Himachal Pradesh, a small picturesque state perched amid Himalayas, was indeed lucky to host Britishers in pre-independence era. Today, nearly about two centuries later, we feel indebted to Major Kennedy for recognizing the potential of Shimla hills and its abundance of nature and salubrious climes. Even today, English architectural heritage, dotting the town facade and jagged skyline, still stands majestically as an eternal testimony of their visionary ideas of planning and designing a settlement. But, post independence we have just basked under the patronage of their handed down glory and all we still do, is just bask. We have not yet grown to take responsibility for the fact that overtime we have consciously and deliberately, as a collective society, ruined a glorious city which could have made India proud at international forum.
What went wrong after independence is a big question for everyone involved in nurturing and carrying forward the legacy of this gem of a British heritage, Shimla; city residents, bureaucracy and politicians alike.
Perhaps, the years that followed, we forgot to appreciate, learn and respect the English vision amidst our hasty, divergent and often selfish aspirations, the so called vested interests. Undoubtedly, we played the devil by inflicting and unleashing the havoc of haphazard and uncontrolled development and in the process what we have led to is the present inglorious situation, which puts us all to an eternal shame. A city of concrete jungle, a ghetto, marred in its vicious cycle of eternal monstrous urban ills which could have been easily avoided all long, have Town Planning Rules been obeyed and implemented and not thrown down naalahs and ravines.
The Town and Country Planning Act-1977 and Rules-1978, had enough provisions for a well regulated and planned growth of our towns and cities. However, the inherent evils of India and Indian psyche; corruption, red-tapism, favoritism, cronyism and above all citizens dislike and disrespect for rules and regulations under political patronage and taking laws for granted, has put our cities to irreparable shambles, a man-made chaos and an urban blunder which can only be corrected by some natural calamitous divine intervention like an earthquake.
Today, consider any basic city infrastructure and service; roads, transportation, water supply, sewerage, parking etc., all are under served. The only class one city of our state has lost its fate to our incessant greed and gamble. ‘What Shimla can be?’, no one ever seriously put this one imperative question on table for deliberations and debate. Those concerned few who did, have always been ignored, bypassed, crushed or even eliminated by the dominating vested interests. Our leaders have trampled and marauded the very ‘Rules and Law’ they were suppose to protect and implement, but on the contrary considered them as the basic stumbling blocks in gaining private benefits, minting money and gaining political mileage.
In a city of nearly two lakh inhabitants about twenty five thousand buildings are illegal, almost two third of the city. Who is responsible? Who is accountable for such a sorry state of city development? Trust me everyone! It appears that the TCP department has been reduced to a powerless puppet, a spineless body, whose energies and efforts are exhausted and rendered futile in a vicious cycle of, first drafting and later amending the rules and regulations, ultimately to be rampantly flouted by the citizens. It seems that TCP has no strong footing of its own to take a virtuous stand in implementing even one single rule it proposes on ground.
Our cities and towns are ruined under a concocted bureaucratic and political nexus, blindly aiming at future electoral gains alone. No wonder as elections approach, one part or the other in town and cities is exempted from Planning Area for some godforsaken reasons, best known to our politician alone. This one move invariably kills the very basic objective and purpose of City planning exercise. And surprisingly the spineless TCP Department buckles under pressure of such baseless demands, instead of taking a bold stand and saying a loud no and convince their bureaucratic and political bosses about the pitfalls of such an irrational move, which are already visible across our hill state.
As they say, rest all is the history. And believe me, ours isn’t a history worth preaching and propagating to our younger generations. Our towns/cites have nothing great to teach anyone, except the visible certificate of our utter failure as a society in building a good and livable city. Every single citizen is responsible for this felony. Everyone today has a Godfather in political or bureaucratic corridors, which often end up misguiding and misleading the junta on new rules and regulations. The pseudo-immunity, a false power and authority to rampantly flout the rules, flows in top-down manner under the patronage of this very junta made Godfathers, the devil’s advocates- politicians and bureaucrats.
I would like to question everyone concerned with Shimla city; ‘Is this all we could do in last 67 years of independence to a celebrated city, a British legacy, the so called ‘Jewel in the British Crown’, ‘A Pearl in the East’, ‘Viceroy’s shooting Box’, ‘Abode of the Little Tin Gods’, or the Indian ‘Mount Olympus’?
Shame on us all for our collective failure in taking some valuable lessons from the past glory and carry it forward to carve an equally resplendent present and more respectable future. We have failed miserably by throwing away a golden opportunity. This dismal show of our collective aspirations is rendered not just in one city but across our whole state itself, Shimla, Solan, Dharamshala and Dhalhousi, you name any city/town, small or big, the urban rot is far spread and mars the beauty we could have enjoyed and admired and felt proud about.
