A Citizen’s Wish List For A Battered Himachal And Shimla

Manali ravaged by River Beas overflowing its banks

Now that the rains have mercifully abated in Himachal, the various Whatsapp groups have offered their anodyne prayers for the state, donations have been made to the CM’s Relief Fund to assuage consciences, and bureaucrats have made the right noises to cover up their silence when the environment was being raped over the years, it is time to step back, take stock of the situation and take hard decisions for the future. I have been in Himachal since 1976 and have never witnessed the kind of devastation that has occurred over the last one month. A few landslides, road collapses and some flooding has always been par for the course in this mountainous state, but the extent, intensity and ferocity of nature’s backlash this year is unprecedented and should be an eye-opener for not only the officials and politicians, but also the citizens of the state, who are just as culpable for the disaster.

It would be fair to state that no Chief Minister of this state has ever had to confront the situation that Mr. Sukhu now has to face. The challenges before him are enormous, his resources limited, the attendant politics bound to be opportunistic and vicious: nothing brings out the worst in an Indian politician as a natural calamity. He is up to his eye-brows in monitoring the rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts, but it is now time for him to start taking some tough decisions too, in order to demonstrate his resolve to correct the horrendous mistakes of the past. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he is already late in taking these decisions.

The Chief Minister needs to announce, and implement, the following measures immediately to show that he means business:

  1. Repeal the Shimla Development Plan 41 (SDP 41) and withdraw the state’s appeal against its rejection by the NGT/ HP High Court. This SDP 41, which proposes to double Shimla’s population by 2040 (!), allow construction in the city’s 17 Green Belts, prohibited Core and Heritage Zones, and permit 5+1 floors (as against the existing 2+1) in the rest of the city, is nothing but a suicide note or a death warrant for Shimla, and probably the worst policy document ever produced by its government. Shimla has been brought to its knees even without these calamitous liberalisations, and the SDP 41 will take it the way of Pompei. The SDP should go immediately, and not await a Supreme Court adjudication (which in any case does not inspire much confidence on environmental matters). The Executive conceived this monstrosity, the Executive should bury it.
  2. Make a public declaration that there shall NEVER be any regularisation of illegal buildings in the state (of which there are reported to be about 17000). It has been frequent regularisation policies in the past (six at last count) by all governments which have allowed this monster to grow in the womb of expectation, and led to the explosion of the type of buildings which have been collapsing in the recent rains, taking a toll of human lives. This includes many government constructions too, which have been at the fore-front of these violations, confident in their sovereign immunity. This must stop, and this dangling electoral carrot must be banished for all times.
  3. Begin the process of decongesting and deconcretising Shimla and Manali NOW. Impose a complete ban on all construction in Shimla, Manali, Dharamshala, McLeodganj, Solan, with immediate effect, even the ongoing ones. Given the negligent and complicit manner in which building plans have been passed, and the total failure to monitor their implementation by the TCP Department, all must be treated as suspect and subjected to a rigorous review and physical inspection before being given a green signal: for this to happen, a suspension of all building activity in the town is necessary. No new construction should be permitted. A separate policy for repairs only could be formulated thereafter. This harsh measure may infringe on the rights of an individual, but it is in the larger public interest and protects the right of the majority.
  4. Stop the registration of any new hotels, home-stays, holiday homes and guest houses in Shimla and the towns mentioned above, forthwith. They have neither the structural, traffic, space or infrastructural capacity to cater to any more tourists or vehicles. The “chhola bhatura” kind of tourism we have been promoting so far cannot be allowed to destroy the environment, livelihoods and economy of the rest of the state any more: let us not forget that though tourism contributes about 8% of the state’s GDP, there remains the other 92% which has been held hostage for far too long to tourism interests. This imbalance has to be corrected.
  5. Stop immediately the construction of any more four-lane highways; even for sanctioned projects, where work is yet to start revert to improved two lane highways to avoid further cutting of mountains and dumping of muck. The recently tendered Kaithlighat- Dhalli four lane project should be converted into a two lane highway.We don’t need expert committees of the NHAI to examine this issue- the massive destruction which these four lane abominations have caused can be seen all along the length of the Kiratpur-Manali, Pathankot-Mandi and Parwanoo-Solan highways. The Himalayas are no place to carve out 35 and 45 meter wide roads: let Mr. Gadkari earn his place in the Guinness Book of Records by ravaging the plains- the mountains are too fragile too accommodate his ambitions.
  6. The conceptual process of reducing the environmental and infrastructural load on Shimla must commence immediately, without waiting for the promised Supreme Court Expert Committee. There is no time for that, there already exist enough reports of competent specialists, there are enough collapsed buildings, denuded hillsides, fallen trees and dead people to conclude that Shimla cannot support a population of 250,000 people, 100,000 cars and 70000 tourists a day. Appoint a committee under the Chief Secretary to suggest ways to reduce the city’s population by at least 25% by 2035. This objective could be dove-tailed into the plan for creating a satellite township in Jathiadevi recently announced by the govt. This could even become a model template for other groaning towns like Manali, Solan, Mandi and Dharamshala.
  7. Consider seriously the idea of creating a Beas Valley Regulatory and Development Authority, in order to bring some administrative coherence to this ravaged valley, especially the stretch from Palchan to Pandoh. The Beas valley (including its tributaries, the Parbati, Sainj, Jiwa Nal and Tirthan) , is a multi sectoral hub of Himachal’s economy, catering to tourism, adventure sports, horticulture, hydel power, mining. It is also a strategic gateway to Ladakh and the district of Lahaul-Spiti. The uncoordinated approach of different departments has currently made the valley a ruined mess; this beautiful valley needs a comprehensive development plan which supports the economy and simultaneously preserves its unmatched natural environment, and an agency which can also act as a regulator. This is not possible with different departments lacking an overall view and working in their own silos. The Deputy Commissioner cannot discharge this function, given his multifarious responsibilities.

