Uttarakhand cabinet’s decision to relax construction norms in the “freeze zone” of Mussoorie has come as a big relief for the local residents, who had been barred from undertaking any construction –even addition of a new room or a toilet – for over two decades now.
The entire area of Mussoorie, barring private forest estates, falls under the freeze zone, where fresh construction has been banned since 1996.
While civic officials as well as common public welcomed the decision, the opposition BJP slammed the government saying the move was aimed at making electoral gains as it had come just before the assembly elections.
The state cabinet, which met on Sunday night, approved a relaxation in construction up to 100 square metres within the freeze zone and up to 150 square metres outside the freeze zone (which was up to 100 square metres till now). The relaxation in construction will be applicable only to the local population, and will be only for residential purposes.
The then Uttar Pradesh government had issued an order in 1996 prohibiting all new construction within the freeze zone in the hill town, unless one took a prior sanction from the government. The restriction continued even after Uttarakhand was carved out of its parent state in 2000.
“The decision was taken primarily to check rampant construction and to save natural resources. However, the process of seeking permission from the government was so cumbersome - taking even years at times - that construction virtually came to a standstill here over the past two decades,” said Sandeep Sahni, a resident of Mussoorie and president of the Uttarakhand Hotel Association.
From now on, the Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA) will be authorised to clear the construction maps in the above cases, speeding up the process.
MDDA chairman R Meenakshi Sundaram said the restriction had been severely impacting the local population, as despite natural population growth over the years, families faced difficulties in expanding their houses.
“In one of the incidents, we even had to file a case against a person for constructing a mere toilet as technically it was a violation of the prohibition. We wanted to remove this type of harassment forever,” Sundaram told HT.
A committee comprising Sundaram, Dehradun district magistrate Ravinath Raman and other officials had submitted its report to the government earlier this year, whose recommendation was approved by the state cabinet on Sunday.
Manmohan Mall, chairman of the Mussoorie Municipal Board, said the decision will benefit hundreds of families in the hill station, which has around 12,000 houses.
Mussoorie’s population was around 30,000 as per the Census 2011. “It used to take months or even years to get a map sanctioned for even a minor construction. This (relaxation) has come as a big relief for the residents,” Mall told HT.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has, however, targeted the Congress-led government for delaying a decision in the matter until right before the assembly polls. “Mussoorie locals have been demanding to provide relaxation in the freeze zone for years now, but the Congress (government) cleared the matter only now with an eye on its electoral gains. It is nothing but a poll move,” said Mussoorie legislator Ganesh Joshi, who had been “actively supporting” the campaign to provide relaxation in the freeze zone.
Restriction on construction in over 200 private forest estates in Mussoorie remains as such, under which one needs to take permission from the Union ministry of forests for taking up any construction.