It’s a fine sunny winter day of year 2015. Luckily, it also happens to be the most eagerly awaited day – the ‘Republic Day’ of Union of India – and the seven celebrated peaks of Shimla city are draped in a thick silvery sheet of snow as far as the gaze can transcend. The persistent snow spell for last twenty-four hours has broken all records of past two-and-a-half decades. Perhaps, the old charm of Shimla being the ‘Queen of Hills’ is back.
The fast-developing capital of the most advanced and progressive hill state in India is thronged with beaming tourists, both national and international. From the onset of this decade, the state as a whole and this hill city in specific has undergone dramatic changes in political, social and environmental front, treading a futuristic path of ultra-modern infrastructure development changes in the city. Consistent jams and bottlenecks along its sole artery are things of the past. Water woes have been sorted out and the dream of 24×7 supplies achieved. City streets and buildings are shining like a mirror. The whole city appears like a newlywed bride carrying the newly acquired charismatic aura of being a celebrated modern city across the globe. Today, noted Indian celebrities and international personalities have thronged the celebrated Ridge of Shimla city to mark this hallmark day in the history of the erstwhile capital of British India.
None less than Noble Peace prize winner ‘Liu Xiaobo’, the infamous Chinese dissident, a democracy and human rights protagonist, is the chief guest for the Republic Day ceremony in Shimla. But beyond India’s 66th Republic Day, there lies more in pack for the city in specific and the country as a whole.
What is it?
The moment the Republic Day celebrations are over, our chief guest Mr. Xiaobo is walking on the Ridge approaching towards the celebrated ‘Scandal Point’. After a quick glance at the skyline and the bustling crowd, he starts walking again and turns right to an aisle leading to the Tibetans market towards Revolli theatre to reach the famous ‘Skating Rink’ especially prepared for the occasion. But he just waves to them and, overlooking all this cheering his gaze transcends beyond. Behold! Wait, there right in front is a mega structure veiled in a fabric fluttering in the chilling winter breeze. What is it?
The very next moment he ascends the podium to cut the ribbon and to pull the lever to reveal this long hidden treasure to the world. Gradually, the veil is slipping down and an ultra-modern structure in glass, fiber and concrete takes all by surprise. All stood staring at it flabbergasted. It is different, unique, splendid, and awesome and seems like picked right out of some futuristic sci-fi Hollywood flick, but it’s for real. It’s no mirage. It’s right in front of us all, like a gem sparkling under the morning winter sun. Everything about it is futuristic. Splendid!
Then the ride along the 14-km route starts taking one along the circular road, but with a difference, with a unique feeling inside each one of us. No mess around, no honking, no jams, no pollution. Just the pine canopies creating tunnels and embracing the monorail as we pass through them. The view all along is mesmerizing and awe inspiring.
I called this day as the hallmark day in the history of Shimlaites, for this day to be hailed forever in the annals of Shimla city as the grand day of inauguration of ‘SHIMLA MONORAIL’.
Yes, Shimla has its own Monorail. Small, yet futuristic it is. Yes friends! It’s here in front of us. The far dream of yesteryears has just materialized. What was considered to be un-wanted investment by experts for a city of 2.2 lakh citizens in 2011, is now a city boasting about its monorail network of 14 km length in Phase-I and another 11 km in waiting for Phase –II, to be completed by 2020.
What made it possible?
Perhaps India and China has learned to grow as friends, embracing democracy, and the universal values and beliefs. The long-standing disputes are being resolved on a cordial note and cross-border trade and development is taking up a new phase in history of both the nations. The multi-trillion investments in weaponry are diverted for infrastructure development by both the nations.
It’s the ubiquitous awe-inspiring beauty of the hills and the tourism potential alone powered by the rock-solid determination of a young generation of bureaucrats, politicians and the entrepreneurs who revived the city from dangling on the brink of collapse for years.
Perhaps, the old bureaucracy and politics has trained us to live with the woes for years, the water woes, the transportation woes and crumbling age-old infrastructure. Perhaps, in 2009-10 city planners and the so-called year-plan think tank had once pumped some 100 buses on its already choked narrow artery. All of a sudden 100 busses were pumped in a city, which is crippling under its existing fleet of numbered private vehicles. Definitely, there is something wrong with the think-tank. Ignoring congestion, staggering land use, pollution and other sustainable issues like changing climate, especially a decade of negligible snowfall worried the establishment more. So in the name of development, the city was pumped with vehicles, small and big alike. (100 busses under JNURM scheme! Is there adequate parking space? How much these additional busses are adding to the congestion, one had seen it then,)
The solution, on the other hand lay in a well-designed and implemented futuristic Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS); a system to move people rather than vehicles; to conserve environment than to pollute it. It’s a spark which was supported by city’s 2.3 million strong annual tourist base in 2010, which now stands at 3.0 million. The city has grown from 2.2 lakh to 3.5 lakhs in five years. This rapid urban transformation, an image makeover, has been possible with a single spark, to make it the best livable city in the world make it most walkable and pedestrian and cyclist friendly city on the face of earth.
All, simple and great things in life begin with asking; ‘Why not?’
Some dreamer, a thinker, one bright day asked himself and the authorities. Why not Shimla monorail?
Why fear earthquake when we havn’t had one in decades? The city still stands tall and beaming. Why not Rs. 1,500 crore on transportation when Rs. 1,200 crore can be spent on water? Why not another Rs. 5,000 crore to revive the city? If we can spend 70,000 crore on spectacles like Commonwealth Games, which, if one calculates, will be almost double of what Himachal has received from Centre since its inception in 1971, why do we shy away from asking for more for some big infra projects? (or did we forget to conceive one). Why not a bigger Shimla airport? Why not world-class cricket and a football stadium? Why not more parks? Why not more five star hotels? Why not more education institutions? Why not to make the city world-class tourist and investment destination? Why not a landmark tower at the heart of the city? (Imagine the splendid mesmerizing morning, evening and the night views). Why not to sacrifice a few hundred more pine trees in Shimla city when we have already sacrificed millions in the name of apple plantations across the state and still are sacrificing thousands every day?
Why not IPL, ICL and hockey league in Shimla city? Why not some international film festival and fashion events in the backdrop of pine-clad Himalayas of such a beautiful city? If these the accepted standards of development and modernization in present India, then why wait for the government’s obsolete annual and five year plans, when in five years we can create wonders with judicious in-streaming of private investment.
A dreamy yet achievable scenario it is. It’s just a matter of decision making and enforcement. Himachal as a small state with its limited economic potential has missed the charm of economic boom of last decade (2000-2010). But a very strong vision and planned ideas can generate ripples or constructive thoughts and action especially in case of Shimla city and state as whole.
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal on his website proclaims: “I have a dream. I want to see Himachal Pradesh as the most prosperous state of India. I want to bring prosperity, dignity, and security to every one in Himachal Pradesh.” If he really means to being about better, brighter future of our coming generations, if he really wants to add something good to the British glory and even surpass it, rather than just working towards its gradual destruction, as the current trends speaks, I think Monorail is one such initiative which can bring in ripples of constructive sustainable city-friendly changes and carve a path for development of Shimla.
I think it’s a risk worth taking, but not in its aloofness, rather a comprehensive approach with a rigorous iterative approach evaluating all possible pros and cons. Perhaps, once we start the serious planning process the outcome would be startling, as the possibilities of creating wonders in Shimla city and its vicinity will unfold with countless pragmatic options.
Let the change be!