A conversation on Shimla Development Plan with PK Sharma an expert on Urban development

Explainer on Shimla Development Plan by P.K. Sharma from Jubberhatti, an expert on urban development and hill architecture. There are several Myths among people as a lobby of Environmentalists successfully dragged Shimla Development Plan into prolonged litigation and several efforts to make a plan to regulate haphazard construction. Successive governments remained to fail to address planned Development in Shimla City. We are trying to understand why so much fuss in the Shimla planning area and relentless fight by people belonging to nearby gram panchayat to get their fundamental rights of shelter. Why people are being deprived of basic amenities like good streets, drinking water, and hassle-free roads? Why are so many retention policies and outdated 43 years old Shimla Interim development plans still followed by the planners?

This interview is compiled by M.L Verma, Senior Correspondent with twenty years plus of experience in journalism. He covered all the retention policies and practices of Shimla MC and Town and country planning and covered the subject in depth in his reportage during two and half decade carrier of Shimla based Journalist.

ML Verma -What is Planning and when and why Indian Government follow this? Why planning is specially meant for Urban areas.

P.K. Sharma – The origins of urban planning in India can be traced back to the planned towns of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa belonging to the Indus Valley Civilisation. In the recent period, Chandigarh city is a prime example of excellent planning, which gives us a very fair idea as to how living in a planned city transforms the life of its residents.

Regulations/Building By-Laws are legal tools used to regulate coverage, height, architectural design, and construction aspects of buildings so as to achieve orderly development of an area.

They are mandatory in nature and serve to protect buildings against fire, earthquakes, noise, structural failures, and other hazards. Regulations/Building By-Laws help to avoid encroachments and protect the right of way.

All mandatory Master Plan/Development plan, control regulations regarding use, coverage, FAR, setbacks, open spaces, height, number of stories, number of dwelling units, parking standards, etc.

Moreover, Urban planning, also known as town planning, or city planning,  is a technical and political process that is focused on the development and design of land use and the built environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure passing into and out of urban areas, such as transportationcommunications, and distribution networks and their accessibility.

ML Verma– When has Shimla declared a Planning area and which authority was mandated to ensure that people follow the planning rules?

P.K.Sharma– Shimla is one of the rare towns in the country which was governed by a Municipal committee since 1851, somewhat 96 years before the independence of India, and thus, right from the British Rule, no construction was allowed in Shimla town without getting the map approved from Municipal committee. Post-independence, in the year 1977, Town & Country Planning Act was enacted by H.P. Legislative Assembly and since then the construction in Shimla town is regulated by the TCP Act & H.P. Municipal Corporation Act 1994. However, as far as the construction By-laws specified under the M.C.Act 1994 are concerned, they are in conjunction with the H.P.Town & Country Planning Act. The Municipal corporations in Himachal Pradesh have no powers to formulate any construction By-Laws independently.

P.K.Sharma– As mentioned earlier, Shimla Municipal Corporation is simply a regulatory Authority as far as the planning and development of the city is concerned, including the passing of maps.   They just approve the maps and regulate the construction, of new & old buildings in Shimla town, strictly as per the norms and Be-laws made by the H.P.T.C.P.

ML Verma-Why there a need for TCP when Shimla MC is looking after and allowing the design and mapping of new buildings approving its architecture? What are the domains of MC and TCP?

ML Verma -Why Shimla MC construction norms are referred By- laws and TCP as rule.

P.K. Sharma– Neither the Shimla MC construction norms are referred to as By-laws nor the TCP construction norms as rules.  A By-law is a law that is made by a local authority and which applies only in their area.

When it comes to city planning, it is governed by the TCP department of the respective state as TCP is overall responsible for city planning and development. The entire construction activities within the limits of the Municipal corporation are governed by the TCP. Act.

Immediately after the TCP Act has been passed in Himachal Pradesh, no Municipal corporation can make the construction By-laws on their own. Presently construction of Shimla town is regulated by the statutory Interim Development Plan (IDP) notified in 1979 and modified/ amended from time to time.

