“It was the best of the times, it was the worst of the times.” This famous opening line of the Charles Dickens’s classic ‘The Tale of Two Cities’ perfectly captures the dilemma of the residents of Shimla these days. June is considered to be the best time of the year for the residents as well as the tourists who throng the city to spend their summer vacations. The marketplaces and the streets would be bustling with shoppers. But this year, all that excitement and hassle is not there. The reason being an extremely efficient water distribution system of the Municipal Corporation (pun intended) that has left all the residents starving for every drop of water. The city is under the grip of the most serious water crisis in decades. The lacklustre and indifferent attitude of the state government has also exacerbated the woes of the people. The seriousness of the Municipal Corporation could be gauged from the fact that when in the previous fortnight when the residents could not get water for more than ten days in the row, the Mayor Kusum Sadret was on an official tour to China.
The water crisis is not the only reason for the troubles of the city dwellers, there are many other causes that have contributed to the deteriorating law and order condition, increasing the crime rate and zero respect for the building laws in the city. This article will discuss all those issues in detail and will highlight the plight of the residents due to them.
Change of Government: Problems continue
The state of Himachal Pradesh went for polls in November last year. The people who dethroned the ruling government and put up the new BJP Government in its place. The BJP Govt. which campaigned for the better law and order situation, basic amenities and dismantling of the VIP culture in the state, has failed in its agenda completely. The VIP culture has far from being reduced has grown exponentially in the state. The public officials of the hill state are virtually inaccessible to the citizens. The government categorically published the list of the officials of the Municipal Corporation and the civil administration in the local newspapers to the complaint about the water problems. Every official in that list has switched his phone off, besides, have all the landlines engaged. The feeling of utter helplessness of the common man is excruciating with neither the government nor the Municipal Corporation caring for the residents. The hoteliers and the thousands employed in the tourism industry are the worst suffers from the inefficient government. Many hotels have been forced to cancel their bookings due to the non-availability of water. It is estimated that the state GDP will be hurt by many crores of rupees, but the most serious repercussion of the water crisis is the unemployment of thousands of shop-keepers, drivers, cooks, porters and guides whose year-round survival depends upon the four months of the tourist season.
Severe Water Crisis
The city is reeling with unrest, with people out on the streets to depend on water to drink. Every day there are many instances of innocent residents shouting and protesting for on water to live. What is ironic about the protest of the residents is that they are not being conducted by bewildered youngsters or opposition party cadres to disrupt the state authority. The majority of the protesters are retired and elderly people (mostly over 65 years of age) demanding their right to bare minimum drinking water. They have been joined by young mothers along with their toddlers in their quest for justice. These two groups of the residents are the most severely hurt by the water crisis and are most vulnerable given their inability to carry buckets of water from the water tankers to their houses high up the hills.
The government as a precautionary measure has deployed police personnel and anti-riot vehicles at the prominent places of the city. But the need to lathi charge elderly people would never arise. The last dastardly act that this government could commit would be to unleash its barbarity on frail old men and women fighting for the right to water. Even though the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has declared Right to Water availability to be part of the Article 21 of the Constitution of India (Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India and Others, AIR 2000 SC 3751); but the state is violating the Fundamental Rights of the citizens with impunity. The Municipal Corporation and the State government (indecently both BJP ruled) are hand-in-glove in this violation of the Constitutional guaranteed Fundamental Right of the residents.
The main reason for this water shortage has been scanty snowfall in the winter season. Most of the precipitation fell in the form of rain for which state government has inadequate shortage facility. Non-availability of snow to melt and supply water in the summer season is at the core of this crisis. But the present government squandered away vital time in the months of January-April in its victory celebration without taking any remedial measures for the same and now curses the lack of water in the Himalayan rivers (Classic Cricket and the Ant case).
The majority of the households of the city are surviving on four-five buckets of water that people are able to carry to their houses from the govt. tankers. But this five buckets of water for a family of four is a cruel joke played by the city administration. The only other option is to order a private tanker which is charging about ₹3000 for 2000 litres of water. These water tanker owners are in connivance with the govt. officials and are making profits hand over fist by illegally collecting water from natural streams. The crisis has been aggravated by the discriminate nature of the water distribution by the officials. The water is allegedly being supplied for more times to the residents of the IAS Officials, state officials, Judges and Police Officials at the cost of no water in the adjoining areas which has no VIP resident in it. All the officials and the Corporation Water employees have switched off their phones and people are forced to wait for hours in a queue to get one bucket of water.
