Shogi (Himachal Pradesh), June 5 (IANS) For residents of Shogi, a hamlet tucked away in the hills near Shimla, a natural spring reminds them what havoc ecological degeneration can cause.
The people face a daily battle of fetching drinking water from the spring, the back-breaking task starting as early as 3.30 in the morning. Mercifully, they have a natural spring although, perhaps, in its last stages. All other local springs nearby have almost dried up.
Shogi is like many small places which abut the 'Queen of Hills', as Shimla was fondly called by the British who made it their summer capital.
"Water bodies were quite common earlier. They have now disappeared. The water now flows in this last surviving 'bowli' (small underground water body) drop by drop," octogenarian Zile Singh told IANS.
He said the locals earlier used to bring their livestock here for drinking water.
"Now there is hardly any water for the people. What to talk about quenching the thirst of cows, goats..."
Another villager, Brahmi Devi, said the area faced water carcity during both summer and winter.
Earlier it took just one to two minutes to fill a container of 15 litres.
"In the past five-six years, the flow out of the water body has reduced drastically. Now a 15-litre container needs more than 10 minutes to fill. This means the quantum of water has declined massively."
Old-timers recall that till the early 1990s, the area had numerous natural springs on all sides of the thickly wooded hills that catered to the people's needs.
The source of these springs dried up due to rapid urbanisation.
The oak and other groves that are known for arresting every drop of rainwater have fallen.
The number of inhabitants in the small area has crossed the 15,000-mark. The floating population of tourists makes the situation worse, residents said.
The irrigation and public health department supplies water, but the supply is erratic.
It is not just Shogi that faces the brunt of ecological disaster. Most towns and villages in the state suffer from declining forest cover and water levels.
Environmentalists say the hill state has sacrificed a vast expanse of precious green cover to pave the way for hydroelectric projects and roads and more.
According to the forest department, 9,131 hectares of forest land has been diverted for non-forestry purposes from 1980, when the Forest Conservation Act came into force, till October 2010.
Hydroelectric projects have devoured maximum green cover (3,929 hectares), followed by transmission lines (2,226 hectares), roads (1,691 hectares) and mining (819 hectares).
Former additional chief secretary (forests) Avay Shukla, who retired in December 2010, has warned of long-term dangers to the Ravi river. He told the Himachal Pradesh High Court that in the 70-km stretch of the river between Chamba and Bajoli, only three kilometres would see water flow on its original bed. The rest would disappear.
"There are four hydro projects sanctioned on the 70-km stretch. These are Bajoli-Holi, Kuther and Chamera II and III," he said.
"When all these projects will be commissioned, the entire river will meander through tunnels of the projects."
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)