Analysis of Building & Construction Regulations of Hill Towns in India

Lianne D’Souza, Research Fellow, CEERA

Shivangi Pandia, Intern, CEERA


With the increasing population of India, cities are developing tremendously to meet the increasing demand in buildings for various purposes, viz. recreational, educational, residential and commercial workplaces. The scenario is more critical in the hilly areas owing to scarce land available for development. The pressure for development in the Himalayan region has gone up during the past few years owing to reasons such as urbanization, increase in population and high influx of tourists.[1] Hill towns like Manali, Shimla and Nanital which were developed by the British at the time of the pre-independence era have now become main centers for administration, healthcare, tourism and employment opportunities.[2] These centers are also growing into hubs for generation of economic activity as they are regarded as preferred travel destinations attracting scores of tourists every year. Such an influx has stimulated developmental activities in these areas which are, interestingly, ecologically sensitive and prone to earthquakes.[3]

An area having an altitude of 600m or more from the sea level or having the slope of 30 degrees can be categorized as “hilly” in India,[4] which mainly includes the Central Highlands, Himalayas, the Deccan plateau and the North Eastern hill ranges. They are categorized into three types: the foot-hill regions (below 1200m), mid hill regions (1200-3500m) and the high hill regions (above 3500m).[5] Unlike the plains, hilly areas have a different geographic demography that have more challenging terrain, steep gradients and rich flora which gives rise to difficulties in carrying out any developmental and construction work.[6]

Construction Trends in the Hilly Regions

An analysis of the hill towns like Dalhousie, Shimla and Mussoorie that are experiencing rapid development reveals that they primarily constitute mid-hill regions. Due to inefficacy in the current pattern of development, the ability to meet the increased demand for infrastructural requirements in the form of housing, educational areas and work places has shifted focus from low-rise buildings to mid-rise buildings that rather make the town area cover a considerable part of the hills. This presents a unique problem in town planning, weaving together the existing topography, architecture and the urban spaces in hilly regions.[7]. Such construction works are permitted by the government owing to less land availability and high land prices. “Shimla has been planned for a population of 25,000 on a pedestrian scale, but the present population of the town is around 169,758.”[8] Analysis of this shows that how the green slopes are been transformed into unproductive and concrete jungles along with the problems such as pollution, overcrowding, improper sewage system, reduction in forest produce and landslides resulting in environmental degradation and ecological disorder.[9] The houses are small with narrow streets, there is lack of basic amenities and unhealthy living conditions.[10] The problem also increases with high increase in population growth and people migrating from nearby villages to the town in search of work.[11]

Impact and Issues Associated with Development in Hill Towns

Hilly areas are ecologically sensitive and prone to disasters. They possess lower carrying capacities, yet they are the most densely populated with multistoried buildings. They not only face the threat of seismic disasters but are also disrupting the environment around them with depletion of green areas, deforestation that makes the soil loose and prone to landslides,[12] pollution of lakes & water bodies and devastation of picturesque landscapes which altogether alters and significantly affects environmental balance.[13] The buildings constructed on the slopes inclined at 35 to 45 degrees[14] often lack the safety considerations required in order to mitigate accidents, there is huge devastation caused during earthquakes and even heavy rainfalls. The devastation multiplies the damage caused by the chain effect owing to the alignment of the houses constructed. Hilly regions are more susceptible to various kinds of natural hazards like earthquakes,[15] landslides,[16] floods and cloudbursts. Land available for construction is already limited because of the topographical and geographical reasons, as a result the agricultural land in the suburbs are used for development. The major factor for choosing the agricultural land is that there is no regulation of such lands, they are available at low prices owing to the weak economic background of farmers, legal regime and improper development plans. The use of agricultural lands worsens the quality of environment, increasing the surface runway, depleting groundwater resources, reducing green areas and resulting in reduction in the charging of acquifires.[17] Environmental protection and preservation measures are not taken up while choosing any construction site and very little is done to restore the environment. There is decline in the quality of living environment due to the unsafe and unsuitable buildings constructed for residential purposes, the infrastructure lacks safety measures and are crowded, no open spaces, narrow roads, reduction in green areas and limited air ventilation. A pattern of disturbance in the drainage system and vegetation can be seen due to massive construction work taken without any environmental preservation measures. There is  lack of safety measures for protection against fire in the majority of buildings as mostly are made up of wood. Also due to the narrow roads and difficult terrains there is inadequate/no access for the fire or ambulance to reach, again resulting in loss of human lives.

Legislations that cover Development in Hilly Regions

Different regulations on building and construction norms have been made to govern the issue of development in the hilly regions. The major problem is that they are inspired by the “National Building Code” and “Delhi master plan” that makes them unsuitable in the context of hilly areas. The MoEFCC has categorized various hilly regions of India as ecologically sensitive.[18] The current building regulations for ensuring safety against disaster management enforced in various Himalayan hill towns are: “Draft Development plan for Shimla Planning Area 2021[19]”, “Development Plan for Manali Planning Area, 2021,[20]”and “Development Plan for Dalhousie Planning area, 2021[21]”. Despite these laws and evidences of numerous accidents of landslides in the region, many hill towns like Shimla, Mussourie lack provisions that particularly address concerns relating to slope stability and landslide.

