Uttarakhand chief minister bans construction along riverbanks

Construction to be 200 m from river; hoteliers welcome move, but demand compensation

By Soma Basu
Published: Tuesday 02 July 2013

Illegal construction of residential complexes and hotels along riverbanks puts the buildings at risk of being washed away in flash floods (Credit: European Commission DG ECHO)

Twenty days after floods in Uttarakhand caused massive destruction of property and loss of life, chief minister Vijay Bahuguna has called for a blanket ban on the construction of residential and commercial complexes on low-lying areas along rivers. Bahuguna announced the ban at a press conference in Dehradun on Monday.

But as of now the order is only verbal, says an official in the chief minister’s office who does not wish to be named. Nothing more can be said about it until the government releases an official order. The official adds that the ban would be applicable on both old and new structures along the rivers. “Old structures are already damaged. Anything on the riverside now would have to be new construction, which is banned. The construction, residential or commercial, would have to be 200 m from the rivers,” he says.

Hoteliers want compensation

Vijay Pande, secretary of Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), says that hoteliers welcome the decision provided they are given land of the same size and same location 200 m from the river line. He says the ban would do hoteliers good as it would give them extra space for parking, lawn and boating arcade. “Our demand from the Uttarakhand government is that we should be given space 200 m away from the river in exchange for the property we have lost to the floods. If that is done, we are ready to move away,” says Pande.

The estimated loss to the tourism industry because of the disaster was to the tune of Rs 8,000 crore, estimates Pande. “The loss is not only for this year; we will have to bear the brunt for the next 10 years as people have started to think that Uttarakhand is unsafe,” he says.

Meanwhile, the state government has decided to pay Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh to small stalls or dhabas. Hotels to be completely demolished will receive Rs 2 lakh. Commercial buildings will also be compensated with 30 per cent of the amount if their loss is between Rs 2 lakh and 10 lakh. If the damage is worth Rs 10 lakh to Rs 20 lakh, 20 per cent of the total losses will be paid by the government. Ten per cent of the losses incurred will be paid to commercial buildings that suffered loss of Rs 20 lakh.

Bahuguna had been vehemently opposing the notification of the 135-km stretch between Gomukh and Uttarkashi on the Bhagirathi as an eco-sensitive zone. The notification mandates that construction of buildings, hotels and resorts in the eco-sensitive zone shall strictly follow the traditional concepts and architecture of the area.

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