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Posted at: Oct 6, 2018, 12:30 AM; last updated: Oct 6, 2018, 12:30 AM (IST)ILLEGAL CONSTRUCTIONS

Tightrope walk for TCP Minister

Giving relief to over 20,000 owners of unauthorised structures biggest challenge for Sarveen Chaudhry


Sarveen Chaudhary, Town and Country Planning and Urban Development Minister, is the lone woman in the Cabinet who has been assigned the task of regulating the urban mess that plagues popular hill towns, which attract a large number of tourists from all over the world. 

With the construction mess drawing the ire of the courts, including the Supreme Court, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) as well as the High Court, it is certainly a tight-rope walk for Chaudhry. Giving respite to hotels owners in McLeodganj and Kullu-Manali is yet another challenge for the government with a sizeable chunk of the population being dependent on tourism and allied activities.  

Giving relief to over 20,000 house owners of unauthorised structures is the biggest challenge for the government. It is a delicate situation where the aspirations of local people from its own government are high, but the constant vigil that the courts are keeping on haphazard constructions makes the task of the government extremely tough.

Chaudhary, in an interview with Special Correspondent Pratibha Chauhan, shares her views and the efforts being made to provide relief to the people. 

How do you intend sorting out the mess, resulting from unauthorised constructions in most towns?

The intention of the government is not to trouble anyone but to ensure that there is strict adherence to building norms. We are in the process of trying to sort out the mess and all constructions, including hotels, where there is a small deviation, will be given time to remove the illegal portions. There is a provision even in the TCP Act to regularise 10 per cent deviation. 

Besides, we are planning present our case in the High Court, so that we can give relief within the norms to the genuine complainants. Like the courts, we too are keen that there is regulated growth and within the norms. I am personally looking into such cases which are brought to my notice, so that people with genuine grievances do not suffer and they can be given relief while sticking to norms. 

Another aspect that we are examining is that of the floor area ratio (FAR) because in the hills it has to be precise. As is the case in McLeodganj, it is simply not possible to leave out three to five metres (space) because there is very limited space for constructions. So we could at a later stage make some relaxation in this regard.

In the case of court orders regarding demolition of illegal hotels, what is the government’s stand?

The government is sympathetic towards the problem being faced by hotel owners because it involves the livelihood of a large number of people. We are accommodating all hotel owners who have removed the minor violations, whether it is the absence of a parking floor or it’s being used for some other purpose, extending the roof more than the permissible limit or seeking permissions from the Tourism Department or the state Pollution Control Board. 

The water and power supply to such units that have complied with the directions of the court has been restored in some cases. However, the norms will have to be adhered to, so as to ensure that there is no illegal construction and to ensure that there is planned and regulated growth of our towns. 

Has the NGT order banning construction activity in Shimla affected various development projects, including the Smart City project, AMRUT and the satellite township plan at Jathia Devi?

Yes, the ban has to some extent affected the implementation of these projects. We had pleaded this even before the NGT. In fact, now we are making some modifications in the projects, like the satellite township, according to the NGT orders. We are hopeful that these projects will help a great deal in urban planning and in ensuring regulated growth. We are keen that the satellite township proposed at Jathia Devi, in collaboration with Singapore, near Shimla comes up at the earliest because it will help ease out congestion in the state capital. 

The two departments of TCP and Urban Development are plagued with staff shortage, more so, as far as technical expertise is concerned?

It is true that we do not have adequate staff and technical expertise to check the construction activity on this scale. Efforts are being made to ensure that there is regular checking and violations in building norms are checked while they are taking place. In fact, we have filled 40 posts in the Urban Development Department and we intend to do this in the case of the TCP Department also. 

What other problems do you see in ensuring regulated growth to prevent congestion?

We are trying to ensure that people adhere to norms, but an issue which, in the coming times, will pose a major problem is that of encroachments in the name of religion. People have made unauthorised constructions on the pretext of setting up a temple or other such religious places.   

The issue of religious sentiments being a very sensitive matter, I have brought it to the notice of the government. I strongly feel that officials of the Revenue Department must check such encroachments made in the name of religion. I have myself seen that houses are being made next to religious places, which is completely illegal and must be checked immediately. 


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