Supreme Court approves Shimla Development Plan, activists call it ‘unfortunate’

The NGT’s November 2017 verdict had prohibited construction on buildings above two floors and the attic floor in the Shimla planning area

By Vivek Mishra
Published: Friday 12 January 2024
Shimla. Photo: iStock

The Supreme Court gave the go-ahead to Shimla’s controversial Development Plan 2041 on January 11, 2024. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had put a question mark on the plan and termed it ‘illegal’.

Residents of Shimla said the apex court order will do away with the NGT’s ban on construction of buildings above two floors and the attic floor in the capital of Himachal Pradesh, as well as the ban on construction in 17 green belts and core areas.

The Supreme Court in its judgment on January 11, 2024, said the Shimla Development Plan 2041 — notified by the state government on June 23, 2023 — appears to be ‘balanced’. The NGT cannot ask a state government to formulate a scheme in a certain frame, it added.

The Town and Country Planning Department of Himachal Pradesh had filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the November 2017 decision of the NGT, which had banned construction above the height of two floors and the attic floors of buildings in the Shimla Planning Area.

On July 28, 2023, Justice BR Gavai and Justice JB Pardiwala of the Supreme Court said in their remarks on the same case, “There should be a balance between development and environment.” The bench reserved its verdict on this matter on December 12.

Environmental activist Yogendra Mohan Sengupta, a defendant in the case, told Down To Earth (DTE) that the Supreme Court’s decision was ‘unfortunate’. “We expected a judicial victory. Shimla is already facing destruction. So this decision of the Supreme Court will create even more trouble.”

Sengupta had challenged the draft Development Plan 2041 prepared by the Town and Country Planning Department of Himachal Pradesh in the NGT on April 20, 2022. He had contended that such a scheme was contrary to the principle of sustainable development and was destructive to the environment and public safety.

After examining the petition and hearing both sides, the order passed by the then bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Sudhir Agarwal in the NGT on October 14, 2022, stated: “The State has no jurisdiction to set aside or ignore the order of the Tribunal.” The NGT said the draft Development Plan was ‘illegal’. 

The bench had said the scheme violated the tribunal’s orders by allowing the construction of more floors, new constructions in the core area, constructions in the green area, sinking and sliding zones.

“If the state proceeds in this manner, it will not only cause damage to law and order, but may also lead to disastrous consequences for environment and public safety,” the NGT had observed.

What was the draft plan? 

The draft Development Plan for the Shimla Planning Area 2041 was published in February 2022. It said Shimla is in urgent need of a development plan, so that development-related rules can be observed for a well-regulated and planned Shimla and its suburban areas. 

The development plan has been prepared by the Town and Country Planning Department of Himachal Pradesh under the AMRUT sub-scheme of the Government of India. The plan is GIS-based. It covers Shimla Municipal Corporation and its adjoining areas — including Kufri, Shoghi and Ghanhatti special areas and some additional villages.— under the provisions of the Himachal Pradesh Town and Country Planning Act, 1977. 

The plan states that “town planning does not come under the purview of NGT”. The order issued by the NGT regarding restriction on height of buildings in Shimla Planning Area makes a dent in dealing with the challenges of urbanisation in the future, it adds. 

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