Himachal farms of no interest as govt prepares to regularize illegal urban constructions

Preparing to legislate and regularize another round of large scale illegal constructions, the Himachal Pradesh government with an urban bias fails to register the distress the rural landscape is undergoing even though over 90% of the population makes a subsistence living in the countryside.

Urban land in Himachal is scarce as it is the least urbanized of states or union territories in the country. The 2011 census put the figure at 9.8%, the lowest for any state/UT in the county. On an average the country registered 27.82% or 286,119,689 people living in Indian cities in 2011.

Where successive governments have failed to create urban amenities of develop new townships or cities in Himachal Pradesh and reduce the pressure on rural lands, yet one after another retention policies for regularizing illegal urban buildings mainly in Shimla have been proposed, legislated and executed – with even the courts failing to put a stop to it.

Not to forget, the 11 storey High Court building itself is an illegal building, if the authorities have not winked to regularize it.High Court Bldg

One such policy is under active consideration that proposes to regularize over 25,000 buildings for the deviations made to construction laws in the hill city of Shimla.

While problems of the urban mess that the hill resort has become continues to attract the attention of lawmakers, a clear urban or Shimla centric bias is noticed for no one has bothered to revisit a policy considered more than a decade ago that intended to ease the distress the rural population was facing.

A policy to regularize rural encroachments, introduced in 2002/03, turned in over 3 lakh applicants. Some had brazenly even wanted the government to regularize reserved forest lands, encroached upon and converted into farming fields.

With over 90% population residing on farmlands and mainly involved in subsistence farming, a harsh mountainous terrain provides very little cultivable lands. A growing rural population stuck on a land that does not provide enough and is being squeezed into smaller and smaller land holdings as more and more land is lost to hydro power projects, dams, river/stream diversions, industries and other public uses, has been seeking more land from the government to sustain livelihoods.

And the government is simply unable to do so, nor has it been able to shift the population to urban centers and reduce the pressure on farmlands

Being more sympathetic towards the powerful urban population, the government has already drafted a legislation to regularize most illegal constructions but the rural encroachers have been hauled before courts for violating the law. Their mistake being of having made a declaration under oath in an affidavit about encroaching government land, which is documentary proof for having violated the law, but certainly the urban deviations need not be considered or counted as a breakdown of any law.

In a country where law breakers get away with huge gains and law abiding citizens are considered fools, why leave out the rural cousins from the bounty that the state showers periodically to a very small urban population?

As Editor, Ravinder Makhaik leads a team of media professionals at Hill Post. Spanning a career of over two decades in mass communication, as a Documentary Filmmaker, TV journalist, Print Media journalist and with Online & Social Media, he brings with him a vast experience. He lives in Shimla.

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