Instead of increasing infrastructure in Shimla to promote tourism, the government should fix tourist inflow and improve existing amenities
The Durand Football Tournament in Shimla during British rule. Photo: iStock
The Government of Himachal Pradesh passed the Shimla Development Plan February 9, 2022, for the construction of a ‘counter-magnet’ and four satellite towns to decongest and transfer urbanisation load from the core city.
A counter-magnet town is proposed to be set up near Shimla airport and four satellite towns will come up near Ghandal, Naldehra, Fagu and Chamiyana.
Counter-magnet towns are those that can be developed as alternative hubs of development and have the potential to attract more people / immigrants from a larger city in the area.
Satellite towns are small municipalities that are adjacent to a larger city and serve as part of the larger city and provide housing and other amenities for the people working in the larger city.
Shimla was made the summer capital of India in 1864 during British rule. It has always been among the top tourist destinations in India owing to its cool climate and scenic vistas.
At the time of it being made the capital of British India, the city could meet the needs of a population of only 16,000 people.
Its population was only 13,960 people in 1901, which increased to 169,572 in 2011 and is expected to rise to 210,277 people in 2022. The population has grown more than 15 times in the last 120 years.
With the rapidly growing population in Shimla, people there are facing problems like increase in traffic congestion and high house rents and expensive land for houses. To solve these problems, it became necessary to build counter magnet and satellite towns.
Therefore, this decision can be termed as a welcome decision by the Government of Himachal Pradesh. But if viewed from the environmental point of view, it will have a very negative impact on the people and environment of the state.
Shimla is situated in a mountainous region. Mountainous areas cannot bear the weight of population and any kind of infrastructure beyond their capacity. The more cities in the mountains, the more they will be exposed to natural disasters.
While such cities in the plains reduce the problems of the main city, the increase in population in these cities in the hilly areas will create more problems.
Shimla falls in a seismically-active zone. In the event of an earthquake, the growing number and population of cities could cause further loss of life and property.
A dangerous path
The Himachal Pradesh government has been depleting its natural resources through various development programmes in the recent past in the name of economic development.
On January 19, 2022, the Government of Himachal Pradesh allowed all kinds of construction on 17 green belts which was banned by the National Green Tribunal on December 9, 2000.
The government has said that the ban has been lifted from these areas because some people have bought land in them and were running into losses due to the ban.
It is pertinent to note here that the ban was lifted from 414 hectares of land, of which only 90 hectares are under private ownership and the rest is government land.
The lifting of the ban on these areas will lead to large-scale construction in Tutikandi, Nabha, Phagli, Bemloe, Himland, Khalini, Lakkar Bazar, Sanjoli, Chhota Shimla, Charleville, Jakhu and Elysium Hill areas.
If the government cares about the interests and rights of landowners, then the easiest way is to save the green belts by Payment for Environmental Services. This model is being widely used in many countries of the world.
This programme has been very successful in protecting the environment in Rome, England, Costa Rica and Scandinavian countries, as well as in Palampur in Himachal and Mumbai in Maharashtra. Using this model will protect the interests of landowners and also save the environment.
In February 2021, the Himachal Pradesh government had sought approval from the Supreme Court to carry out various projects in 736 hectares of forest area which were covered under the Forest Conservation Act 1980 (614 hectares) and the Forest Rights Act 2006 (122 hectares).
The Himachal Pradesh government is thus destroying Shimla’s green belts and forests. All this just to promote Shimla as a tourist destination.
The government is aware that the population burden on Shimla is increasing. The city does not even have enough parking space for its residents. Besides, it falls in an earthquake-sensitive zone.
Why is the government then trying to attract tourists to Shimla? The tourists are attracted to Shimla only because of the tall trees that touch the sky and the cool temperature and its natural beauty.
What will Shimla do if the green belt (forests) itself turns into concrete forest and the temperature rises further due to such activities of the government? Apart from forests, Shimla will also become a hot city, with concrete buildings resulting in increasing local temperature.
The Himachal Pradesh government is following the same path as the Uttarakhand state government two decades ago. The natural beauty of the state of Uttarakhand has been a victim of various misleading economic development schemes of the government.
If the Himachal Pradesh government does not change its economic development plans, Shimla could face similar tragedies as Uttarakhand.
To save Shimla and its natural beauty, the Himachal Pradesh government does not need to set up counter magnet and satellite towns around Shimla.
It should fix the number of tourists visiting Shimla and their vehicles or the government should provide convenient public transport for tourists so that there is no need to build multi-storey parking spaces for vehicles.
Reducing the number of vehicles and fixing the number of tourists will save the environment of Shimla from excess greenhouse gasses and particulate matter which rapidly increase the temperature here.
Instead of widening the roads, the government should repair the old ones and make them more efficient. More trees should be planted in vacant lots.
The means of public transport in the city should also be made efficient. Instead of constructing multi-storied buildings for tourists in Shimla, the government of Himachal Pradesh can save the environment as well as increase the income of the people by following the slogan Har Ghar Kuchh Kehta Hai (Every home says something).
Gurinder Kaur is Former Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala
Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth
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