How One Man-made Mis-step Could Have Prevented Never Before Seen Destruction Of Shimla ?

A landslide has exposed the foundation of a building near St Edwards School, along the circular road.

Shimla city has been battered by heavy rain leaving a trail of destruction with nearly 20 people buried in a landslide near Shiv Temple in Summer hill area, several building including the city slaughter house reduced to rubble in Krishnanagar, a massive landslide opposite Edwards Schools Shimla exposing the foundation of private building leaving it hanging there with a risk of the entire building collapsing, the road from Khalini area to BCS New Shimla bus stop below East Bourne hotel being witness to uprooting of several well matured deodar trees, another landslide near Upper Khalini to Byepass U-Turn has blocked the road, the road from Sanjauli to IGMC hospital has many tress uprooted and there are many landslides at several places of the city which have uprooted over 500 majestic deodar trees.

It seems absurd – never before 2023 such level of destruction has happened in Shimla at least not in its nearly 150 year old history. Then why now? What has changed? If its just because of incessant rainfall, then rainfall happened since past 150 years, in fact ask any old timer of Shimla – Even in 1980s, 1990s or 2000s it used to rain and snow like crazy but still city did not stop. Why now?

A parked car suffers damage because of a landslide

The answer to this can only be found if we try to go deeper into all these urban landslide in Shimla city, and find the reason and dig deeper. From Panthagathi to Shoghi from Sanjauli to Byepass in Shimla city – most of the landslides have happened because buildings have been constructed either uphill or downhill side of the trees, mud has been excavated, the roots of deodar trees which otherwise hold soil very well, are not able to hold – their centre of gravity which needs the roots to make strong grip on the soil, gets loosed due to loss of natural stability of soil due to construction of buildings, retaining walls, and some intentional greed of some people who want trees to fall down so that they reclaim land for more construction which ultimately leads to trees getting destabilized.

One of the biggest problem is that due to huge concretization the rainwater which otherwise used to percolate into the ground and flow through natural forests from underground and over ground channels and pass through perennial springs and reach downhill into the rivers. But since rainwater harvesting is practically non existent in Shimla, all the rainwater just washes off sometimes like a mini flash flood causing huge soil erosion, and this soil erosion also consists of huge construction debris which is dumped by Shimla citizens illegally in forests beside roads, when they have no place to dispose it properly. Rainwater harvesting can itself reduce run-offs, prevent random flow of water, reduce water shortage issues and prevent landslide as one single easy step which can be undertaken by most buildings if not everyone.

All building get their building map approved from local authorities, which misses practical enforcement of rainwater harvesting, protecting soil, trees etc. If this got missed for an isolated building then it may perhaps okay, but once we do these small mis-steps at huge city scale level, unscientifically what happens is that we disturb the natural movement of the entire ecosystem which comprises of trees, soil, water channels, underground fungal network, shrubs, etc. leading to water finding new paths to flow, resulting in soil getting destabilized; trees, soil losing their balance – angle or repose or centre of gravity resulting in massive loss of life and property.

Need of the hour, is to understand that our minor mis-steps create large consequences once seen at larger level. So one obvious thing the entire city can implement is to do rainwater harvesting, and preventing water run-offs to maximum extent possible, which has to form part of building guidelines and get enforced properly.

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1 Comment

  1. says: Kapil Krishan

    Good builds on the needs for Shimla to start excelling in design, execution and enforcement of public policy by Gaurav. This season has been a lesson on the cost of failure here. With a high per-capita income, shrinking birthrate, Shimla and Himachal can easily lead the country in its journey to be a developed country as it takes advantage of its demographic dividend. But without the vision, and the courage to push through newer ideas on design and development of infrastructure, development and citizen services will remain challenging.

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