This is my bucket list for the immediate future; much more will need to be done in the medium and long term, like; stopping this frenzy of tree felling in the towns, using them as alibis for our own greed and cupidity; removing encroachments and even sanctioned buildings on the water-courses and traditional nullahs without fear or favour, even if they are govt. buildings; reviewing the hare-brained proposal to channelise rivers; legislation to ban any construction below the HFL (High Flood Level) of rivers; reining in the mushrooming of hotels and home-stays; assessing the carrying capacities of various towns and regions; imposing blanket bans on mining in rivers and streams, imposing a moratorium on new hydel projects, especially in geologically sensitive areas such as Lahaul-Spiti and Pangi, and so on.

Mr. Sukhu, the Chief Minister, has a challenge on his hands which no Chief Minister before him had ever had to contend with. But it is also an opportunity for him to show that Indian politics can still throw up leaders. The govt. must demonstrate unequivocally that it has the political will to be a part of the solution, not the problem. At stake is, not his career, but the very survival of his state.

Join the Conversation


  1. says: Kapil Bhandari

    Very “loud and clear” post giving a straightforward path for the decosion and policy makers to follow.
    The situation is simply: “Now or never!”
    Congratulations to the author Avay Shukla for such a marvelous piece.

    1. says: Shilpa Sharma

      I support these articles. This is the real voice of common Himachali inhabitant. True every observation about Himachal. Four lane projects are not required in Himachal. We are simple people who love to live in nature. May long live our Himachal. Every one come together and save our precious state.

