Finally, the harassment called tourist season in Shimla is going to end for the residents of the town. The much romanticized ‘Queen of Hills’ being a preferred destination for the junta from the hot dusty plains of India, this town turns into a nightmare for the locals. As such, there is hardly any relief from the hot weather. Shimla has been touching 33 degrees during this week. Shimla town has nil facilities and amenities to handle such a heavy influx of tourists into the city. Narrow bumpy roads of the town end up with mile long traffic jams. Water supply being a big problem, entire town is on rationing getting the supply every third and fourth day. Parking is the biggest headache in town. Even the residents do not get proper parking during normal days, heavy influx of tourist cars in summers create chaos choking the city to the brim.
So, what is in for local residents to face the harassment year after year in the name of tourism? Prices soar up during tourist season. Try finding a parking in a parking lot anywhere in the city. One doesn’t find any space and even if one does, the attendants refuse to let you park your car. They charge the tourists almost three four times the normal fixed rate. Giving parking space to a resident ‘affects’ their business as he is not going to pay over the roof charges.
Taxis which during other days are available at the fixed rates, these days hiring charges for a Tata Sumo for one full day is Rs. 1800-2200. This during normal times is available for Rs. 1200-1400 Coolies, porters and guides of all sort descend into the city making a killing out of the poor tourists. Mind you, tourist trade is entirely in the hands of these porters and guides. They can make or break a hotel business anytime.
Shimla hotels are the most shabby of the lot. 10×12 rooms in a multi storied building with no parking facility and above all in a residential area is called a hotel here. Tourist pays 1600 – 2500 for these rooms and then pay for a bucket of water for a bath during the stay. Very few construction is based on actual hotels. Rest all have converted their buildings into hotels. Want proof! Check out the Fingask area of Shimla. This has become the chor bazaar of hotels. Rooms are sold at over the board prices. I have serious doubt whether most of the hotels are registered here? Going by the condition of these hotels no sane person could have registered them. But sanity is never an issue when dealing with the govt. Push, pull and bribes can do wonders!
So, what is the scam? Firstly, the number of rooms registered in a hotel are less than the actual rooms. Say a hotel has 20 rooms in a hotel only 12 are registered and income from the balance 8 rooms goes straight into the pocket. No income in records, no tax paid, Simple!!! Secondly, actual room sale is shown less in records. Out of the balance 12 rooms, only 5-6 rooms are shown occupied and rest of the amount is pocketed too. The govt. looses on luxury tax, VAT and excise. Bigger hotels do it in a smart way. They show all room bookings received from travel agents in their sale but the one sold directly across the counter never enters the record. Technology has even made it easier to commit this fraud. Most of the hotel software come with a training module where one can first try their hands before working on the real software. Now this training software is programmed such that an unsuspecting customer is given a bill but this is smartly not entered into the records.
Thankfully, all this is coming to an end now. Locals can look forward to some peace and sanity in the town. Rains will eventually wash away all the sins of the past three months. Traffic will be a little more orderly. Parking attendants will not ignore us. Familiar faces will be back on the Mall. I wonder why the locals have to undergo this treatment year after year?