Trading sanctity for gain? Shimla’s historic Ridge
ML Verma/ Vishal Sarin
Shimla, July 3
Shimla’s iconic Heritage Ridge, a testament to the city’s rich history, is facing controversy as allegation are surfacing that its sanctity is being compromised in exchange for monetary gains. The local shopkeepers association has been vehemently questioning the Shimla Municipal Corporation and District Administration’s decision to allow shopping festivals on this historic ground. While the association’s concerns primarily revolve around the loss of business they suffer during these festivals, many locals believe that this move also undermines the sacredness of the man-made Ridge.
Allowing businessmen, enterprises, and political parties to litter the heritage site with enormous tents, makeshift food stalls, hanging clothes on railings, shabby posters, and banners is not what the Ridge should be offering, according to concerned residents, including the shopkeepers. Critics argue that with other shopping areas such as Mall Road, Lakkar Bazar, and Lower Bazar already nearby, organizing festivals on the Ridge selling similar products seems redundant. The festivals end up competing with local markets, resulting in decreased footfall and detrimental effects on the livelihoods of local businesses.
Ironically, the local authorities do not reap significant financial benefits from these events. A recent agreement executed on May 23, 2023, between the Additional District Magistrate (L & O) and M/s. Prince Trading Company, indicates that the open spaces at various locations around Ridge Shimla were leased for business activities at a staggering price of Rs. 40,81,181 /- (Rupees Forty-One Lakh Eighty-Three Lacs) including GST. The agreement covered prominent places like the terrace of Padam Dev Commercial Complex Phase – I & II, Ice Skating Rink, Lakkar Bazaar, the front of Indira Gandhi Sports Complex, the terrace of Rotary Club on Mall Road, and the front of Panchayat Bhawan building near the Bus Stand Shimla. These spaces were allocated to Ravinder Kumar for various activities, with the Ice Skating Rink hosting an amusement festival during the shopping festival on the Ridge.
What exacerbates the situation is that these permissions for business activities are granted during the peak tourist season, from May to June. This puts further strain on the historic Ridge ground, which is then threatened by piles of garbage overflowing from dustbins. Adding to the woes, entrepreneurs and their workers from outside the state, who flock to these festivals, are often spotted drying their clothes on the Ridge ground itself after bathing in the open. Recently, viral photographs showcased this unseemly sight. Moreover, a few months back, a video emerged from the Ice Skating Rink, revealing festival workers and their children defecating in the open.
Also read: Ridge ..but not a playground- II
To make matters worse, the presence of heavy machinery, including noisy electrical generators, further mars the aesthetic appeal of the Ridge. While the administration’s permission letters claim to uphold the Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) issued by the government of Himachal Pradesh and the Government of India to prevent COVID-19, these instructions remain mere words on paper, as they are rarely enforced in practice.
This move not only disrupts the sanctity of the Ridge but also adds unnecessary strain on the ground, which has already undergone extensive restoration at a considerable cost. Businessmen from the hospitality sector, Raghav Gupta and Dhananjay Ahluwalia, argue that if such festivals are to be allowed, they should be relocated to a different area. Wherein Ahluwalia, debated that if these fests are targeting tourists in particular then, should be organized in places like Kufri or elsewhere.
As the debate continues, locals and concerned citizens demand an immediate re-evaluation of the decision to allow commercial activities on the heritage Ridge. The preservation of Shimla’s cultural heritage and the economic well-being of local businesses must find a harmonious balance, ensuring that profit doesn’t come at the expense of heritage. It is perhaps, essential to preserve its sanctity and find a balance between tourism and heritage conservation.
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Vishal Sarin, Editor