Himachal Apartments Act – Time To Bury It ?

It is surprising how successive state governments in Himachal have consistently failed to realize the value of its unique natural environment and have repeatedly formulated policies-hydel, mining,urban development-that have had extremely adverse effects on the environment and rural populations. The Apartments Act is a case in point of a short-sighted piece of legislation that serves no purpose whatsoever.

Ostensibly meant to meet the demand for housing it has gone completely out of hand and has led to diversion of thousands of bighas of agricultural land for real estate development for the rich. The government’s responsibility is to provide housing for the EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) but the Apartments Act certainly does not do this: it serves no social or genuine economic purpose, but is playing havoc with the state’s rural landscape.

It is encouraging, therefore, that a debate has now started on the utility of this Act and that both the Govt. and a Vidhan Sabha Committee are looking into it. The Act should be repealed for the following reasons:

[1] The ACT benefits only the Builders/ Developers/ Non-residents without any corresponding benefits to the state. Even a sample survey would establish that practically all the properties developed/ sold under this ACT have been acquired by non-Himachalis who are non-residents, as second/ third/holiday homes. They visit these houses only for a few days in a year, and do not contribute anything to the economy of their areas either in terms of employment or purchases of goods and services. Even the houses are constructed by outside labour! In short, they generate no economic activity for the state.

[2] Conversely, however, they degrade the rural environment by exerting unsustainable pressure on the infrastructure of their areas: Water Supply Schemes, originally meant for small villages, are overloaded to the detriment of the rural populations; electricity supply systems are similarly overloaded leading to voltage problems; in the absence of any proper garbage disposal arrangements for these houses/ flats all household waste is indiscriminately dumped by the roadside and in forest areas, creating unhygienic conditions and despoiling the aesthetic beauty of the countryside; rural roads are getting choked with traffic for which they were never intended; thousands of outside labour defecate in the forests making a mockery of the state’s – Defecation Free Panchayats’ campaign. The Govt. lacks the machinery to monitor each of these constructions/ projects, and the local Panchayats are also not equipped to enforce the relevant laws. The only solution is to stop these constructions altogether.

[3] Projects under the ACT are creating havoc with the pristine natural environment of the state. Large swathes of agricultural land/ ghasnis/orchards/ tree-covered areas are being diverted for construction of houses/flats, permanently changing the landscape and converting even hitherto green rural areas into concrete jungles. A prime example of this is the Dhalli- Naldehra stretch, the Bekhalti Road and Mashobra. We have allowed, through years of inaction, our urban areas to deteriorate into ugly slums- should the rural areas be condemned to the same fate? Since most of these areas are outside the purview of the Town and Country Planning regulations there is no possibility of regulating these constructions; even if they are brought under TCP laws past experience shows that we shall be totally ineffective in implementing these laws- the Govt. has not been able to ensure this even in Shimla: how then can there be any hope for the rural areas?

[4] The only thing which distinguishes Himachal from other states is its natural, forested environment. Everything depends on this: horticulture, tourism, climate, water availability( for hydel projects). The Govt’s primary effort should be to preserve and conserve this environment. Some damage is inevitable for the development and revenues of the state-eg. Hydel projects, mining, road construction- because their social and economic benefits outweigh the environmental costs. But constructing holiday homes for wealthy people from Gurgaon and Patiala at the cost of our rural environment certainly does not fall into this category.

The ACT does not benefit the state in any way whatsoever and should be repealed. Pure tourism projects can continue to be sanctioned by the Tourism Department under its own legislations.

If at all the ACT is to be continued it should be restricted to only urban areas, that too only to Municipal Corporations and NACs- Nagar Panchayats and SADAs should be excluded since they have neither the funds nor the manpower nor the expertise to cope with the infrastructure fall-out of such constructions.

Secondly, the ACT should be made applicable only in those urban areas where TCP regulations prevail, so that the building activity is controlled.

Thirdly, the local body concerned should impose a one-time Development Charge on such constructions for providing basic municipal services- this should be on a square-foot basis rather than on the project cost since the latter can be under-stated.

The writer is a former Additional Chief Secretary of Himachal Pradesh

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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  1. says: Vishal

    Bravo Mr Shukla. It is very evident from this piece, how development is a 2 edged sword and when the powers to be buy into the development bogey, and than get bought, sacrifice “balance”. Our state has bountiful the nature gave us. It would be sad if we have nothing of this treasure left to pass on to our next generation.

  2. says: akshay

    soon here condition like Noida and other cities will be seen if peoples whom we represented for our well being keep on thinking for there well being……..

  3. says: Amit

    Very good article . I agree with the points mentioned above.

    We need sincere government with sincere efforts.

  4. says: Anupam Shukla

    Very true .In the name of ‘VIKAS’ we are heading towards ‘VINASH’.This is pitiable that govts. wait for the Supreme/High Courts to intervene and set things into order.

  5. says: Amar chand Manali

    Diversion of agriculture land for nonagriculture porpose will pose problem for the hill economy in coming years especially the paddey fields (kiars) throughout the state as they used to recharge our water bodies during rainy season including checking of silting in big resorviors down below along all the main rivers.Climate, change in cropping pattern and composition of species in forestry will affect the life style of our economy.Rest all the points raised above are correct and we all will have to face these in coming years.

  6. says: Ankit Sood

    Thanks to Mr. Shukla for highlighting this . The Kullu valleys have been one of the major sufferers of this unthoughtful act. The pristine village of Jana on the Naggar Bijlimahadev road, Bajura , the scenic Kais village and of course Manali has seen a number of such Apartments.

    As rightly pointed out by Mr. Shukla they not only exert pressure on the rural areas but are an eyesore in the traditional hill architecture as such “FLAT” architecture is a visual polluter. Sadly for making city people interested in the properties often very pristine locations fall prey to this Apartment ACT. There are major players like the Ansals who have managed to start these projects and the village people are suffering along with our pristine environment.

  7. says: Ved Segan

    Mr. Shukla,
    Congratulations for speaking the truth so clearly.Man has to respect the speed of life that hills naturally offer; which is ,speed of walking, climbing,horse riding ,enjoying rope ways travels.
    The moment we increase this speed to that of automobile we are in trap,that is faced by our cities today( still struggling to find the right solution).
    All the problems arise when we defy nature & want to impose our own laws instead going along the ones nature has set for us.
    It does not matter who or how many are staying where,so far they not pollute the life style of hills

  8. says: Neha

    A very good article!!!
    Yeah now a days I get e-mail of many projects where no-himachalis can buy property ( like Ansal Meadows-Kullu) and many more!! they are all over the internet….. the point is how does the state population benefit from these…how can the govt take such steps without the consent of the state population …
    I am disgusted with both BJP and Congress….
    I hope the locals are aware of this and don’t take it lying down…

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