What led to collapse of over 100 buildings in Shimla

Falling in seismic zone IV and highly vulnerable to landslides, Shimla saw over 100 buildings suffering damage or collapsing during recent incessant rains, with experts attributing it to water saturation in soil, construction on drains, seepage and overburdening of hills.

Himachal Pradesh received 752.1 mm of rainfall since the onset of Monsoon on June 24 till date against average rainfall of 730 mm during the whole Monsoon season from June to September, according to the Met department.

About 46 persons have died in rain-related incidents in Shimla district in the ongoing Monsoon season and the losses in the district have touched Rs 1,286 crore, Deputy Commissioner Shimla Aditya Negi said.

Over 115 houses and buildings have been damaged.

Keeping the safety of people in mind, over 100 endangered buildings including about 50 in Shimla have been vacated, Superintendent of Police, Shimla, Sanjeev Kumar Gandhi told PTI on Tuesday.

Overburdening of hills with construction coupled with saturation of soil and seepage seem to be responsible for landslides in Shimla city, said Principal Scientific Officer, Himachal Pradesh Council for Science Technology and Environment (HIMCOSTE) S S Randhawa.

Randhawa, who has been appointed as coordinator of the committee constituted to study the causes behind the landslides, visited the sites of Krishna Nagar, Fagli and some other landslip sites in Shimla.

Talking to the PTI, he said that after the winter snow season, there was virtually no summer season and the rainy season immediately followed which aggravated the situation as there was no break for moisture in the soil to dry.

Landslides had claimed five lives in Fagli and two in Krishna Nagar in Shimla recently while the total death toll in Shimla town alone was 24 as 17 bodies were recovered from the rubble of Shiv temple in Summerhill.

“We have disturbed the natural balance of nature. The present situation is the result of our collective failure and we need to own it,” said former state chief architect Nand Kishore Negi.

The population of Shimla city has increased more than the carrying capacity (natural resources, water and air quality and carriage capacity). The old natural drainage system has become defunct and buildings have come up on drains, he told PTI.

Earlier 30 per cent area had constructions and 70 per cent was vacant but now the scenario is reversed and the volume of water in drains has surpassed the carrying capacity, he said.

“Several reasons have contributed to slides but one thing is clear that we can’t go vertical in the construction on hills and it is time that we follow the norms of one kilometre of green cover after two kilometres of construction as is prevalent abroad,” he added.

The Britons had developed Shimla for a population of about 15,000but the population had surpassed three lakh in 2021.

According to the police data, several areas in the Shimla district, as well as the town, are sinking and the situation is grave in Labrot, Khauni, Chanderpur and Ghunsa villages of Jubbal; Thaitwari, Janglikh and Dhamwari villages in Rohru; Khaltu Nala and some areas of Kotkhai and Kumarsein and Chini Bangla in Kufri.

In Shimla city, the sinking zones included areas of Comley Bank, Krishna Nagar, Police Line area in Kaithu, Jutog Cantt, Dhingu Dhar near Dhalli, Fruit Apple Mandi in Bhattakuffer and areas near ISBT.

Shimla is going through tough times but this phase would also pass and the situation would get better, the SP said.

Soil strata were ignored as people were inclined to buy cheap land in the state capital and the majority of the buildings/houses that collapsed were either constructed alongside nallahs or at an elevation of above 45 degrees, opine experts.

According to the seismic zoning map of the country, the total area is classified into four seismic zones. Zone V is seismically the most active region, while zone II is the least. Shimla falls under Zone IV.

Successive governments ignored the concern expressed by environmentalists and ecologists and huge concrete buildings continued to obscure the landscape and recent heavy rains pressed the destruction button, they claimed.

“Vote bank politics of successive governments allowing unregularised construction is to be blamed for the present day. It is a known fact that Krishna Nagar is a dumping site and the successive governments should answer why people are not displaced from here,” said another former state government architect seeking anonymity.

Lack of proper foundation, flouting of bylaws resulting in the construction of multistory buildings and leakage of water transmission lines are also responsible for the destruction, the former architect added.

Meanwhile, in a video, Himachal Public Works Minister Vikramaditya Singh acknowledged that shortcomings of successive state governments were responsible for the present situation.

“We owe an apology to people for colossal devastation due to rains, floods and landslides and are determined to take bitter and strong steps for the safety and security of the state and future generations.

“I am tendering an apology to the people not because we have done something wrong but feel that there must have been some shortcomings on the part of precious governments which led to the loss of human lives and property during the ongoing monsoons,” he said in a message.

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