Alarmed over serious environmental degradation and vulnerability of Shimla to impending natural and man-made disasters, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Thursday imposed a total ban on construction in core areas of the town, including its green belt to prevent indiscriminate constructions and threat to its citizens. The NGT also imposed a ban on regularisation of illegal and unauthorised construction, which both political parties – Congress and BJP – had been backing to gain votes. It proposed a heavy penalty and environmental compensation for regularisation of such buildings/floors.
The 145-page landmark judgement was passed Thursday by a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar on a petition filed by Yogendra Mohan Sengupta, a Shimla resident who had raised concerns over unplanned growth and haphazard construction beyond its carrying capacity in Shimla. The petitioner had also alleged collusion of authorities, who are otherwise supposed to check such degradations and enforce norms.
“We hereby prohibit new construction of any kind, i.e. residential, institutional and commercial in any part of the core and green/forest areas as defined under various notifications issued under the interim development plan as well as by the state government,” said the order. The order held that the carrying capacity of Shimla cannot afford more building load, traffic load and destruction of its green belt. “The roads of Shimla are choked. Visitors and residents are always stuck in traffic jams. There has been continuous and persistent degradation of the environment and ecology in that area raising serious concerns,” said the NGT, which had earlier got a detailed study done on the carrying capacity of the town.
The green tribunal also banned all types of construction, residential or commercial, in any part of the “green, forest and core areas” of the entire state and within three metres of the national highways.
The authorities have been told to duly enforce the valley view regulation and direct the same.
The tribunal came down heavilly against a dozen officials from the HP State Pollution Control Board and Town and Country Planning Department for complete dereliction of duty and also their collusion with the violators. The chief secretary was told to initiate actions against the officers, named in the order.
“We hold and declare that the facts and circumstances of the present case, as afore-recorded, clearly demonstrate failure on part of the state government, its instrumentalities and local authorities, to discharge constitutional obligations. It is this failure that has exposed the Shimla planning area to such vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters,” the order read.
Setting-out as many as 29-firm guidelines for action , the NGT said wherever unauthorised structures, for which no plans were submitted for approval or NOC granted, shall not be regularised or compounded.
However, where plans have been submitted and construction work with deviation has been completed prior to this judgement, one will have to pay an environmental compensation of Rs 5,000 per sq ftin case of residential buildings and Rs 10,000 per sq ft in case of commercial or residential-cum-commercial buildings.
In some of the observations made by NGT , it said the indiscriminate and unplanned construction raised in Shimla are not sustainable even to face low-intensity earthquakes. Most are brick structures with sheet roofs and hence, are not earthquake-proof. In the event of any natural calamity or man-made disasters, the expected human casualty is more than 25,000 apart from massive damage to property and development.
The prescribed hill gradient has been violated in most cases. The NGT order also sealed the fate of people who have been waiting for regularisation of illegal buildings, few of those still coming up in the green belt and heritage zone with or without permissions from the Shimla MC. There are 27 such cases where the civic body had given permissions including a private commercial guest house next to Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s residence.