Numerous protective measures with respect to safety against landslides are mentioned in the Indian Standards for selection of Hill States,[22] but the adoption of this will lead to increased cost of construction and owing to the weak economic condition they have often neglected protective measures required to mitigate the landslides in hilly areas. Himalayas are located in the seismically most vulnerable zone of the country and stand at zone V and VI in the seismic vulnerability atlas.[23] As per the National Building Code, 2005 it states that each development activity would have environmental impact and hence before such project a detailed assessment must be performed (the slope analysis, flora and fauna, soil, seismic vulnerability, assessment of natural disasters and aesthetic value of the location).[24] There have been various earthquake safety regulations that are provided in the draft development plan for Shimla[25] governing the seismic vulnerability, it states that the building as per the IS code[26] must be located on stable hill slopes and also to take necessary measures to make the building disaster resistant. These regulations are not complied because of their variations and disparities they have been neither effective implementation nor any mechanism is there to check and ensure the same.

Most of the regulation allows for the range of cutting the slopes from 3.5mm to 6.6mm, but in reality they are cut more than the permissible limit. This increasing pattern leads to altering the slope stability, loosening of soil and changes the drainage pattern. Every year there are numerous occurrences of landslides due to rainfall that leads to loss of human life, destruction of ecology of that area. The approval from the local governing authorities is not backed by reason and expertise, neither are there any standards to check the design plan. The certificate of structural safety is required from the architect that indicates that there has been compliance of safety measures while construction, but again their compliance is not monitored by the development permitting authority.


Hilly areas already have a fragile ecology, it is the responsibility of us humans to maintain the environmental quality and ecological balance. Not just that the construction is a challenge, but the preservation of environment and its component is too.

Safety measures against the natural disasters is the most vital concern of the new development in hill towns and the existing building regulations seem ineffective and inadequate to provide for safer buildings. Persistent problems exist in the implementation of the said policies and their cost effectiveness. The approach that must be adopted should be on formulation of mandatory building regulations keeping in mind the topography of the area and its environmental hazards. Regulations must be region specific to suit different areas owing to their geographic terrain such as scope stability and seismic vulnerability. Policies should be specific and not prescriptive, to ensure compliance technical personals and authorities must be appointed. The existing building regulations must be re-formulated with due consideration to sun-light, wind direction, environment and ecology of the region. The bodies for research and assessment must be appointed to conduct assessment to check the compliance and environmental impact.


[1] D. S. Meshram, Maladies of hill regions: Sustainable regional development approach, 1-11 ITPI Journal (2008).

[2] P.K. Banta, Shimla-queen of hills: vacuum of natural heritage, 37 Nagarlok 24-33 (2005).

[3] Ashwani Kumar, Impact of Building Regulations on Indian Hill Towns, 12 HBRC Journal 316-326 (2016).

[4] Bureau of Indian Standards, National Building Code 2005, New Delhi (2005).

[5] Pushplata Garg & A. Kumar, Mid-rise buildings in hill towns – a problem or an opportunity, architecture + design, XXVI Journal of Indian Architecture 90–96 (2009).

[6] Pushplata Garg, A. Kumar & A. Sinha, Energy optimization for tall buildings in hill regions, 16 Journal of Indian Building Congress 188–195 (2009).

[7] Rajinder S. Jutla, Visual image of the city: Tourists’ versus residents’ perception of Shimla, a hill station in northern India, 2 Tourism Geographies 404–420 (2000).

[8] Town & Country Planning Organization Shimla, Draft Development Plan for Shimla Planning Area 2021 (2011).

[9] Id.

[10] W.A. Moser, Design for successful hillside development, 117 Journal of Urban Planning Development 85–94 (1991).

[11] A.K. Seam, General factors for planning a hill town, Journal of Indian Institute of Architects 27–29 (1995).

[12] C.J. Van Westen, E. Castellanos & S.L. Kuriakose, Spatial data for landslide susceptibility, hazard, and vulnerability assessment: an overview, 102 Engineering Geology 112–131 (2008).

[13] Nirvan Sah, Mohit Kumar, Rajeev Upadhayay and Som Dutt, Hill Slope Instability of Nanital City, Kumaun Lesser Himalaya, Uttarakhand, India, 10 Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering 280-289 (2018).

[14] M. Xie, T. Esaki, G. Zhou & Y. Mitani, Geographic information systems-based three dimensional critical slope stability analysis and landslide hazard assessment, 129 Journal of Geotechnical & Geo-Environmental Engineering 1109–1118 (2003).

[15] B. Marwaha, Planning for Residential Areas in Hill Towns, 52nd National Town and Country Planning Conference on Development of Hill Capitals, Shimla Vision 2025, 296–301 (2003).

[16] S.V. Panikkar & V. Subramanyan, Landslide hazard analysis of the area around Dehra Dun and Mussoorie, Uttar Pradesh, 73 Current Science 1117-1123 (1997).

[17] A. Kumar & Pushplata Garg, Building regulations for environmental protection in Indian hill towns, 2 International Journal of Sustainable Built Environment 224–231 (2013).

[18] Meenakshi Kapoor, Kanchi Kohli & Manju Menon, India’s notified Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs), Kalpavriksh (2009).

[19] Town & Country Planning Office Shimla, Development Plan for Shimla Planning Area 2021 (2011).

[20] Town & Country Planning Office Shimla, Draft Development Plan for Manali Planning area 2021 (2005)

[21] Town & Country Planning Office Shimla, Draft Development Plan for Dalhousie Planning area 2021 (2004).

[22] Bureau of Indian Standards, Siting, Design and Selection of Materials for Residential Buildings in Hilly Areas-Guidelines, IS 14804: 2000 BIS (2000).

[23] National Disaster Management Division, Ministry of Home Affairs Additional Provisions in Building Regulations/Byelaws for Structural Safety, In Natural Hazard Zones of India (2007).

[24] Annexure G part III, National Building Code, 2005.

[25] Town & Country Planning Office Shimla, Development Plan for Shimla Planning Area 2021 (2011).

[26] Bureau of Indian Standards, Guidelines for Selection and Development of Hill Sites, I.S. 14243 Part 2, BIS (1995).

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