Green belt owners see red

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Photo used for indicative purpose only

Far delayed is the issue of those Shimla citizens whose plots fall under green belts of Shimla. Since two decades these plots owners have been demanding that either the City Municipal Corporation should allow them to build on these plots or it should suitably compensate them. Yet to none of the decision maker’s concern, the demand has found any traction yet.

Shimla has a proud past. It has a unique history of fast development, on virgin landscape, which had physically different terrain. The way, the British had given shape to the townscape along east-west and north south axis namely, The Ridge to Vice Regal Lodge and the Ridge to Ellerglie along the Mall on either side is a saga of its own kind. Shimla calls for utmost discipline in construction activities in accordance with its historical imperatives, on one hand and shaping the future city in consonance with its environmental and ecological, considerations on the other. In the above background a ban on both commercial and private construction was imposed in year 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 but to no respite.

“It was the city Municipal Corporation which sold us the plot in the year 1971,” stated Avinder Pal Singh an affected resident from Shankli. The total plots size sold to us was 1200 yards. Adding that his father was a government servant with salaried income. Therefore he bought the plot and due to limited funding, built a house in one part of the plot (About 200 yards), leaving another part vacant for future development. “Since he was a government servant, developing the plot for commercial venture was not possible for him during service,” added Avinder. While in year 2000 he retired and was speculating the purpose of development for the rest of the plot, the ban came in enforce, leaving us helpless. “Thus putting all plans to hold, with no output from my father’s hard earned investment till date,” rued Avinder.

The 17 green belts were identified and notified in December 2000. The ban was first imposed in August 2000 and it was later endorsed in February 2011 and May 2014 and NGT has also passed similar orders. These included Tutikandi Forest bounded by Bye-pass and Cart road,- Nabha Forest, Phagli-Lalpani Forest, Bemloe Forest, Himland Forest, Khalini, Chhota Shimla Forest, Chhota Shimla Forest above Cart road, Kasumpti Forest, Charlie Villa Forest, Forest between Himfed Petrol Pump and Secretariat, Jakhu Forest (3 portions), Bharari-Shankli-Ruldu Bhatta Area in between Boileauganj Green Belt in Chaura Maidan Area -Chaura Maidan known as Ellesium Hill. Presently as per revenue records, the identified green belts in Shimla Planning Area are spread over 414 hectares (approx 4%), out of which 76% area is either under Govt. Land/ forests and 24% is Private land/properties (Figures 2003).

“People who had built on those plots before the order came in enforce were, allowed, whereas we were banned from any future construction on those plots,” informed Avinder. This is highly justified, as the MC Shimla sold us the plots, and it is their responsibility to let us develop those, he demanded. In case they cannot let us construct, then a suitable compensation should be given to us as per market norms, he summoned.

“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 another affected resident. There are nearly 70 (Approx) residents affected by the ban on constructions in green belt.

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.

The total compensation was working out to be more than Rs.150 crore in 2012. As per today’s scenario it should be more than 200 crores. Experts say that the issue has been hanging fire because of weak economic condition of MC Shimla and state government. ‘As per current economic scenario it is barely impossible for any of them to pay compensation of such high magnitude,” they informed.

The last time, when any card drew in favour these plot owners was in 2012, when then Town and country panning minister Mahinder Singh, said that the state government would consider amendment in the green area rules to facilitate land owners, but that too got turned down due to environmental concerns.

Also in 2015 Suresh Bhardwaj, local BJP MLA, had said plot owners in the green areas are suffering losses and they should be given some relief as many such areas where there was no tree have been included in the green belt while areas with thick tree covers have been kept out, he had said.

“Perhaps it is time, that Bhardwaj  who is now better positioned in the state government should take up the matter towards a solution,” hoped Bhavnesh another effected.

Hopes apart but on ground currently, this issue is least concern of authorities. As they are yet engaged with getting the NGT hard-line construction ban orders amended. Moreover the complete answers for all construction related issues of Shimla perhaps can only be found in the Final City development plan which is still undergoing preparation since 1979.

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