By: Sanjeev Verma
Every time I visit my hometown Shimla, I find construction of buildings increasing like our population. Being the capital city of Himachal Pradesh, every Himachali wants to have his dream house constructed in Shimla, as it fulfills the maximum basic facilities of the citizens, be it related to health care, education or jobs etc.
But to fulfill their desires, people have taken such unabashed steps in construction of houses which may land them in unwanted trouble some day. For example – if we take the example of Sanjauli, building have been constructed in such a manner, leaving very less space for the path between buildings even, that if at any time Shimla witness an earthquake of bigger intensity, as it can any time witness being in highly sensitive seismic zone, the buildings which may not receive destruction on its own, will be destroyed because of its neighboring buildings and there can be huge loss of lives and property, like the earthquake incident in Bhuj (Gujarat).
Though our state governments, be it BJP or Congress, keep on amending the Town and Country Planning Act 1977, from time to time, but nothing is done to implement it in true spirits. This Act was amended by the Congress government in 2006 and later by the BJP government in 2008. Where political parties are always concerned in vote catching politics, people are constructing their houses according to their whims, which has increased unauthorised and unabated constructions not only on private lands but on government lands as well.
It is really astonishing to see that after carrying out amendments, why our state governments could not implement such policies for the welfare of the people. In 2006, Congress government after amending the Act prescribed that, “deviation in construction carried up to 30 June 2006, will be allowed to the extent of 50 percent in the setbacks and the owners of the buildings applying for the composition of the deviations / unauthorized constructions should apply to the competent authority up to 31 Dec 2006.” But the owners of buildings who applied for regularization of their buildings within permissible limits of deviation are still waiting to get any response from the authorities to get their construction regularized. Moreover, no further facilities of electricity meter, sewerage and water connections are being provided to them. This has compelled the people to use single electricity meter for two to three stories, which is risky because of fire hazard.
When in 2008, BJP government amended the Act, it reduced the deviation in construction of the buildings up to 30 June 2006, from 50 percent to 40 percent, in the set backs. Now the question is, how can the BJP government reduce the construction deviation in 2008 from 50 percent, which was notified by the Congress government in 2006, from the retrospective effect? If at all it has taken such initiative, why are the owners of the houses who have deviated less than 40 percent in construction and submitted all the papers as prescribed by the government, still waiting to get their houses regularised?
Because of the irresponsible treatment by the state governments and delay in implementing the TCP Act from time to time, people, who have done their house construction as per the rules got a chance to extend their construction in unauthorized manner up to 50 percent, as permitted by the TCP Act in 2006, and they are ready to pay the penalties for that.
I remember, when I was in Shimla in November 2007 during the assembly elections campaign, BJP had made promises to the people that as soon as they are into power, they will regularize the constructions “Where it is, as it is” and make amendments in the TCP Act 1977. But still after one year and two months in power, it has not been able to make the solution of the issue which was also in its election manifesto. I can surely say that the increase in unauthorized construction of houses which took after 2006, was never seen before and the more delay in implementation of TCP Act and regularisation of the constructed buildings will result in drastic situation for the Shimla and its citizens in the coming time. Shimla, which is one of the famous historic tourist stations, has lost its charm and nature but our politicians still have not woken up from their deep slumber.
It is astonishing to see that TCP Act is in rule till 1977 with the main offices in Shimla, even then our political parties could not make out proper plans for the Shimla, where they spend their time for the full year. It is for the people to rise to the occasion and elect leaders who can lead them in the right direction and not involve in opportunistic politics. It is an irony that voters are helpless in front of the leaders elected by them. This is not to suggest that wrongful activities should also be ignored by the people themselves.
Ask anyone living in Shimla in 60s or 70s to compare the quality of life then and now. They will roll out to you the entire panorama of the paradise of sorts in which they lived more than 30 to 40 years back to the virtual hell into which they have been dumped into at the dawn of the new century. The unauthorised and haphazard construction bomb is ticking. Any delay in defusing it on time could bring about a national disaster of unprecedented proportions. Moreover, we should not forget that we are living in an endangered environment caused by our own progress and we are paying a dear price with nature reacting violently around the world.