Backing investment, Himachal says yes to Ford ski resort

Shimla: The multi-billion high-end ski resort project, promoted by Alfred Ford of the Ford Motor Company, near Himachal Pradesh’s resort town of Manali is expected to see the light of day after more than five years of logjams.

A high-power committee headed by Chief Secretary Sudripta Roy took the decision to allow promoters of the Himalayan Ski Village to go ahead with the Rs.1,581 crore (Rs.15.81 billion/$293 million) project, envisaging the construction of 170 rooms in the Himalayas.

“We are getting investments and we don’t want to create hurdles. We took a decision Tuesday to allow the company to go ahead with the project, provided it gets fresh clearances, including the environment impact assessment report,” Roy told.

The project, sanctioned by the Congress government in 2005, had hit one roadblock after another after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power in the state in December 2007.

It issued a show-cause notice to the company in January 2010. The company was asked to explain the reasons for not fulfilling mandatory requirements pointed out by the government.

The company challenged the government’s decision in the Himachal Pradesh High Court.

After a legal battle lasting over two years, the high court in June last not only set aside the government’s order scrapping the project but also pointed out serious procedural flaws on its part.

“It’s duly established that the state government had already made up its mind to cancel the project and the issuance of notice based on the recommendations of the (state’s high-power) committee was merely a ritual,” Justice Rajiv Sharma had observed.

“The state government has changed its stand by initially supporting the case of the company and now by opposing the same on the grounds which are not available to it under the law,” he had said.

While quashing the notice issued by the state, the high court directed the company to obtain the necessary clearances, including environmental, within six months.

The state subsequently moved a letters patent appeal (intra-court appeal) citing another high court judgment that banned construction activity in the Kullu-Manali region on grounds of eco-sensitivity.

“We are in favour of withdrawing the (letters patent) appeal. We are taking legal opinion in this regard,” the chief secretary told IANS, adding categorically that the government was not in favour of continuing with any sort of litigation with the Himalayan Ski Village promoters.

“After all, we are getting an investment and it doesn’t make any sense to continue with the litigation,” Roy said.

But he said the company should have to apply for fresh clearances. “If they get it, they can go ahead with the project,” he added.

Alfred Ford, who has an Indian wife, had in April 2004 shown interest in setting up the high-end ski resort project in the hill state.

In December 2005, the then state government headed by Virbhadra Singh, who is again at helm, entered into an agreement with the Himalayan Ski Village company for establishing the project.

Official sources said the delay in commissioning the project is causing an annual loss of Rs.30-50 crore (about $5-9 million) to the state government as royalty.


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