Shimla is witnessing a major water crisis during peak tourist season with taps running dry for the eighth day in most parts of the city, forcing people to buy water at exorbitant prices and smaller hotels to cancel bookings even as drinking water supply in the Queen of Hills fell to less than 50% of requirements, courtesy a dry winter. On Sunday night, about 100 people staged a midnight sit-in protest outside the waterworks office on the main Mall Road and the police stopped them from heading towards the residence of chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, who on Monday constituted a committee headed by chief secretary Vineet Chowdhary to monitor daily water supply.The Himachal high court on Monday took suo moto cognizance of the crisis, after the local bar association stopped work citing the water problem.The court asked municipal commissioner Rohit Jamwal and other municipal officials to appear in person on Tuesday to explain the reasons for the acute water shortage.Brij Mohan Chauhan, president of Himachal Bar Association, said: “We haven’t seen such a situation in the last 20 years. The government has failed to provide even drinking water to people.” Jamwal termed the situation unusual, but seemed to suggest that the crisis has been in the making for some time. He said over the past three summers, water availability had plunged to 29 or 30 million litres per day (MLD). “This year we are able to supply only about 20 MLD. That makes it tough to match demand,” he said. The water demand in Shimla during peak tourist season is around 45 MLD.The water crunch had forced locals to spend several hours in queues to get a bucket of water, buy from private water suppliers at double the normal rates, or even, for those who can afford to do it, leave Shimla for the comfort of their villages. “There is no water in the area for the last one week. The residents were told that supply would be restored on Sunday but nothing happened. The people are agitated about the (government) inaction. Most of the traders kept waiting for water the entire say,” said Congress councilor Sushma Kuthiala. However, places like Kasumpti haven’t had supply for 11 days. “Some areas are inaccessible as even tankers cannot supply water there,” says Narender Thakur, a former councillor. The water shortage has hit hotels hard. “Many bookings have been cancelled in the last two to three days. When the government cannot provide water then it should stop promoting Shimla as tourist destination,” says Suresh Dogra, a travel agent on the Mall Road. A majority of hoteliers in Shimla have engaged private tankers to make up for the shortage but the supply is not enough to meet demand. “I cancelled my booking in Shimla after a local hotelier told me that he could not assure adequate water,” said Noida resident Raman Singh. Gumma, the main source of water to the city, draws water from Shimla catchment sanctuary which is fed by nine streams. The British built a large storage tank for supply to the main town. Other sources are Chairh, Giri and Churat. Supply from Ashwani Khad was suspended two years ago after sewage contamination led to a jaundice outbreak.