In Pune, the imposing and beautiful building which houses the offices and laboratories of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) is known to the public as ‘Simla Office’. It is an outstanding landmark in the heart of the city of Pune, and even the very busy square where it is located is popularly called the ‘Simla Office Chowk’. The people of Pune know that IMD earlier had its office in Simla (now Shimla) from where it was shifted to Poona (now Pune), but most of them are not quite aware of the fascinating history behind the name. Here it is in brief:

IMD was established in the year 1875 with its headquarters in the capital city of Calcutta (now Kolkata). Almost simultaneously, a Branch Meteorological Office was set up in Simla, which since 1864 was the summer capital of colonial India, and was therefore equally important. As the years went by, greater responsibility got assigned to the Simla branch office and its activities went on increasing. From 1885 onwards, the Indian Daily Weather Report, monthly and seasonal summaries, and the long range forecasts were issued by IMD from Simla. Eventually, in 1905, the role reversal became official, as Simla became the headquarters of IMD and Calcutta was reduced to the status of a branch office.

In 1875, the Simla branch office of IMD was temporarily housed in the Government Telegraph Office. Sir John Eliot, who was the head of IMD from 1889 to 1903, had bought an old bungalow named ‘Constantia’ for his own stay in Simla during the summers. Eliot rented out a part of this bungalow for use by IMD and so ‘Constantia’ served as IMD’s office at Simla from 1890 to 1903.

When Eliot retired, he offered to sell the property to IMD. While this offer was not accepted, Sir Gilbert Walker, who had succeeded Eliot as the Director General of IMD, continued to function from the ‘Constantia’ office until 1908. At that time, the Governor General decided to acquire the building for establishing the Young Women’s Christian Association there. ‘Constantia’ stands today in a properly maintained condition and still houses the Shimla YWCA.

In 1908, IMD moved out into a larger bungalow on the Yarrows estate in Simla, but this was already so old that it had to be structurally reinforced by means of heavy scaffolding. By 1916, the Yarrows site had further deteriorated and had to be abandoned, and so IMD moved its office once again, this time to a temporary and hurriedly constructed building on the Kennedy House estate. There is no trace of either of these buildings in Shimla now.

The Kennedy building was not well-suited to the nature of IMD’s activities, which were constantly increasing. Walker had been seriously considering the idea of shifting the IMD headquarters out of Simla to a place on the plains and had thought of Poona as an alternative. In 1924, the year of his retirement, Walker made a formal proposal to the government to this effect. His successor Director General, J. H. Field, pursued the proposal and obtained government sanction in 1926.

The IMD headquarters building at Poona was built upon a 10-acre site in the Bhamburda (now Shivajinagar) area on Ganeshkhind Road. The architectural plans were drawn up by M/s Stevens and Partners. The observation-cum-clock tower was designed to have a square cross-section with its diagonals aligned north-south and east-west. The building was inaugurated on 20 July 1928 by Sir Leslie Orme Wilson, Governor of Bombay. By that time, Field had also retired and Sir Charles Normand had just taken over charge as Director General of Observatories. Even before the formal inauguration ceremony was held, the process of shifting the office from Simla to Poona had been completed and the publication of the India Daily Weather Report had already commenced from Poona on 1 April 1928.

Normand was the Director General of IMD until 1944. However towards the end of his tenure, which coincided with the Second World War, the headquarters of IMD had again to be shifted to New Delhi, as it was required to provide specialized forecasting services to the air force. In 1947, after independence, it was decided that the IMD headquarters would continue to remain in New Delhi.

Dr S. K. Banerji, was the first Indian to be appointed as the Director General of IMD in 1944 and he held that position till 1950. Presently, IMD has a six-storied building named ‘Mausam Bhavan’, and another six-storied building called ‘Mausam Upagrah Bhavan’ in a sprawling complex of its own on Lodi Road in New Delhi.