The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) intentions to invest up to 90 million US dollars to develop tourism infrastructure in Himachal, in which a major lift-up is proposed for the state capital town of Shimla, has come as a good news. But it has also thrown to light many facts about the incapability of the local administration in Shimla and the state’s only and oldest Municipal Corporation to have futuristic planning for the town.
As per the ADB proposal, Shimla is expected to have new parking spaces with a 1,200-vehicle capacity parking lot near the lift and 450 capacity parking at the entry point of the town adjacent to the tourism information centre. The other good things showering on the town would be a facelift for the historical Ridge, which showed its critical state this year and signs of giving way, many heritage buildings and also development of many open spaces where the tourists as well as locals can enjoy the nature.
Looking at the paraphernalia of the government machinery that includes the Shimla Municipal Corporation and Urban Development Department, which were supposed to take care of the state’s most progressive urban area- Shimla, the situation here shows that nothing actually went in a planned manner in the past and continues to be so even as huge public amount goes in to run these organisations.
There are many examples like the choking of the existing road infrastructure, shortage of water supply, drainage, sewerage and solid waste disposal, where the civic body and the department have failed to give a solution.
Almost a decade ago Shimla had started to feel the need for augmentation of its water supply system but a new drinking water scheme was proposed only five years ago from Giri river. This scheme too failed to solve the problem in time. Something similar happened in case of the bypass from Sanjauli and Dhalli which was to save people from hours of traffic jams in the one kilomtres strech through the congested Sanjauli market. This has also surpassed its completion deadline, though it also remains a fact that the planning for this alternative came quite late.
The Shimla Municipal Corporation has certainly been a failure, but the reasons for it lie at the end of the government. Successive governments though took care that elections to the corporation are held every five years, enough money is spent to maintain its administrative set up of over 300 staff members and to have the most ‘eligible’ officer as its commissioner for which there can be made any number of transfers to get in the right man who suits the government, yet no one ever cared to give the desired decision-making powers to the corporation and financial control over resources in its jurisdiction.
As a result, it has fast turned out to be the most ineffective organisation in the government set up, where the councilors have a right to make promises to the residents of the wards and debate their problems in the corporation house, but they do not have powers to make decisions and get them implemented since the organisation is also fund starved.
Last year the Municipal Corporation was snatched of its biggest resource, the forest area of Shimla, which government transferred to the forest department. Government also snatched the right from it to claim two per cent registration fee. Even though a grant in compensation of the revenue lost as such was announced, the corporation has not received a penny so far. Same is the story for abolition of Octroi which generated revenue for the corporation that was ploughed back into the development of the town. The promised grant in lieu of this still eludes the civic body. With this the corporation stands deprived of all major revenue generating sources and continues to show a deficit budget since many years.
It is also important to note that the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, which was announced for Shimla besides many other cities in the country calls for implementation of many conditions before the centre gives grants for upliftment of the town. One of the crucial conditions is that the corporation has powers to take decisions on many fronts for which delegation of powers has to take place. Yet the corporation draws a blank on this front.
Shimla has not yet been able to have a successful solid waste disposal system. An important measure introduced in the town and country planning rules to tackle the problem of water shortage was rainwater harvesting. Though it was made mandatory for all new buildings coming up after year 2006, the corporation has not been able to strictly implement it. The reasons for this can only be placed on total negligence.
In wake of all these facts it is not unnatural that the bodies set up by the government to take care of the town and on which lakhs of rupees are being spent annually have turned out to be non-performers. And the works that should have been done by a civic body are now being done by the tourism department. But is there still a guarantee that after the infrastructure comes up such a civic body would be able to maintain it and run successfully.