ML Verma– What is the difference between the Planning area and Special Area Development Authority (SADA)? Do people need permission for the construction of houses in the SADA area and NH-SADA?

P.K.Sharma– Every city or town, small or big, suburb or village, or even a barren piece of land with a potential for development as an industrial area, education hub or Medicity or whatever kind, which the Government considers to have planned development is notified by T.C.P Department as planning area.

After being declared as a planning area, for a proper regulatory mechanism of the Development Plan, every City or Town or village or developed land, based on its size, available infrastructure, and special needs, is categorized to fall under   Municipal Corporation, Municipal Council, Nagar Panchayat, Special Area Development Authority (SADA).

Cities and big Towns, including the peripheral clusters fall under Municipal corporations whereas the smaller towns fall under Special Areas.

 Small or big towns or satellite towns or counter magnet towns, and special areas, has different potential, needs, and requirements for development and thus T.C.P. makes By-Laws as per the resources, infrastructure, suitability, and need of the particular area.

 The comparatively big cities are generally administered by Municipal corporations and there the T.C.P norms are implemented and regulated by the Commissioner of the respective Municipal Corporation, the area which comes under the preview of Municipal council or Nagar Panchayat, generally falls under SADA or Special Area, where the TCP construction norms are regulated by the Administrators/ Chairman of Municipal council or Nagar Panchayat and in villages the mechanism is regulated by Gram Panchayats.

The area abutting, up to a specified distance, from either side of the National Highway or four-lane N.H. are generally put under SADA in order to regulate proper construction along the highways. In such areas, the responsibility to regulate construction norms lies again with the Chairman of the SADA, mostly the Dy Commissioner/ Sub Divisional Magistrate of the area is the Chairman of SADA

ML Verma– What is F.A.R. and how it is calculated? Does it impact the height or number of stories in planned construction?

P.K.Sharma– The full form of F.A.R is floor area ratio, F.A.R is an independent parameter to regulate the construction and does not directly specify the height or Nos of stories ie one may construct 4 stories to achieve F.A.R or may exhaust F.A.R in 2 stories, however, construction has to be limited within permissible F.A.R ratio as exceeding the permissible norms of F.A.R will tender the building as illegal construction.

When we talk about building bylaws, F.A.R. is the most important component, which directly determines the dwelling density, household density, and as well as population density in a city.

Generally permissible F.A.R. in Shimla at present is 1.5 to 1.75, depending upon the classification of the area as core and non-core.

It is calculated as under :

Floor Area Ratio (FAR) = Total Covered Area on all Floors / Total Plot Area

ML Verma– What is Shimla Development Plan and why it was being delayed to replace IDP? How is it different from the Master plan?

P.K.Sharma– The proposed Shimla Development Plan 2041, which is likely to replace Shimla Interim Development Plan,  is a vision document prepared by H.P.T.C.P. Department in consultation with a renowned  Private consultant MaRS Planning & Engineering Services Pvt. Ltd. Ahmedabad

This Development Plan, mandatory in nature, once applicable, will regulate, Building By-Laws by regulating area coverage, height, architectural design, and construction aspects of buildings along with infrastructural development of area falling within Municipal Corporation, Shimla, Ghanahatti Special Area, Kufri Special Area, Shoghi Special Area, Additional Shimla Planning Area, Jutogh Cantonment Area along with newly proposed satellite townships at Ghandal, Fagu, Naldehra, and Chamiyana Area  & Counter-magnet town at Jathia Devi near Shimla Airport.

Immediately after the H.P. Town & Country Planning Act 1977, coming into force, the development of Shimla has been guided and regulated by the statutory Interim Development Plan (IDP) notified in 1979, under the provisions of the Himachal Pradesh Town and Country Planning Act, 1977. However, over the past several decades, the provisions of the Interim Development Plan (1979-2001) are in force with various amendments carried from time to time.

