives already in place, the situation, thankfully, improved considerably and the summer passed off without any chaos and clamour for water despite the heavy flow of tourists. Shimla, hopefully, will get water 24x7 by 2022, says Gill.

Institutional and policy reforms to implement the expansion of the water supply and sewerage service is also envisaged for nine other towns in Himachal Pradesh with the help of the World Bank.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on October 18, 2019
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