By: Anoop Kumar
The proportion of urban population is low in Himachal Pradesh in comparison to other states, but the pace of urbanization is increasing because of modernization. More and more education institutions, private companies are coming up in the state. It has increased the demand for shelter. Due to tourism, hotel industry is mushrooming in every hill town.
The state is recognized for natural beauty, good literacy rate and quality of life assumed to be qualitative. We have enough stocks of natural sources. If we see the urbanization process in Himachal Pradesh, it is slowly increasing after independence. Numbers of towns have been growing up. In order to regulate the development of urban areas, the government of Himachal Pradesh established town planning cell in 1964. Now there is a full-fledged town planning department. It comprises of town planners, planning officer, engineers, cartographers and draftsmen. Focus of town planning department is to encourage planned and systematic urban and rural growth in a comprehensive manner and to stop haphazard constructions. Also to serve the basic needs of poor and to upgrade environment by preserving the heritage components.
In order to do above-mentioned objectives, the town planning department is supposed to prepare long term perspective plans, development plans for all urban planning areas. As per the town planning department, there are 20 Planning Areas and 37 Special Areas in the state. The department has prepared development plans for various towns and nine plans have been approved by the government.
As per the 74th CAA in order to have real and effective urban planning people participation is essential in town planning process. Dialogue with different community-based groups is considered mandatory. As per interaction with different stakeholders it has been found that none of the development plan prepared by Himachal Pradesh town planning department followed the spirit of 74th CAA.
Most of the development plans are prepared by town planning department in isolation. It has also been observed that development plan preparation has become a formality; it has nothing to do with common man’s interest. The fact is that majority of urban population does now know about these development plans and its role in city development.
On the other side, the state department does not have that kind of resources. There is deficiency of professional town planners and most of the officers who are acting as planning officers and assistant town planners do not have that kind of understanding of urban issues. Some of the promotions have been done on the basis of political influences. Such people are interested in building permission work because it is a good way of making money and playing with the well-being of common man. As development or city plans usually depicts the vision of the town as well as blueprints for long term development, the common man does not know about the city planning or development plans’ preparation.
In the present context, building permission has become one of the main tasks. Public participation is especially important when we are talking about perspective planning and revitalizing new communities. After all, shouldn’t we involve the people who live in a community in deciding how it should be improved or how it should change over time?
The irony is that development plans rely on secondary sources. And yet, when it comes to things that really matter like how our city should accommodate growth or what do we need to do to make our neighborhoods more livable, the typical response is to hold a few public hearings that the public doesn’t even know are taking place.
As per the 74th CAA, there should be professional urban planners but the department has an immediate requirement of about 15 – 20 town planners right now. There are 7 divisional and 5 sub-divisional town planning offices in the state. It is imperative to make realistic master plans for all towns in order to improve the living environment of the urban residents; otherwise urban scenario would loose its aesthetic value.
It’s my appeal to all like minded persons and organisations to force government to follow the spirit of 74TH CAA in order to safeguard the interest of urban residents of Himachal Pradesh.
(The author is associated with the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi)