When hills cry for help

Had successive governments cared to enforce construction norms, hill towns wouldn’t have been reduced to concrete jungles, bursting at the seams

Pratibha Chauhan

Buckling under the public pressure for vote-bank politics has become the rule of the day with successive regimes accommodating the violators by regularising their unauthorised buildings by bringing about six retention policies, leading to complete urban mess in the state.

Had the government been a little more sensitive towards enforcing construction norms, hill towns set up by the British in idyllic locations, wouldn’t have been reduced to concrete jungles, bursting at the seams. The condition in most towns be it Shimla, Manali, Kasauli or McLeodganj is so deplorable that tourists visiting once do not wish to return.

The more than 20,000 unauthorised buildings are awaiting regularisation as the government is making desperate efforts to somehow accommodate them, whether it is by making amendments in the TCP Act or by seeking relaxations from the court. Had these efforts been made towards enforcing regulations rather than placating the building owners, the situation would have been far better.

What is most worrisome is the fact that there are serious questions over the structural stability of these illegal constructions built in gross violation of the norms. Many of these structures have more than the permissible number of storeys, while other have covered far more area than allowed, besides other irregularities. As such there could be a major risk in regularising them. 

The indifference of the authorities towards urban planning and enforcing TCP norms is evident from the fact that even today the state capital of Shimla is still developing on the basis of the Interim Development Plan (IDP) of 1979. The process of preparing the development plan for Shimla has been under way for the last more than five years, but is yet to see the light of the day. Similarly, many towns do not have a development plan despite a boom in construction activity, both private as well as commercial. The process of preparing the development plan of Shimla and Greater Kullu-Manali area has been initiated now.

Out of TCP purview

Rather than taking corrective measures and stringently enforcing building norms, the state government has now set the ball rolling for excluding many rural areas in the suburbs of major towns from the Town and Country Planning (TCP) Act, which is bound to prove counterproductive. In fact, the process was set into motion during the Congress regime, but now a three-member Cabinet sub-committee has been constituted under the chairmanship of Irrigation and Public Health Minister Mahender Singh.

In fact, it is high time the government wakes to the reality of rapid urbanisation of rural areas adjoining major towns. This includes setting up of big educational and health institutions and of course real estate projects. Being outside the purview of TCP Act, there is gross violation of norms. By the time these areas will be brought under the ambit of TCP Act, the damage would have been done.

However, the situation is even graver, as rather than increasing the extent of the TCP Act in other areas, rural areas are being excluded of extraneous political considerations, mindless to the catastrophe it can cause. With the hill towns of Manali and McLeodganj turning into concrete jungles, the report on their carrying capacity is being prepared by experts on the directions of the NGT.

If the Kumarhatti building collapse does not prove to be an eye-opener even now, and the government excludes rural areas from the purview of the TCP Act, things will go completely out of hand, as it is already too late. 

Seeking relaxation 

Rather than stringently enforcing the TCP Act and abiding by the court orders, the state government is desperately looking for ways and means to get some relaxation from the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which has imposed strict restrictions on construction in Shimla and Kasauli and has now diverted its attention towards the mess in Manali and McLeodganj.

Rather than enforcing the court directives, the state government is seeking relaxation in the stringent order of the NGT. It has sought that construction be allowed till 45 degrees slopes and the charges for regularising the unauthorised raised structures be reduced. When the court had barred the government from regularsing the over 20,000 illegal construction, the previous Congress regime had amended the TCP Bill to accommodate violators. However, this, too, was struck down by the court, seeing the urban mess in most towns.

NGT orders to prevent further degradation...

The NGT in its order of November 16, 2017, while coming down heavily on the regulating and implementing agencies such as TCP Department and Shimla MC directed that Shimla’s Development Plan must be put in place within three months. “The carrying capacity of Shimla city cannot afford any further building load, traffic load, destruction of green belt, forests and besides all that there is extreme scarcity of natural resources more particularly water,” the order read depicting the deplorable condition of the town.

  • No institutional construction in the core area, in case of need shift it out
  • Complete ban on felling of trees in catchment, sub-catchment areas
  • Prepare action plan for disaster management, collection and disposal of sewage and proper solid waste management
  • Reduce slope for construction to 35 degrees
  • No construction in residential, commercial, institutional or otherwise would be permitted within 3 metre from the end of the road/ national highways in the entire state
 
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