View from the top

  • 29/09/2004

View from the top Planning is non-existent for India's hill-stations, admit hill municipalities. In the absence of a master plan, a free-for-all situation prevails where one constructs wherever one finds free space; if there is lack of space, one can simply add another storey to one's house. There is no tourist plan, which becomes amply clear when total chaos prevails during the peak season. Result: hill-stations are getting buried under waste, and are wallowing in their own sewage. A disaster is waiting to unfold. Literally.

Planning is the responsibility of the town and country planning department of the state governments. But why is this department not planning for hill-stations? "But there is no department of town planning for Darjeeling, or any other hill-station. So how can municipalities without the qualified town planners prepare master plans?' wonders Vimal Khawas, a New Delhi-based development consultant and researcher (eastern Indian Himalaya). So planners in the plains end up making all the plans for hill-stations, by default.

Ooty illustrates the trend
After a lengthy and energy-sapping battle, agitating local environmental groups were able to get a master plan for Ooty approved in 1997. But its implementation leaves much to be desired. "The master plan is drafted by the town and country planning regional office in Coimbatore, with absolutely no inputs from hill people,' laments Geeta Srinivasan of the Nilgiri Wilderness and Environment Association, an Ooty-based NGO.

Three institutions oversee implementation: a local body, the Architecture and Aesthetics Aspects Committee (Triple A Committee), and the Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA). The power for the approval of constructions on plots up to 250 square metres (sq m) is vested with the panchayat. The Triple A Committee is contacted for construction on plots up to 300 sq m. For bigger plots HACA, under the Chennai-based Housing and Urban Development Department, provides clearance.

Builders dupe the panchayat. The reason: they lack technical staff. Often, they submit several proposals for plots less than 250 sq m. After approval, the plots are

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