As heavy snowfall has eluded this erstwhile summer capital of British India in recent times, the “snow manual” of the administration, followed since the Raj, has virtually been lying in cold storage….writes Vishal Gulati
Then, suddenly, 83 cm of snow fell on January 7 and 8.
And with the administration’s failure to handle its disastrous consequences snowballing into a political controversy and causing local dissent, state authorities are rapidly defreezing the words of wisdom in the book.
“The inability to restore electricity and water supply — disrupted on January 7 — in most Shimla localities, clearly reflects a failure on the part of government,” said octogenarian local resident Ramesh Sood.
The electricity to Sood’s residence in Stokes Palace near the Chief Minister’s official residence Oakover was restored only on January 11, after five days of disruption, but remains erratic. “This (snow) is a wake-up call,” he added.
Officials blame the power failure on the uprooting of a large number of snow-laden trees and the damage these caused to nearby electricity poles, lines and transformers.
Chief Secretary V.C. Pharka told IANS electricity supply in 80 per cent of houses was restored by January 12 and efforts were on to restore this in other areas too as soon as possible.
In view of an advisory by the local Met office regarding more snowfall from this weekend, he said direction have been issued to the departments concerned to ensure that there is no inconvenience to the general public.
The Shimla Snow Manual lists the responsibilities and duties of the administration during snowfall, such as the setting up of control rooms, deploying men and machinery to clear roads and pathways, as well as maintaining power and drinking water supplies.
The district administration, before the onset of winter every year, holds a meeting to review measures and assign duties to handle any emergency in case of heavy snow.
Officials admit that for the past many decades, this meeting — called the snow manual meeting — has become a mere ritual.
“Over the years, the intensity of snowfall in Shimla has decreased. So the snow manual has lost its relevance,” said an official, who did not wish to be named.
Admitting the civic body is following the British-framed snow manual, Deputy Mayor Tikender Panwar told IANS it needs to be reviewed.
“All the schemes are based on lifting water and they can’t operate without electricity. And the electricity was restored by the government only on Wednesday (January 11). Three water schemes are still without electricity,” Panwar said.
Upset over the abnormal delay in restoring public services, local legislator and BJP leader Suresh Bhardwaj said: “If the government feels helpless in dealing with heavy snowfall, it should call the Indian Army to restore normalcy.”
The road leading to the Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital, the state’s prominent hospital, is still too slippery for traffic and pedestrians.
Old-timers recalled that for almost two decades Shimla, which was planned for a maximum population of 16,000 and now supports 236,000, has not recorded this kind of heavy snowfall in a single spell.
Ramesh Chauhan, a retired government employee settled in the city since 1960, said that till the 1980s, heavy snowfall was a normal feature of the town. There used to be four to five spells of heavy snow (more than 70 cm) throughout the winter and in between there were mild to moderate ones, he said.
“I still remember the winter of 1990-91 when Shimla got the heaviest snow in a single spell. This time the intensity of snowfall is quite less compared to the past, but the miseries are more,” Chauhan said.
Another resident, Mohit Sood, said the civic body would earlier sprinkle salt on the roads ahead of snowfall and that helped in the clearing-up process.
“Now you can see a large number of ornamental trees have been planted in Shimla that are uprooted with slight high-intensity snowfall. The sturdy deodars (cedars) that have no match in holding up under snow are fast depleting from Shimla’s skyline,” he said.
Manmohan Singh, director of the Meteorological Office in Shimla, told IANS that the 83 cm of snow that fell between January 7 and 8 was the heaviest yet.
As per Met office records, Shimla experienced 62 cm of snow on February 12, 2007, which was the highest on a single day in the past 99 years.
In 2005, there was 94.3 cm of snow in January but it was spread over seven days. In 2004, 96.6 cm of snow fell in the whole of January.