Shimla’s heritage landmark—the iconic Ridge, a sprawling open space hosting a British era 1 million-gallon water storage tank beneath it, is seen to have come under a threat with prohibited structures coming up to celebrate the Summer festival in the town.
A day after the Shimla Summer festival got going at The Ridge with the erection of heavy make-shift structures, domes and barricading, former Deputy Mayor Tekinder Singh Panwar raised his voice against the violation of High Court orders by the local administration.
He sought intervention of the Chief Justice M S Ramachandra Rao of the Himachal Pradesh High Court seek strict compliance of the HC order, which had sought to protect this portion of the Ridge where the water storage tank is located— marking it as a ‘no-activity’ area.
In a letter addressed to the High Court Chief Justice, Panwar, who is also an urban planning specialist having worked in Leh and other Himalayans towns, pointed out a gross negligence on the part of the local administration and non-compliance with a High Court order.
He has raised an alarm over the ongoing Summer Festival asserting that the festival was being held in direct violation of a High Court order, which strictly prohibits any gatherings on the portion of the Ridge in Shimla situated above a century-old water reservoir.
The former deputy mayor emphasizes the heritage value of the Ridge and its surrounding areas, which were developed by the British and possess unique aesthetics and land use regulations.
The water reservoir beneath the Ridge, constructed without reinforcements, is of particular concern due to its vulnerability.
Panwar recalls having participated in the cleaning operations within the tank and highlights its sensitive nature, further emphasizing that no activities contrary to the established guidelines, including holding meetings, are permitted in the heritage zone.
He refers to the September 12, 2008 order of the High Court order that explicitly forbids any gatherings on the Ridge above the water reservoir.
The former Deputy Mayor says that the Shimla Municipal Corporation had previously invested a significant amount of funds, nearly Rs 2 crore, to repair leakage in the water tank, underscoring the importance of protecting this crucial infrastructure.
“The Ridge Shimla has a large water reservoir underneath it, built during the British time with simple mortar and brick.There are no reinforcements. I remember that during the days when I was serving the city, we had marked the entire water tank zone with yellow markings and it was made a no-vehicle zone. Even ambulances were not allowed to ply over it” he wrote .
The Ridge houses the city’s lifeline in terms of the water reservoir, with a capacity of 1,000,000 gallons of water, beneath it.
Over the years, the water tank has developed cracks in the walls of its four chambers. The cracks are a few millimetres deep but are widening with the passage of time, which can result in a huge disaster if not restored in time, admit Shimla Municipal Corporation engineers.
Currently, a 13-feet retaining wall is being built on the north side of the Ridge towards historic Ice-Skating Rink to save the Ridge from sinking on the basis of a study done by IIT, Roorkee.
But veteran Shimla conservationist B S Malhans holds a contrary view.
“To save the Ridge, we have to get away with a British era water storage tank built in the 1880s. There are modern technologies by which we can have small sectoral tanks in the town instead of a giant tank , which is a permanent danger to the Ridge and town also, simply because of its weight and volume of water stored,” said Malhans, who has also served as member of the Shimla Heritage committee.
If the water storage tank is removed, then Ridge could be a great cultural centre in the middle of the town. Even the Summer festival and other cultural, art and tourism activities could be a great option, he added
“Sadly, we may have invested crores of rupees to beautify the Ridge, landscape it, build structures to save it from sinking or fill-up wide cracks on the surface and underground large water storage tank, yet the Ridge is crying, please save me!” Malhans remarked.
Malhans calls for “long term engineering-cum-conservation solutions to protect the Ridge instead of what he calls “band-aid” interventions.