  2. says: Vir Arjun Pahuja

    Above 07 points agenda are very strong to save Himachal Pradesh from such type of Natural disaster and man made construction. Sh. Sukhu, CM is capable to get the challange as show his wish recently to save Himachal Pradesh. All Citizens of Himachal Pradesh and regular visitor’s from Other State are with you any type of help.
    At last, All Citizens are requested to donate more and more for Apda Rahat Kosh 2023 Himachal Pradesh .
    VIR Arjun Pahuja Chandigarh

    1. says: Swati

      Such a eyeopener article on our Himachal …it’s worst phase but we can we will .thanks to Avay Shukla ji …big thanks sr

  3. says: upender

    all well said but if swarghat bilaspur 41 km if 10 curve could be straight then no need of this 4 lane i don’t understand stand why authorities made 4 lane

  4. says: Aruna Rana

    Very clear and strong valid points given by the author that the government and the common man in general needs to take care and mark them in their heads permanently in order to protect and safeguard our mother land himachal and the earth in general

  5. says: Manohar Lal

    1.Regulate influx of tourists.
    No. should not be more 75 percent of room capacity of Hotels, Guest Houses and Dharmshala. On-line registration to be mandatory.
    2.Existing Roads not to be widened. New alternative roads to be planed strictly following NGT guidelines. Regional Office of NGT and NERF to be set up in H. P. They will examine all the areas where Landsliding has occurred and suggest the removal of structure.
    3.At all places in H. P. Panchayat, Municipal Committee, Municipal Council And Municipal Corporation level construction activities to be got approved from expert committee of NGT & NDRF. Otherwise construction will be treated as illegal w. e. f 01.01.2024.
    Immediately stop construction of school buildings as Hundred of Schools have not any students. Conduct a study to
    Idle capacity lying in schools and other office buildings. What is the need of 5 storey building for SDM and other offices constructed in Una Distt. at Bangana.

  6. says: Sharath

    A blueprint to save the region. Make him the one man task force to solve the problems, mostly man-made, that face the region.

  7. says: Vinesh Kumar

    It’s easy to write essays and pass comments on the current situation in HP. I am a Himachali and I know the problems of the state. The only solution (instead of selling stories) is to de-congest the town’s. You can’t avoid such issues given the current pace of population outburst and few towns taking the toll!!!!

  8. says: Ateeq Siddiqui

    My request with all political parties forget the differences it’s time to show the humanity, people are Himachal Pradesh are waiting for the relief we have to acknowledge the Chief Minister Suku action i appeal as Citizen of India Donate at Himachal Pradesh C.M Relief Fund and even i acknowledge Mr J.P Nadda President BJP For his meeting with C.M and promise for Support my request with Film Industry and Business Community to come forward donate for Himachal Pradesh
    Jai Hind 🇮🇳❤️🙏
    Ateeq Siddiqui, Hyderbad Telangana State

  9. says: Manpreet singh

    With due respect I don’t agree to ban on construction. The economy of our state is already haywire. In such a situation ban of any kind.. Would result in loss of tax to the state exchequer on account of no sales of cement steel bricks hardware furniture items, paints, sanitary etc.
    2 Loss of income tax to the centre onus reduced sales
    3 Loss of stamp duty as ban on construction would mean no sale Or purchase of land
    4 The areas specifically in shimla that faced losses are primarily residential area that have been constructed without guidance of structural engineers.
    My humble request to our chief minister to make the construction norms stricter by making it mandatory to get structure engineers approval at the foundation stage amongst govt approved engineers panel.
    5 Another reason for landslide was poor muck management. The government should find a suitable land on outskirts where the mud from construction sites should be thrown and that too by trucks and fees as fixed by government. Very strict norms should be there for defaulters.
    6 I agree with the proposal that construction as per present policy of 2 and a half floors should be only allowed.
    7 For Hotels Or resorts or commercial projects it should be mandatory that a plot size should be minimum 2 bighas.
    8 For commercial projects soil testing report should be made mandatory before sanction of maps.
    8 There is utmost need to recheck forest cover trees near buildings and those in dangerous state should be taken care of by the authorities.
    9 I agree with the the author that four laning should be stopped in hills.
    This is just an opinion and in no way I mean to disrespect the respected author.