There are no two opinions on the fact that the Master Plan/ Shimla Development Plan has been considerably delayed. Over the last four decades, Shimla has continued to develop and expand rapidly to accommodate ever-increasing residents as well as a floating population, but mostly in an un-planned and half-heartedly regulated manner, governed by Interim Development Plan 1979 prepared under TCP Act 1977 with further amendments in the years 1997, 2002, 2011, 2015 & 2016.  Most unfortunately, no emphasis was ever given to the development of road infrastructure and parking facilities, which has created namaste chaos in the city as of today.

 It is more than 40 years that the Shimla Development Plan 2041, will see the light of the day if finally approved.

The Interim Development Plan 1979 prepared as per T.C.P Act 1977, was repeatedly amended as many as  5 times, however, It is wrong to say that no attempt was ever made to replace the Interim Development Plan with a more comprehensive Master plan for Shimla. Govt of H.P made two attempts to finalize the Shimla Development Plan, the first attempt was during the year 2004-2005, and later on, one serious attempt during the year 2012, when the Draft Shimla Development Plan was even published for public objections after hearing public objections the final draft plan was presented before the Cabinet, however, the attempt failed and the Plan could not be finalized owning to failure in getting Environment Impact Assessment of Shimla Planning Area done to take a decision regarding allowing construction in Green belts. The Environment Impact Assessment was got done by the Department through the Department of Environment, Science and Technology wherein it was concluded not to open the 17 pockets of green belts for any type of construction, and thus the Development Plan failed to be finalized, rest is the history.

Now, the Govt of Himachal Pradesh, Department of T.C.P. has come up with a comprehensive Shimla Development Plan 2041 with the vision for a well-regulated and planned Shimla and its peripheral urban areas, best capturing the urbanization growth and aspiration of Shimla city and its suburbs.

 This Development Plan is said to have been prepared considering its potential as a tourist destination, and its capacity to accommodate future residents, fast urbanization of surrounding areas, as well as floating population by the year 2041. The best part of this development plan is that the National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad, has provided the GIS base map & other valuable data for this Development Plan.

ML Verma– How NGT governs Shimla construction and when Govt of India mandates NGT to regulate haphazard construction and a number of stories.

P.K. Sharma – It is a specialized body set up under the National Green Tribunal Act for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources. NGT vide their orders, Nov-2017, restricted all new constructions to 2 stories plus an Attic (non-habitable) and directed the H.P T.C.P. to come up with Shimla Development Plan within a period of 3 months. Though the T.C.P. could not draft the plan in that period and notified the new Development plan in Feb 2022 for inviting public objections, however, the process was stayed by N.G.T. as the Tribunal felt that said Draft Plan was not in line with the direction issued by the Tribunal.

 The Govt of Himachal Pradesh challenged the orders passed by N.G.T in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. The Hon’ble Supreme Court bench comprising three Judges vide their order dated May-3, 2023 directed and permitted the State of H.P to publish and notify the Shimla Development Plan within 6 weeks from the date of orders after dully considering and deciding the 97 objections raised by the public, when the draft plan was initially notified in Feb 2022. The Hon’ble Court has also directed the Govt not to implement the new Bylaws till one month from the date of publication/ notification in the official Gazette. The plan was notified in H.P.’s Official Gazette on 20 June 2023 and as such the new plan will be applicable from 21 July, provided there is no stay from the Hon’ble court while being heard on 12 July 2023.

ML Verma– What is Set Back, Habitable, and Non Habitable Attic?

P.K. Sharma–  Setback is the minimum open space required around any building or structure.

Non-Habitable Attic, as the word itself explain, is a term that stands for a space on top of the house, not meant for human habitation, covered with a slopping roof, with limited height. Moreover, in terms of the Development plan a Non-Habitable Attic is one where the owner will not get water or electrical connection for the attic floor nor it can be legally sold as an independent unit. On the other hand, the habitable Attic is one where the height restrictions are fewer than the non-habitable attic, the owner will get the water and electricity connection legally and he can legally sell the attic unit independently.

ML Verma– What is the difference between Satellite township, counter Magnate township, and outgrowth?

