Himachal HC stays operation of food court in heritage Town Hall building

The Himachal Pradesh High Court on Wednesday stayed the operation of a food court in the iconic Town Hall here, observing that running any such facility in the heritage building will cause “irreparable loss” to the structure.

Passing the interim order on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by advocate Abhimanyu Rathore, a division bench comprising Chief Justice MS Ramachandra Rao and Justice Jyotsna Rewal Dua directed the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) to ensure immediate compliance of the orders and fixed the next hearing on March 14, 2024.

“Irreparable loss and injury shall be caused to the heritage property and in turn to the public at large in case respondents are permitted to continue to run the food court there,” the bench said.

The PIL has alleged that the food court is being run in the Town Hall building, a notified heritage structure with immense historic significance built in 1860 and renovated in 1910-11 and 2014-18, in violation of the high court’s earlier orders.

The bench noted that the high court had in its judgement dated September 6, 2019 permitted only the offices of mayor and deputy mayor to function from the Town Hall. The remaining area was permitted to be used as a high-end cafe with an information centre and boutique showcasing traditional art and craft so that some revenue is generated for the Corporation.

The bench said that the SMC complied with the directions, be it mandatory or non-obligatory in nature, and decided to set up a cafe in the ground floor of the Town Hall but the tender notice, the Request for Proposal (RFP) document and concession agreement make it loud and clear that none of these documents even remotely suggests about setting up a food court in the building.

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The court pointed out that the mode and manner of setting up a high-end cafe was described in the RFP document as well as in the concession agreement and it was to be set up without making any structural changes in the heritage building and even the location of the kitchen was planned.

But the food court consisting of popular brands such as Pizza Hut, KFC, Cream Bell, Costa Coffee and Vaango with their separate compartments and separate kitchenettes actually set up in the ground floor of the Town Hall nowhere fits in those plans, it said.

“Despite the fact that we heard the matter for two days, many questions that emerged during hearing were not answered by the State, Shimla Municipal Corporation or HP Infrastructure Development Board,” the court said and directed the State Heritage Advisory Committee to look into all the facets of the case and submit a report by next date of hearing.

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