The state government considering the seriousness of the problem had formed a special committee under the Chief Secretary Vineet Chaudhary, to improve the situation in the month of May. But Chief Secretary has failed completely in the task allotted to him. What is not surprising is that no action has been taken either against the incompetent Chief Secretary nor any other official of the water department has been penalised for the failure to supply water. There is utter absence of accountability in the public officials for the welfare of the people along with no fear of any departmental action for the dereliction of the duty.
The residents of the so-called Smart City were horrified to learn the tragic news of an elderly woman being crushed by an illegal water tanker on the main Mall Road on June 1, 2018. It is surprising that the private water tanker was plying on the restricted road without any license. The Mall Road is totally restricted for the vehicles and only emergency services are allowed to ply on it. It is pertinent to the court that this very Mall Road where the elderly woman was crushed to death by the rashly driven water tanker is full of the tourists who visit the Queen of Hills from across the globe. The water tanker also had a police constable inside it to monitor the distribution of water. The state government is yet to monitor the movement of illegal water tankers and the residents continue to be at the receiving end of its apathy.
Deteriorating Law and Order in State
The law and order situation in the state is worsening day by day. The Gudiya Rape case had already jolted the conscience of the hill state. But the lawlessness stooped to another low level when a town and country planning official of the government was shot dead by the disgruntled hotel owner in broad daylight. The brave official Shail Bala Sharma’s only mistake was that she refused to accept the bribe and was carrying out the demolition drive of the illegal hotels at the behest of the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The murdered also fired shots at a PWD employee Gulab Singh who later succumbed to his injuries. The accused Vijay Singh threatened the police constables present on the spot and fled the crime scene. He was later arrested from Mathura and his trial is going on. The people of Himachal Pradesh are shell-shocked at the brutality of the crime and the fact that police was not able to prevent the accused from fleeing the state in spite of having his photographs with them. What astonished the people more that fact that the official report of the police revealed that two constables who were on duty with the demolition team had AK-47 rifles with them. But the Solan Police ran away at the sight of the accused who only had a country made a pistol with him.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court had also taken the cognisance of the shooting and said, “What was the police doing? We might stop passing any orders if you are going to kill people.” In this case, also only a few officials of the Police Department have been transferred by the government and the business as usual attitude of the government rules the roast. The brutal killing of two honest employees in the line of duty is too insignificant to force any change in the business as usual attitude of the government of the state.
Illegal Construction galore the Capital city
The construction sector in the Shimla city has seen a usual speed in the previous one and a half months. The reason for the same is not a boom in the sector or rise in demand, but the reason is completely the opposite. The cause is the recent order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) who prohibited any construction in violation of the norms in the entire green zone of the city. Ordinarily with restriction would have deterred any new construction activity, but the lacklustre attitude of the government has allowed the construction to go on without any inhibition. Now the property developers are confident that the state government who is unlikely to enforce the strict ruling of the NGT, would grant remission to them and this has allowed them to construct as much as two-three illegal floors in complete violation of the laws. The city administration, as well as the Municipal Corporation, have turned a blind eye to this travesty of justice and property dealers are able to ruin this historic city by paying few thousand rupees as a penalty.
Labour Unrest of the workers and contractual employees
The state capital is nowadays replete with the instances of the protests in the workers or the labourers to attain their just due. The contractual employees have in numerous instances thronged the DC Office or the Secretariat in their quest for justice. The government has in its response deployed police personnel to quell any resistance to it. Another cause of the perennial misery of the residents in the ongoing protests of the employees of the Diamond Hotels. The workers under the banner of CITU have been protesting for more than one month, but the authorities are unwilling to compromise with them. The state government has also not taken any sincere effort to break the logjam. The student unions have also been out on the roads to fulfil their demands.
Need to address the Grievance of the people
The city of Shimla is suffering from great water crisis and the apathy of the government has not helped the issue one bit. The need of the hour is to implement efficient water distribution methods with no discrimination meted out between the common man and the VIPs. The wastage of the water must also be controlled and the government plan for larger water schemes for the years to come. The crime must be dowsed with the iron hand and the ‘rule of law’ must prevail. The public officials must remain in reach of the people for whose welfare this system is in place. If the government works with a sincere attitude to ameliorate the problems of the people, then the smile on the innocent and hardworking residents of Shimla can return.