Bearing the brunt of unplanned construction, infrastructure developments and illegal felling of trees, Shimla’s iconic, the Ridge is slowly sinking. Experts now warn that if immediate steps are not taken, the area could witness a major disaster.
Incessant rainfall over the past three days exposed cracks on the northern slopes of the Ridge. Signs of sliding have also appeared a few meters from Gaiety theatre, a centuries-old British-era attraction, and Christ Church.
Officials of Shimla Municipal Corporation admit that soil has already moved away by two to three feet downhill the Ridge. After incessant rains, the surface has caved in by several meters, exactly at the same portion where sinking had happened thrice earlier, between 2015 and 2017.
Few know that beneath the Ridge lies a 9.7 million litre water storage tank which was built in 1880 for meeting Shimla‘s drinking water needs.
About the recent cracks, Shimla‘s Mayor, Kusum Sadret, said, “It’s a serious problem. There is a need of an engineering and geological solution to save the Ridge from sinking.”
To add to the pressure on the Ridge, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has chosen this site for installation of a statue of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which is expected to come up next to former PM Indira Gandhi and Dr Y S Parmar, Himachal’s first chief minister. In fact, there are statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai and Lieutenant General Daulat Singh, former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Command at the Ridge.
Experts from IIT, Roorkee, indicate that roughly 25 percent of the old town is in the sinking zone and unless improvements are made in the drainage and sewerage systems of the upper reaches, more area could slide further.
“The Ridge of Shimla was carved out by slicing down hilltop. The debris was dumped on its northern slopes. Though it has settled down over the years but this portion, particularly towards Rivoli bus stand and Tibetan Market, keep down sliding due to seeping of the water. During monsoons and snowfall, the sinking is an obvious thing. Slopes have also become overloaded. One day, we can hear about a disaster if steps are not taken,” warns N K Negi, state’s chief architect.
“The sinking was the direct result of seepage of water, as this portion is extremely fragile. The sinking of the Ridge is definitely a threat to the town’s heritage, buildings, and the public,” said K D Shridhar, a senior high court lawyer, and conservationist .
Shridhar also advocates for a permanent solution to the sinking problem. Filling in of the surface cracks with cement and concretes or putting sandbags to stop its sliding are only temporary solutions.
“We also had finalised a plan for tackling the sinking problem of the Ridge by building a permanent complex, raised from the ground of Revoli bus stand on BOT basis. The government sat over the proposal. Now, you can see the result. The Ridge is again in the danger and could bring entire Shimla down”, said former Mayor Sanjay Chauhan.
Apart from being a tourist attraction, the Ridge hosts official functions like Republic Day and Independence Day parades. Swearing-in-ceremony of chief ministers Prem Kumar Dhumal, Virbhadra Singh and Jai Ram Thakur was also held at the Ridge.
The Shimla Summer Festival, almost a half-century old event, takes place on the Ridge. It was only a few years ago that the location of the Summer Festival was shifted away from the water storage reservoir as a precautionary step. Besides, there is a ban on plying of any vehicle including ambulances on this portion.
“If we have to save the Ridge, all large congregations including rallies and religious processions should be totally banned,” said Balbir Thakur, a retired IPS officer.
Sharma is a Shimla based journalist and a former correspondent with The Indian Express