The recent murder of Assistant Town Planner Shail Bala Sharma in Kasauli has not only exposed the laxity of the system in ensuring the security of officials who go to remove illegal constructions in hotels and resorts, it also brings to light the apathy of the administration in checking and curbing the mushrooming growth of illegal hotels and resorts that are sullying the pristine beauty of Himachal Pradesh.
Prem Singh Tanganiya is one man who has stood against the builder mafia despite repeated threats and assaults and the Himachal government which had almost regularised these structures in 2014 by bringing in a retention policy. The policy after amendments in the Town and Country Planning Act was a bid to regularise such structures.
Under the retention policy, builders would have to pay a one-time lump sum amount for retaining illegal structures and deviations from the approved architectural plan.
However, a single-handed fight by Tanganiya, a native of Doba village in Bageshwar district of the neighbouring state of Uttarakhand, twice forced the government to withdraw the controversial legislation.
Tanganiya, who used to work as an outdoor photographer at Children’s Park in Solan, had taken up the cudgels against the builders’ lobby in 2007 when his elder son died while working at a construction site in Solan on 28 March that year.
“The builder along with the help of influential people tried to hush up the case and even the local police didn’t offer me any help,” he said.
His battle to get justice for his son led him to discover the Right to Information Act in December 2007 and since then, he has not backed down against any threat to oppose illegal constructions in Solan city.
The RTI activist said administrative negligence towards illegal constructions is resulting in the fragile ecology of the hill state taking a hit and such activities also pose a threat to human life if one keeps in mind the seismic activity in the Himalayan region.
Illegal constructions are also the result of curbs on purchase of land as in that case, flats are the only viable option for housing in the state.
This situation is being cashed in on by the builders lobby who in connivance with government machinery, indulge in illegal constructions on more space than the prescribed norms or approved map.
However, Prem Singh Tanganiya’s battle got significant recognition in 2014 when the government had to roll back the retention policy after he raised objections over some provisions.
In 2017, the government again tried to push forward the controversial policy against which he filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in Himachal Pradesh High Court.
His PIL was taken up and the court quashed the policy, citing several loopholes, against which the government again appealed in court but to no avail. “If the policy had been approved, it would regularise all illegal constructions including the one in Kasauli,” Tanganiya said.
These developments have made him a known face in the state bureaucracy and also among the builders’ lobby. His fight against the rich and mighty in Solan hasn’t been easy as he has been threatened, physically assaulted many times and even his livelihood was threatened.Now, he is getting various kinds of allurements but he says that such things won’t bring his son back. Tanganiya’s only regret is that he isn’t very well educated, otherwise he would have fought his battle more efficiently.
His RTI activism is also affecting his daily earnings as he has to dedicate several hours to pursue the crusade against illegal constructions. After the attack on and killing of Shail Bala, he too is fearing for his life and has demanded police security.