SC gives go-ahead to Shimla Development Plan 2041

In a boost to environment protection, the Supreme Court on Thursday gave the go-ahead to Shimla Development Plan (SDP) 2041 which regulates construction of buildings in the Himachal Pradesh capital.

The top court passed the order while allowing the appeal of the state government against the stay imposed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on the proposed SDP and a ban on construction activities.

The NGT had passed a slew of directions while noting that unplanned and indiscriminate development in the core, non-core, green and rural areas within the Shimla planning area had given rise to serious environmental and ecological concerns.

“Upon its (SDP) prima facie consideration, we have come to a view that there are sufficient safeguards to balance the need for development while taking care of and addressing the environmental and ecological concerns,” a bench of Justices BR Gavai and Aravind Kumar said.

In its 100-page verdict, the court permitted the state and its instrumentalities to proceed with the implementation of the development plan 2041 as published on June 20, 2023.

It said, “We may however not be construed as giving our imprimatur (official permission) to the said development plan. At the same time, it cannot be ignored that the development plan has been finalized after various experts from various fields including those concerned with urban planning, environment etc were taken on board.”

The plan-“Vision 2041”- when implemented, would pave the way for construction in 17 green belts with certain restrictions and also in the core area where construction activity was banned by the NGT.

In its verdict, the bench said if any citizen has a grievance that any provision is detrimental to the environment or ecology, it is always open for them to raise a challenge before the appropriate forum.

“Such a challenge can be considered in accordance with law. But, in our view, the development plan, which has been finalized after taking recourse to the statutory provisions and undergoing the rigors thereto, cannot be stalled in entirety thereby putting the entire developmental activities to a standstill,” it said.

The bench said there is a need for maintaining a balance between development and protection and preservation of environmental ecology which has been emphasised by the apex court time and again.

“It is thus clear that while ensuring the developmental activities so as to meet the demands of growing population, it is also necessary that the issues with regard to environmental and ecological protection are addressed too,” it said.

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Detailed guidelines have been mentioned in the plan about the number of storeys a building can have, parking, attic and height of structures, and it has been clearly stated that felling trees will not be permitted in the green areas.

A total of 22,450 hectares were taken into account for revision and formulation of the development plan that includes areas under the Municipal Corporation of Shimla, the Special Area Development Authorities of Kufri, Shoghi and Ghanahatti Special Area, Additional Shimla Planning Area, and some villages.

The plan, among other things, proposes developing Jubbarhatti and Ghandal as activity-based counter-magnet towns with adequate urban amenities like those for education, health, trade and commerce. Counter-magnet towns are those that can be developed as alternative hubs of development and have the potential to attract more people.

According to the plan, satellite townships have to be developed in Ghandal, Fagu, Naldehra and Chamiyana to decongest the core area.

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