P.K.Sharma– Counter Magnet towns are those that can be developed as alternative hubs of development and have the potential to attract more people/immigrants from a larger city, whereas Satellite towns are small municipalities that are adjacent to a larger city and serve as part of the larger city and provide housing and other amenities for the people working in the larger city. Eventually, the Satellite Town become a part of urban agglomeration and later into the town cities. However, Satellite towns are an important part of settlement planning as the satellite town helps to ease the overcrowded burden of the city and absorb the economic pressure.

According to “The Hindu”, The nine CMAs (counter magnet areas) to the NCR (national capital region) spread across six States are Hisar and Ambala (Haryana), Kanpur-Lucknow corridor, and Bareilly (U.P.), Jaipur and Kota (Rajasthan), Patiala-Rajpura corridor (Punjab), Gwalior (Madhya Pradesh) and Dehradun (Uttrakhand).

ML Verma-What is the difference between zonal and sectoral planning?

P.K. Sharma – A planning area can have different zone under its ambit and a zone has many sectors under it thus a sector is defined as a part of the zone which in turn is a part of the Planning area.

ML Verma-How anyone has to apply for new construction and what documents and permission or NOCs would require for submitting for house map and before which authority?

P.K.Sharama – As of today, the process for seeking planning permission for new construction has become comparatively simple. The process has been digitalized and one has to load his application on the portal of M.C. for Shimla city and on the T.C.P. portal for the rest of the planning area. There are a number of documents required such as Maps prepared by a qualified Architect/ Engineer, Structural drawings, Tatima, Jamabandi, demarcation report, NOC from PWD if the plot is abutting PWD road, NOC from forest dept, NOC from MC Tax dept, etc. The detail of the documents required is available on the portal itself.

ML Verma– Under the new SDP plot owners could be allowed to build houses in any landscape does he need the same document for different sizes and shapes of plots?

 P.K. Sharma– The construction to be done depends on the type of land use, the particular land has been assigned or one has to get the land use changed according to his need.

ML Verma-What is contour construction and can plot owners may get permission under the new SDP on greater than 45-degree elevation plots or less than four biga plots?

P.K. Sharma– Maximum permissible slope for new construction is 45 degrees. However, for commercial projects proposed to be developed on plot areas bigger than 500 sq. Mtrs. having soft strata and slope more than 35 degrees, Geological Report shall be a mandatory requirement. The New Draft Shimla Development plan does not permit construction on land having a slope of more than 45 degrees.

ML Verma– What is the difference between Heritage area, Core area, Green area, and none core area and SADA area? Are construction rules and planning of new construction vary in the above areas and why.

P.K. Sharma–  Yes, rules for construction and planning differ from area to area with remarkable differences.

Shimla being the summer capital of India has some very important buildings to its account, name few of them is Vice Regal Lodge where the country was ruled during British time, Town Hall Shimla, the office of Shimla Municipal Committee, which was the first MC of North India, Cathedral Church, Auckland House School, Cecil hotel, Bantony near Grand hotel, Railway board building which was the headquarter of Indian Railways, Gorton Castle Building which was the office of Accountant general of India, etc are classified as Heritage buildings of Shimla. As the word Heritage itself reveals, there are many more buildings designated as Heritage buildings and in order to protect these buildings and heritage of old Shimla some special, stringent norms are applicable for re-construction of these buildings. In addition to Heritage buildings, some area falling within the limits of M.C.Shimla has been classified as Heritage area as well. Again, very stringent By-laws, over and above the By-laws applicable in the core area, are applicable for construction in an area that has been classified as a Heritage area.

Similarly, a part of Shimla Town with defined boundaries is classified as Core Area. In a broad description, the area surrounded by a Circular road starting from the Victory Tunnel to Chotta Shimla to Sanjauli to Victory Tunnel falls in the Core area except the area defined as a Heritage area.  

 Some parts of Shimla Town, totaling 17 pockets, were declared and notified as Green Belt in December 2000. No construction, whatsoever, is allowed in the green belt, however, the new draft plan permits one floor with one habitable attic and one parking floor on the plots which were purchased before the said notification of Dec 2000, without felling any tree. The maximum height of the building to be constructed in the green area has been restricted to 10 Mtrs and only residential construction will be permitted as per draft Development Plan 2041.

