Climate Change

How climate resilient is Shimla? Not much, shows city’s ground situation

A third of Shimla is at high risk for landslides; more open spaces and green cover needed

By Rohit Prashar
Published: Friday 18 August 2023
Shimla city was established by the British in the colonial era for 16,000 people. But at present, more than 225,000 people live in the city and thousands of tourists visit it daily, increasing the burden on it. Photo: Rohit Prashar

Himachal Pradesh’s Shimla city has been battered following three days of heavy rainfall — there have been three major landslides in the last four days and the bodies of over 22 people have been recovered so far. Over two dozen people are missing and suspected to be buried under the debris.

According to experts, the city has long crossed its carrying capacity, which is leading to regular landslides in different parts of the city. The hazard risk and vulnerability assessment for Shimla and the City Disaster Management Plan had also suggested planned construction in the city to increase the depleting green area. 

About 33 per cent of the city was at high risk for landslide, the assessment had found. Over 50 per cent of it was at moderate risk and 16 per cent was found to be low risk. There are 37 buildings in the city that have been declared unsafe, including the Directorate of Urban Development. 

Read more: Devastation due to heavy rains in Himachal, 40 killed in last 36 hours

The report found areas of Summerhill, Baluganj and Tutikandi to be more sensitive to landslides and most of the damage due to landslides on August 14 was seen in these three areas.

It should be noted that Shimla city, situated in an area of 35 square kilometres, was established by the British in the colonial era for 16,000 people. But at present, more than 225,000 people live in the city. Thousands of tourists also visit Shimla daily and as a result, the loss of life and property increases manifold in case of any disaster. 

Shimla city is situated on seven hills and construction work is taking place continuously at most of the drainage points in the city, said former Deputy Mayor of Shimla Municipal Corporation and research fellow of Impact and Policy Research Institute, Tikendra Panwar. 

Due to the construction, the water is not being drained properly and disasters are increasing, said Panwar. “Even in the Hazard Risk and vulnerability Assessment, it was recommended keeping the drainage points open and not to build over them,” he said.  

Panwar also pointed out four areas in the city with potential for huge damage — the High Court area; the road near the Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly building); Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital, the biggest hospital in the state and the area from Lakkar Bazar to Sanjauli. 

Over 20,000 lives at risk from earthquakes

Shimla district falls in the high risk area of seismic zone IV for earthquakes and most of Shimla city comes under the zone, the City Disaster Management Plan had found. If an earthquake occurs in the city, the lives of 20,466 people would be at risk. 

Read more: Himachal, which recorded heavy pre-monsoon rains, battered as system finally moves into state

Residential houses are also at higher risk, the Plan said. Since most of the buildings in Shimla city are next to each other, it can cause more damage in the event of a disaster.

It has also pointed out issues in carrying out relief work in case of any disaster in the city due to the increasing crowd in the city and vehicles getting stuck in traffic jams. Illegal construction was also liable to cause a large amount of damage. 

According to an estimate, more than 10,000 buildings have been constructed illegally in Shimla city and these buildings have not been passed by the Municipal Corporation. 

A quarter of Shimla city is in the sinking zone, according to the District Shimla Disaster Management Plan. Many sinking zones have been identified in the city where frequent landslides are being observed.

These include Ridge, Lakkar Bazar, Rivoli, Grand Hotel, Auckland School Area, Dhobighat, Ladakhi Mohalla and Clark Hotel. Thousands of people are still living in these areas and many construction works are still going on in these areas, which are inviting major accidents in the near future.

Read more: North India Deluge 2023: Development projects compounding destruction in Himachal Pradesh, say experts

The effect of changing land use and decreasing green cover is seen in the form of landslides, Sunil Dhar, Professor at Environmental Sciences Department, Central University of Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, told Down To Earth.  

“Climate change has also impacted rainfall patterns. Continuous heavy rainfall is making sloped unstable and instances of landslides are also increasing,” Dhar added.

Increasing losses

Along with loss of lives, Shimla is also witnessing losses worth crores of rupees every year due to natural calamities. Looking at the figures of the last seven years, there was a loss of Rs 3.25 crore in 2015, Rs 4.16 crore in 2016, Rs 11.2 crore in 2017, Rs 7.48 crore  in 2019, Rs 3.38 crore  in 2020, Rs 13.8 crore in 2021 and Rs 5.27 crore in 2022. 

This year, the number is expected to be much higher due to the landslides. 

Indiscriminate construction has exhausted Shimla’s carrying capacity, said senior journalist and environmentalist Ashwani Sharma, expressing concern over the increasing landslides and natural calamities. 

“The urban planning for the city and building construction plans in Shimla are not fit for hilly areas. At many places, houses above five stories have been built on a slope of 60 degrees. The drainage system in the city has not been taken care of, and people have built buildings over the drains. Due to this, water is continuously going inside the houses and the structures are collapsing due to increased moisture,” he said. 

Read more: North India Deluge 2023: Lahaul-Spiti’s cold desert receives a third of seasonal rain in a day

It is also important to have open spaces in a city but there is no such space in Shima and houses are constructed adjacent to each other, increasing the risk, said Sharma.

“Government of Himachal Pradesh’s Department of Town and Country Planning and the Shimla Municipal Corporation are supposed to regulate the construction of buildings and are responsible for the situation in the city right now,” he said. 

A report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had pointed out the increase in the incidence of extreme events in the himalayan region, said Panwar. “These incidents are clearly increasing. We must remain alert and adopt environmentally friendly techniques immediately,” he said. 

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