Shimla’s green belts in peril

Shimla, April 28: Shimla’s last few sprawling green belts are in peril. A political decision to allow construction in the green zones — the only surviving lungs in the concrete jungle — by lifting a 12-year-old ban will render the hills more barren, an official here said.

Town and Country Planning Minister Mohinder Singh told IANS Saturday that the government is making amendments in the building construction rules in the green areas of Shimla in order to facilitate the land owners.

The government’s move is worrying the environmentalists. They say the government should preserve the green belts rather than destroying something that is of ecological value.

The ban on both commercial and private construction was imposed in 2000 in 17 green belts spread across the town. Since then, the residents have been demanding limited construction or paying of compensation for keeping the plot vacant.

“When the government has allowed Jagson Ropeways Company for carrying out construction of the ropeway tower in the green zone, why is it then not allowing the individual plot owners,” asked an affected resident. There are nearly 70 residents who are affected by the ban on constructions.

Citing a Supreme Court judgment relating to right to property, the residents say in case the plot owners were denied sanction or deprived of possessing their property, the government or local civic body should pay compensation for keeping the plot vacant for preservation of greenery.

Shimla Municipal Corporation commissioner M.P. Sood said it was not possible for the civic body to pay compensation to each plot holder. “The total compensation works out to be more than Rs.150 crore,” he said.

Rajesh Mehta, former director of the state’s town and country planning department and a resident, said: “The government should allow only those plot owners who have purchased the land before the ban came into force (in 2000) and there should be need-based construction only.”

According to Mohinder Singh, a development plan for Shimla has been prepared to ensure systematic development of the town and adjoining areas.

“A plan to develop satellite towns in Vaknaghat, Ghandal and Fagu (in the suburbs of Shimla) has been prepared,” he said.

Planned for a maximum population of 16,000, the town now supports 236,000, as per provisional census figures for 2011.

Officials of the Town and Country Planning Department said Shimla’s northern slope of the historic Ridge, an open space just above the Mall extending to Grand Hotel in the west and the Lakkar Bazaar in the east, is sinking.

At present, Shimla, the erstwhile summer capital of the British India, has 187 buildings with more than five floors, including a 12-storey commercial building being constructed by Jagson International Ltd, an eight-storey building of Oberoi group’s five-star hotel Cecil and a 10-storey building of the Himachal Pradesh High Court.

IANS