The rest of the area except, the Heritage area, Green area, and Core area is called the Non-Core area.

Coming to SADA, the full form of SADA is the special area development authority. We have 3 SADA areas falling in the Shimla planning area namely (1) Kufri (2) Shoghi (3) Ghanahattibut in addition to the Additional Planning area Shimla created in the year 2007 and M.C. Shimla which is born out of Shimla Municipal Committee created in the year 1851.

ML Verma-If I built a house on my plot in the MC area or SADA area without seeking permission or partly seeking permission and did not get final approval. MC or TCP could impound my plot or raze the construction.

P.K. Sharma– Earlier, in the Interim Development plan there was a provision to construct a building without getting the map approved and get the same regularised by paying double the applicable fee, provided the construction so done meets all the conditions provided in the applicable By-laws. However, the new draft plan has no provision for doing any type of construction without getting the planning permission ie getting a map sanctioned from the competent authority. Anyone who makes construction without the sanction of a map is liable for penal action including demolition of the construction so done.

ML Verma– Does a new SDP would increase the cost of construction in the planning area? How much could the cost of construction go up with new norms?

P.K. Sharma – The Draft Shimla Development Plan will not have any adverse impact on the cost of construction, though the cost will definitely increase due to inflation and escalation in building material and labor prices.

ML Verma – Do you see the SDP plan as Environment Disaster as it was being termed by a few Environmentalists and they are going to challenge the same in the court?

P.K. Sharma -of course not, the Development Plan has been prepared by the subject specialists involving top Town planner consultants having experience in making a development plan for many cities. Moreover, the Shimla Development Plan is GIS-based and has been prepared by using data provided by National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad.  How the city with ever increasing population which will exceed 6 lacs by the year 2041, can be forced to invite a definite disaster as entire agricultural land will be covered for house construction.

The haphazard construction in Shimla and its suburbs has definitely harmed the environment but with a well-regulated Development Plan, there will be overall development including in the environment. Finally, is there any country in the whole world where the construction is restricted to 2 stories, if the answer is negative, how can Shimla be an exception?

Shimla is built in the same earthquake zone       (Zone 4) where Chandigarh, North Punjab, and the national capital Delhi are built. We have exceptionally high buildings such as Vice Regal Lodge, C.T.O, AG office, former Western Command, Railway Board, Gorton Castle, Ellerslie House housing H.P Secretariate are few examples. These Buildings are more than 100 years old without any slightest damage.

It is painful that entire emphasis has been given to banning construction or limiting the number of stories without having any regard for the quality of construction or the construction techniques available today. How you can ensure the safety of even a one-story building if it has been built with poor construction standards?  While quoting the Kangra earthquake of 1905, claiming 20,000 lives, as a prime example to restrict construction in Shimla, we must keep in mind that most of the buildings which become the victim of the Kangra earthquake were of a single story.

It is high time to start using modern construction technology, it may be expensive but can be started in a phased manner such as Base-isolation technology, where lead-rubber bearings are used to isolate and protect structures during earthquakes.

According to the World Steel Association, ductile buildings are safer as they dissipate energy from seismic waves. Steel is the most common type of material for earthquake-resistant buildings. The Railway board building and Gorton Castle (A.G. office) building which are made of pre-fabricated steel structures, built between the years 1896  and 2004, are much safer to survive the earthquake.

I am not advocating the construction of skyscrapers in Shimla but 4 or 5-story buildings, if made with proper design, modern technology, and good workmanship using good standard construction materials will be quite safe. Further, in my opinion, the buildings which will be built in Shimla town on an area exceeding 500 sq mtr plot must be subjected to mandatory structural audit by NIT Hamirpur or IIT Mandi or by any institute of equivalent standard. The soil stability test should be a must criterion and responsible supervision and counter supervision by class one Engineer or Architects with answerability by fixing responsibility must be made mandatory, unfortunately, quality and technology have never been a question of prime importance.

ML Verma-How many new areas are included in the SDP and what is the total area under SDP? Are Agriculture and animal activities allowed in the new planning area?

