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Indiscriminate mining, hydro projects 'drying up' water sources in Himachal Pradesh

By Bharat Dogra* 

While the pipeline network has been expanding in Himachal Pradesh as a result of the emphasis placed on speeding up drinking water supply, drinking water scarcity from an increasing number of sources is being reported. One basic reason for this is that a significant number of natural water sources, including rivers, streams and khuds, are depleting due to a number of factors, including excessive mining.
At the time of a recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Dharamsala, several representatives of environment groups in Kangra region who have been working on protection of water sources got together on June 16 to issue an appeal to him to save the rivers and streams of this region from mining.
They told media representatives that during a visit three years back the Prime Minister had promised that this ecologically crucial Himalayan state and its water sources will soon be freed from the ravages of the mining mafia. However, the environmentalists pointed out, the mining mafia has continued to flourish, and the tragic result is that several rivers and khuds have been seriously harmed by indiscriminate mining using heavy machinery.
The Neugal river which is of crucial importance for a very large number of villages of Palampur has been very badly affected and as the river is closely related to important drinking water schemes of the region this will affect the drinking water supply very adversely.
In addition, Beas, Baner, Mandh and Binwa rivers and Mol Khud have also been adversely affected, the environmentalists pointed out, and this too will adversely affect drinking water supply.
Even before the warning was sounded, there have been several reports of indiscriminate mining from not just the Kangra region but from all over the state. Several water springs have become depleted or even vanished. In addition, there have been several reports of water pollution and at times there have even before problems in identifying source of water pollution.
State policy aims at increasing number of tourist, but what will happen if there is extreme scarcity of water?
Diversion of water of rivers for hydro electricity projects into tunnels has also raised the issue of water scarcity in villages located along the earlier natural path of rivers. In the course of construction and widening of highways a very large number of trees have been cut and water sources have been disturbed. Construction rubble has sometimes found its way into water sources.
In recent times severe water scarcity has been reported not just from remote villages but even from leading cities like Shimla and Solan. This has also raised the issue of finding water for the excessive needs of ever-increasing hotels. In some places local panchayats have reported big hotels located near them have been illegally extracting excessive groundwater leading to scarcity in the water sources meant for villagers.
The state policy is aimed at increasing the number of tourist but what will happen if there is extreme scarcity of a basic need like water for local people at the same time as more tourists are pouring in. 
Such a dilemma was in fact seen very recently seen in Shimla and such cases may be seen more often in future as warming trends are further aggravated. Already during this summer many people here were complaining that they had never experienced such hot weather before.
Hence, the recent focus on drinking water schemes should have a wider orientation of protecting water sources and also ensuring some restraint on demand side also, giving adequate importance to the needs of common local people, particularly villagers who should not be denied their basic water needs in the rush for tourism.
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*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now; recent books include ‘A Day In 2071’, ‘Planet in Peril' and ‘Protecting Earth for Children'

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