The Architecture fraternity too is equally responsible for nurturing this rot, the very conspicuous ghost of our urban adventures. Their focus is minting money rather than educating their clients about the perils of illegal construction and the enormous possibilities of a creative process called design, designing homes and livable spaces in harmony with nature. But alas! Clients are the new designers, changing designs at will to make some more money by incorporating two additional rooms, a few balconies here and there or a few floors just to be higher than their neighbors. This willful illegal modification list is unending and so is the eternal stream of easy apple money, pouring in incessantly year after year. Everyone around is engulfed in an inflated haughty aura of carrying CM in his pocket. No wonder, we can’t blame TCP alone for this entire muddle.
TOWN AND COUNTRY PLANNING (AMENDMENT) ORDINANCE, 2014
The Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, isn’t some Rocket Science or some alien stuff. In past as well, there have been a number of similar Retention Policy interventions to control this haphazard and willful illegal construction. As far as one understands, this ordinance was primarily envisaged as a godfather of them all, one time panacea to get the entire town and cities growth pattern under control and back on track, considering its already dismal state. But unfortunately the greed factor as usual hijacked the policy itself. This grand design of bunch of our ‘City Planners’ was dealt with a hard blow in face by public hue and cry, resentment and disapproval backed by the so called devil’s advocates.
To cash rich populace, the ordinance was a blessing in disguise to capitalize on the relaxations being extended. Rampant construction across city ensued on war footing, to add that additional floor or to get that additional 70% floor space within the stipulated window of 45 days. This ambitious ordinance exercise of TCP department was turned into an act similar to the drama of a ‘delusional dog chasing its own ever illusive tail.’ As I write today, the Ordinance is being reviewed and might get scrapped altogether or may pave the way for something more modest and less stringent to make the public ultimately a winning losers in this tail chasing drama.
As far as I understand, the Ordinance was worthy of commanding the regularization fees it did. For example, in a plot of 150 sqm, with coverage of say 75 sqm, with four floors, if the additional construction was 50 sqm on each floor, i.e. 66.6% deviation in accordance to the policy the owner would have to pay @ Rs 4000/sqm (60-70% deviation band), a total sum of about (50×4000)x 4 floors= Rs 8,00,000/-. This is the worst-case scenario and considering the fact that most of the cases would be in lower category deviation bands only, the retention fee would be substantially lower as well.
Prima fascia, this amount of Rs. 8,00,000, for a 60-70% deviation, appear huge, but in reality it is peanuts, minuscule as compared to the market value of asset created, the extent and degree of flouting the Rules, and the unnecessary pressure created on city infrastructure and basic services. The devised policy rates accounted for all these factors as well and at the same time stringently discourages any future deviations beyond the approved plans. The message or writing on the wall was quite clear, but citizens have a historic tendency of ignoring them.
The market value of a 50 sqm deviation, i.e. a two room dwelling unit in Shimla City ranges from 15-30 lakhs and higher even, depending on the location and quality of construction. Thus, for four floors one has created a real estate asset of anywhere between Rs 60 Lakhs to Rs 1.20 Crore value. Does this ring a bell! So the amount of rupees eight lakhs for above example, envisaged as per the Ordinance, is just and a deserving penance for flouting the rules in first place. Citizens must understand that in process of deviating from the norms they have knowingly added to the city’s woes and they are perpetrators of crime against the beauty of hills, against British heritage, against a better and beautiful city we have failed to create.
SMART AND SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND TOWNS
Leaving aside the TCP Ordinance 2014, and its consequent fate to be announced shortly, we must look at the larger picture as well. At national level we are talking about Smart Cities, Heritage Cities and city rejuvenation and such polished and ambitious jargons to make India an attractive tourist and investments destination. But time and again Shimla city and its power corridors have disappointed one and all. Shouldn’t we be availing this opportunity to pitch our few important towns and cities like Shimla, Solan, Dharamshala and Manali, to name a few, for Smart Cities or Heritage Cities.
Time has come when the state Polity, Bureaucracy, TCP and UD departments must take a proactive stand to give our cities a refreshed vision, a novel direction and at the same time educate and apprise citizens about the leading smart and sustainable cities of the world of comparative size and structure. People need to know and learn what is possible and how it can be made to happen in our settings. People must understand that what makes a city livable, smart, ideal, sustainable and respectable and a WOW! factor. A lot is possible, but one has to move beyond the greed, beyond flouting rules and live as concerned citizens of a global hill city, not of a concrete jungle at least.
I hope, the TCP department is infused with a renewed vigour and a stronger spine to implement its policies and vision, and citizens must think and grow beyond personal gains at the cost of the state and rather play a proactive role in adhering to the rules and nurturing the collective vision. Trust me, if rules were not obeyed, Switzerland would be in shambles, Europe wouldn’t be a global attraction and if rules are still not obeyed here at home, even a century or two later our generations would still be looking and craving for hill stations abroad. And they would have no one else to blame but us, their fore fathers. If that is what we want, I hope, I have failed to drive the point home.
God bless us all!
(Editor’s note: This article was written on 1st of October, but due to ongoing website maintenance process could be published online only on 13th October. The TCP (Amendment) Ordinance-2014 was ingloriously scrapped in the Cabinet meeting held on 1st October and is currently under review. Pictures mentioned in the story are for representational purpose only and believed to be in public domain)