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Weekly Pullouts » Himachal Tribune

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

Urban mess energises visitors to hills, or is it a nightmare?

Urban mess energises visitors to hills, or is it a nightmare?
Another example of haphazard constructions in Manali town. Photo: Jai Kumar

After imposing a blanket ban on all new construction activity in Shimla, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been forced to shift its focus towards the other tourist hill towns of McLeodganj and Manali, which have been turned into concrete jungles by mindless and unregulated constructions, especially hotels and commercial establishments.

Most of the hill towns in the state have deteriorated to an extent where a visitor rather than getting invigorated returns home harassed by problems like water shortage, paucity of parking space and pot-holed roads turning a dream holiday into a nightmare. The manner in which such constructions were allowed to come up in complete violation of the norms has drawn the ire of the NGT.

The green bench has now directed the state government to set up a 10-member expert committee to undertake the carrying-capacity assessment of the two towns, especially in view of the rampant violations of construction norms. The fact that the major parts of Kangra fall in the seismic zone V, which makes the town highly vulnerable to earthquakes, makes it all the more necessary to ensure that the building norms are adhered to.

The vulnerability of Kullu-Manali to disasters and constructions coming up very close to the banks of the Beas, which changes its course every now and then, has necessitated the need to regulate the construction mess. 

The NGT had prohibited all new constructions in Shimla’s green, forest and core area through its landmark judgment on November 16, 2017.  The order was based on the report of the expert committee on the carrying capacity of the Shimla hills, especially with regard to haphazard construction activity. The NGT had ordered a ban on all new constructions in Kasauli on March 16, 2017, while ordering the setting up of an eight-member expert committee to study the carrying capacity of the Kasauli Planning Area (KPA) comprising 1,911.39 hectare.  The NGT on April 17, 2018, also ordered the demolition of the unauthorised constructions in 13 hotels in Kasauli, following which action was taken by pulling down the illegally constructed portion of these units.  

A similar exercise will now be undertaken in the case of McLeodganj and Manali, following the NGT directives on September 19, 2018. The TCP Department has initiated the process of setting up the expert committee with specialists from premiere national-level institutes to be part of this exercise. The NGT has directed that the carrying-capacity report be submitted to it within three months. It is on the basis of the expert-committee report that the NGT will take the final call on banning or restricting construction activity in the two towns.           

The TCP Department has also initiated the process of preparing the Development Plan of the entire Kullu Planning Area, which will include Manali and the suburbs. The exercise is being undertaken based on the latest satellite imageries and a base map from the National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad. “We hope to complete the Development Plan of the Kullu Planning Area by March and since the assessment of the carrying capacity of the area will be undertaken by the expert committee around the same time, there will be perfect synergy,” said Rajeshwar Goel, Director, TCP. 

It is following the NGT orders that the local authorities have undertaken an exercise to pull down the illegal portions of hotels in Kasauli, Manali and McLeodganj. A team of officials from various departments has inspected and submitted its report in the case of 697 commercial establishments in Kullu-Manali to the NGT.

There are a total of 854 hotels, guest houses and home-stay units registered with the Tourism 

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Department in the entire Kullu district. The inspection team has detected violations in 185 hotels related to violations as spelt out in the Town and Country Planning (TCP) norms while in the case of 75 hotels, the mandatory formalities spelt out by the Tourism Department have not been completed.

In the case of McLeodganj, notices have been issued to 170 hotels for various violations, including the TCP and Pollution Control Board norms. The matter is now pending before the High Court.

The court has come down heavily on the laxity on the part of TCP and Municipal Corporation or council officials for not checking the deviation in construction norms or the illegal constructions while they were being raised. In fact, the court has sought the list of officials who were responsible for regulating construction activity, but failed to do so. 

Apart from builders and the real estate mafia, private house owners too make deviations in the building maps with there being practically no check by the officials or the local bodies. The TCP Department is badly understaffed and lacks technical expertise. 

Across the state, unofficially, there are over 25,000 unauthorised buildings, including more than 2,000 hotels and guest houses.  What is even worse is that despite repeated admonitions by courts, including the Supreme Court and the NGT, the authorities have invented newer ways to circumvent the orders, the result being that the urban mess has only worsened in most tourist towns such as Shimla, Dharamsala-McLeodganj, Kasauli and Kullu-Manali. The government has brought about six retention policies, one after the other. And finally, it amended the Town and Country Planning Act, 1977, to placate the violators.

Unless and until there is a willingness and desire on the part of the government to regulate the construction activity, the concretisation of the hill towns will continue. The realisation must dawn that regulated urban growth is in the larger interest of the state, where the ecology is very fragile and whose tourism potential must be tapped. 

The disorder

Aug 27, 2016: Himachal Assembly passes an amendment Bill as a one-time settlement policy to give relief to over 25,000 owners of structures raised in violation of building laws and bylaws.

Jan 24, 2017: Governor gave assent to the Bill to pave the way for regularisation of the constructions. The government had received 8,782 online applications for regularising the structures. 

Sept 6, 2014: After an ordinance is passed, many house owners raise extra floors, hoping that these would be regularised. The government later withdrew the ordinance and decided to amend the TCP Act.

Successive Court Orders

Nov 16, 2016: To prevent degradation of Queen of Hills, NGT completely banned new constructions in the green, forest and the core area of Shimla. It also ordered setting up of an expert panel. In its order, running into 165 pages, the NGT gives 29 directives, banning new constructions in the core and the green areas in Shimla. 

March 16, 2017: NGT had banned all new constructions in Kasauli on a plea filed by Society for Preservation of Kasauli and its Envrions (SPOKES) 

Dec 22, 2017:  High Court struck down the Town and Country Planning (TCP) Regularisation Amendment Act, 2016 (green signalling unauthorised structures, both commercial and residential)

July 16, 2018: NGT rejects review petition of state government, upholding its November 16, 2016, order where a ban on all new constructions in the core area was imposed.

Sept 19, 2018: The green bench directs state government to set up a 10-member expert committee to undertake carrying-capacity assessment of McLeodganj and Manali. 

Statistics: Kullu-Manali 

  • Total hotels/guest houses registered with Tourism Department in Kullu district 854
  • Hotels in Kullu and Manali towns 699
  • TCP violation detected in hotels 185
  • Tourism norms violations 75
Urban Mess in Himachal Pradesh

  • 25,000 Unofficial figures of illegal constructions in the state
  • 170 No. of illegally constructed hotels in Mcleodganj
  • 72 No. of illegally constructed hotels in Kasauli


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