Shimla: Taking notice of haphazard development and encroachments in the state capital, where "most buildings are precariously hanging", the Himachal Pradesh High Court has observed that the devastating earthquake in Nepal last month had failed to shake the authorities out of their slumber and curb illegal construction that has turned Shimla into a "slum".
In a 29-page strongly-worded judgment delivered last week, a division bench consisting of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan pointed out that even though the latest studies indicated that most of Himachal Pradesh fell in seismic zone V and the remaining in zone IV, this fact had failed to move the authorities in Shimla.
The quake-prone erstwhile summer capital of the Raj cannot avert a Himalayan tragedy of the kind that killed thousands and caused massive destruction in Nepal, the bench said, while taking suo motu cognisance of encroachments in Shimla markets.
"It is high time that building byelaws are suitably amended by taking into consideration the recent seismic activity in the entire Himalayan region," it said while asserting that illegal structures won't be regularised.
The order mentioned that Shimla's north slope of the Ridge and open space just above the Mall, which extends to the Grand Hotel in the west and Lower Bazaar in the east, was slowly sinking.
"Most buildings are precariously hanging on the steep slopes and clinging to one another. A moderate to high intensity temblor can be catastrophic for congested settlements, with no escape routes. They are likely to collapse like a pack of cards, more particularly when none of the authorities has ever cared to carry out the seismic pounding effects in buildings," the court added.
"We can only fasten the blame on the haphazard and illegal constructions being carried out and all-out efforts being made for converting the once scenic seven hills of this town into a concrete jungle," the judges said.
"It cannot be denied that haphazard, unplanned and illegal constructions have marred the beauty of hill towns, more particularly the capital, Shimla.
"Why then is the administration permitting it to be converted into a slum," the judges asked and directed the Shimla Municipal Corporation to demolish all illegal projections within six weeks.
During the hearing, the amicus curiae pointed out that it was not only the market roads that had been encroached upon in Shimla but also public roads had been choked, making it difficult for emergency vehicles to reach the spot of a mishap in time.
The high court said that after decades of haphazard development and environmental degradation, there was a ray of hope for Shimla getting the Unesco World Heritage Site Tag.
"But can the city get the status in the current scenario where the encroachers are having a field day and the roads are completely choked?" the bench asked.
Urban Development Minister Sudhir Sharma told IANS that the government was planning to decongest the capital by moving out some government offices to its peripheral areas.