  10. says: Jaya Sankrityayana Parhawk

    Yours is a voice of reason that must be heard. As somebody who calls herself a pahadi with homes in Kashmir, Mussourie, Darjeeling, Dehradun and emotionally invested since reading of my father’s extensive Himalayan travels since the early 20th century, the deterioration of our mountains rang alarm bells . When multi-lane highways were being gouged out the sense of doom increased. What happened to the strict zoning laws based on geological and hydrography studies that were in place in British times? Looking at the tiered townships stacked on the young and fragile slopes I only hope that it is not too late to retrieve the situation and more lives and properties are not lost. The ones that are gone are a tragic loss at the altar of human greed. No more.

  11. says: Reema Sarin

    Echoing the thoughts of every environment conscious Indian.
    Another “Chipko” movement is needed to save 🌳. Our hearts and prayers for the hills and people living there.

  12. says: Neena bansal

    Prannam sir
    Aap ne sab kuchh likh hi diya hai.
    Ab toh sirf prathna kar sakte hain ki iss mudde per jald se jald kaam shuru ho jaye

  13. says: Emwe

    I fully support the opinion given by Sh Abey Shukla ji Retd IAS all construction work should be banned in Shimla immediately Shimla Development Plan should be withdawn and suspended Allowing height of attic up nine feet and making it habitable even for those building built and approved fifteen or twenty years back this will encourage deviation illegal and violating the easementary rights of people residing in adjoining house/building building Save Shimla from further degrading and annihilation such heavy rain and flooding will reaccur keeping in view changing climate Shimla is already in danger To avert this catastrophic happening ons lies on CM Bureaucracy judiciary technocrats and residents of the town should come out to support complete ban on construction and deviation we support you

  14. says: Dr RP KAUSHIK

    Shift capital from shimla to Sundernagar. Let shimla be a tourist destination only. Many years ago there were indications of this when Lakkar Bazar area developed cracks. Many years ago this opportunity occurred when BBMB buildings became vacant after completion of project. That was right time to shift capital but politics prevailed and results are here to see. Stop all constructions in highly fragile Shimla. Sundernagar is approachable from all areas of the State. At present shimla is cratering to upper shimla only.

  15. says: Salim

    I am not from Himachal but being an environmentalist, I agree with all the points mentioned above. This is high time we should save our mountains, natural resources and it’s culture. We must understand mountains are not primarily designed for habitat by the nature, or for ultra-urbanization to say the least. We have ample plains to fulfill and experiment human desires. Let’s not spoil the nature and mountains in the name of development. You are building 4 lane highways which is an open invitation to large number of tourists but the cities and towns of Himachal (as well as other Himalayan states) are not large enough to accommodate this huge tourist influx all at once. Promote tourism but not Crowd Tourism. Why we are still following the century old technique power by taming rivers and diverting their usual paths. Focus on green energy (solar) atleast in the Himalayas states or high altitudes. Hope the current government will think and work upon it to save our Himachal for current and future generations…

  16. says: Mahesh kumar sharma

    Very solid action plan but only if it could see the day light fearing/ lacking political will.Appeasement has been the mool mantra and to implement the suggestions balls of steel are required at political level which doesn’t exist at all irrespective of any party.

  17. says: Avi Ahluwalia

    I agree with each and every point made by Mr. Ajay Shukla in the interest of Himachal and it’s residents. While citizens may be responsible to a small extent, the real culpability for the dire state of things is that of the government and the administration. Only they have the power and responsibility for stopping the greedy rape of nature in the name of ‘development’. Himachalis by nature are not greedy and would prefer to preserve their simple way of life. The present CM, Mr. Sukhu seems to be a son of the soil and must make hard decisions purely based on the long term interest of the state, it’s environment and it’s residents without any regard to greedy vested interests. I sincerely hope Mr. Sukhu and his government do the right thing …. they will be remembered as the saviours of this beautiful state and it’s residents will be forever grateful.

  18. says: Capt Anil Kumar Gupta

    I agree and disagree in the same breath. While it is advisable to regulate construction, not ban it altogether, just think of the common man who also would like to have a roof over his head.

    It would be a bit selfish to deny others the home that you already have!

    All can be achieved if we don’t allow encroachments and deviations. There should be strict penalties for defaulters.

    Properly designed and planned new townships should be encouraged.

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