Alarmed over serious environmental degradation and vulnerability of Shimla to impending natural and human induced disasters, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday imposed a total ban on constructions in core areas of the town, including its green-belt to prevent indiscriminate growth and threat to lives of citizens.
Even the future constructions in the areas beyond core areas and green-belt that also covers Shimla’s heritage zone have been prohibited. However, it provided relaxations to public utility buildings like hospitals, schools and offices of essential services. No commercial, private builders and any such allied buildings will be permitted in the city. The tribunal also imposed ban on regularization of illegal and unauthorised constructions. It proposed a heavy penalty and environmental compensation for regularisation of such buildings/floors.
The 145-page landmark judgement was passed by a bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar with Justice Raghuvendra S. Rathore (Judicial Member), besides Bikram Singh Sajwan and Dr. Nagin Nanda, both expert members, on a petition filed by Yogendra Mohan Sengupta, a Shimla citizen, who has raised his concerns on town facing unplanned growth and haphazard construction beyond its carrying capacity and had alleged collusion of the authorities, which are otherwise supposed to check such degradations and enforce norms.
Pronouncing the order, the green court said, “We hereby prohibit new construction of any kind, i.e. residential, institutional and commercial to be permitted henceforth in any part of the core and green/forest area as defined under the various notifications issued under the interim development plan as well by the state government.”
The order held that the carrying capacity of Shimla city cannot afford any further building load, traffic load, destruction of green belt, forests and besides all that, there is extreme scarcity of natural resources more particularly water. “The roads of Shimla are choked due to which visitors and residents are stuck in traffic jams for hours together. There has been continuous and persistent degradation of environment and ecology in that area raising serious environmental concerns,” observed the NGT which had earlier got a detailed study done on the carrying capacity of the town by setting-up a high level expert body.
The tribunal also banned construction including residential, commercial, institutional or otherwise within three meters from the end of the road/national highways in the entire state, particularly in Shimla Planning Area. The authorities have been told to duly enforce the valley view regulation. The tribunal came down heavily against a dozen officials from the Himachal Pradesh State Pollution Control Board and Town and Country planning department for complete dereliction of duty and also their collusion with the violators. Chief secretary was told to initiate action 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 the part of the state government, its instrumentalities and local authorities to discharge their constitutional obligations. It is this failure that has exposed the Shimla Planning Area to such vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters,” the order reads.
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 No Objection Certificate (NOC) was granted and such areas which falls beyond the core and green/forest area, the same shall not be regularised or compounded. However, where plans have been submitted and the construction work with deviation has been completed prior to this judgement and the authorities consider it appropriate to regularise such structure beyond the sanctioned plan, in that event the same shall not be compounded or regularised without payment of environmental compensation at the rate of Rs. 5,000 per sq. ft. in case of exclusive self-occupied residential construction and Rs. 10,000 per sqare feet in commercial or residential-cum-commercial buildings.