P.K. Sharma– The new plan will cover as many as 375 villages in addition to Shimla City which will include many villages from Distt Solan as well.

The Govt is planning to have more Counter- Magnet City and smaller Satellite Townships at strategic locations by the year 2025 as proposed in Draft Development Plan to transfer the urbanization pressure from Core and congested areas towards the outskirts. These townships can be planned in areas such as Waknaghat on Shimla – Chandigarh Highway. Jathia Devi, near Shimla Airport, Fagu on Shimla Rampur nh and Gandal on Shimla Bilaspur NH.

 As I said, the Shimla Planning area in the new Draft Plan comprises 375 villages and the villagers are definitely allowed to do agriculture and animal farming. The villagers have special exemption norms applicable to them to build their houses, however, if some outsiders have purchased land in these villages after a particular date, different norms will be applicable to them for construction.

ML Verma– How many violations of SDP could be allowed and if one violates permission can he get final approval and with what cost?

P.K. Sharma– I believe, the violation of SDP, will not be routine in the future after seeing the Green Tribunal in action. As far as I understand, no violation of SDP will be permissible in the future as per the draft plan, nor there is any need for violation as the Draft plan is a well-prepared document and takes care of every stakeholder. Gone are the days when anything and everything could be regularised by paying some penalties. Apex and Ceyane, the two illegally constructed towers built in Noida city were demolished on the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, this is the prime example of how stringently the Hon’ble Court view illegal construction irrespective of, how influential you are.

ML Verma– Do State government and common people permitted to develop the same story or number of floor with the same formalities?

P.K. Sharma– Yes, by and large, the same norms for story or number of floors, are applicable to Govt as well as private individuals.

ML Verma-Do cow and industrial shed and garage could be permitted in the planning area.

P.K. Sharma – Yes, there is a definite provision for an industrial shed/ building, provided it is built in an Industrial area for which an adequate provision is provided in the plan, with earmarked industrial areas. The above holds good for running a manufacturing industry, however, motor repair garages, welding Workshops, appliance repair shops, etc are not to be considered industry here, and sheds for such activities can be allowed in the general markets. As far as the cow shed is concerned every villager, including in the area covered by the plan can always keep the cow and can have the cow shed constructed legally.


ML Verma: I would send you more queries soon. After reading fill text of the SDP

ML Verma – (Premium F.A.R) ON payment.

P.K. Sharma: There is a clear provision of purchasable F.A.R. in several development plans in the country.

The Town and Country Planning Organisation, Ministry of Urban Development, Govt of India has prepared Model Development By-laws 2016, which were circulated to all State Governments including Union Territories for guidance to make Development plans. This model Development Plan makes a categorical reference to purchasable F.A.R. Though, there is no provision for purchasable F.A.R. in the interim Development Plan, which is regulating the present building construction regulations in Shimla but the draft Development Plan 2041 has a provision for premium F.A.R, from 0.25 to 0.50 percent. This means that the core area where the permissible F.A.R. is 1.75 can be increased up to 2.25 by paying an extra amount.

Further, the premium F.A.R. is not permissible for residential constructions nor it can be availed if the plot size is less than 500 Sq Meters. More if the connecting road to the plot is less than 7 meters wide, the owner of the plot can not take benefit of paid premium F.A.R. The logic behind this is that paid F.A.R. building will definitely be huge in size and in the event of some disaster such as fire, it will be difficult to press services of fire tenders or any other rescue operations on a smaller width road, and this really makes sense.

ML Verma – Building height regulation with respect to abutting road width.

P.K. Sharma – The new draft Development Plan 2041, in the Non-Core area only, has permitted extra height/restricted building heights based on Road width for construction on plots abutting Road. For plots abutting roads having a width of fewer than 5 Meters can construct only 3 Floors + parking + attic (habitable) with a maximum Height restriction of 16.5 Mtrs only, whereas if the abutting road width is more than 5 Mtrs the owner can get sanction for 4 floors+ parking + attic (habitable) and maximum height up to 21 Mtrs.u

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