Fund to be used to improve road infrastructure and promote ecological sensitivity among tourists
Get ready to pay a fee to enter the popular hill resort of Shimla. The Shimla Municipal Corporation has decided to impose a green fee on all commercial and private motorised vehicles entering Shimla but not registered in Himachal Pradesh from April 1 this year. This entry-to-the-city fee would be a onetime levy on all cars, two-wheelers and buses. With this move, Shimla now joins ranks with Manali, which was the first in the state to introduce a similar measure.
The city administration expects to collect at least Rs 6 crore annually. The city administration is in the process of identifying channels that would qualify for funding from the green fund created with this fee. The fee is differentiated according to vehicle types—Rs 100 for two-wheelers, Rs 200 for cars and Rs 500 for buses entering the city.
The mayor of Shimla, Madhu Sood, says that the earnings from this fee will be used to fund road infrastructure and promoting awareness among tourists. Among the various contemplated channels, the key ones include spreading awareness among tourists of the ban on the use of plastic products in Shimla. Jute and paper bags will be provided to them on entry to the city at a cost refundable on return of the same while exiting the city.
This measure comes as a relief to the cash-starved municipal body. “Owing to the poor financial status of the municipal corporation, these funds would act as a good revenue generation source”, the mayor says. But there are clear environmental advantages of this move as well, Sood explains. Shimla’s narrow roads get congested owing to influx of tourists. “There are tremendous parking problems in the city also”, says Sood. “The city roads were created for a population of 20,000, but the current population is 200,000”, she adds. Moreover, according to Central Pollution Control Board’s recent findings, Shimla features in the top ten locations with highest PM10 (particulate matter) concentration.
This entry fee is undoubtedly based on the principle that vehicles cause pollution, congestion and wastage of time and fuel. Therefore, the users would be required to pay for these costs and damages.
'Tax on buses unfair'
The scheme has been criticised for taxing buses the most. Buses, despite being a mode of mass transit, as opposed to cars and two wheelers, are being taxed the most. Buses carry more people but use much less road space per capita and also have much less per capita pollution and energy consumption compared to cars. Experts warn that the solution to the problem of congestion does not lie in increasing road and parking space, but in reducing personal vehicle usage and promoting public transport. The tax on cars should be higher than that of buses to make them pay for their higher environmental and social damages, say traffic and transport experts.
The information on the method used for deriving the current rates is not available. Therefore, it is difficult to comment on the adequacy of the rates. But there is certainly scope of further refining the rates for best results. Pradip Sarkar, professor at the New Delhi-based School of Planning and Architecture remarks, “The higher tax on buses is yet another reflection of conventional modes of imposing a fee. What is needed instead, is the integration of correct “polluter pays” principle.”
Experts suggest that the city administration should be prepared with a blueprint for more prudent utilisation of this fund, imperative for sustaining both tourism and the city. The road infrastructure to be developed with the help of this fund should include the sustainability criteria, including more pedestrian friendly zones, improved accessibility, and reduced dependence on motorised vehicles.
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