Like any other city of India, haphazard growth is visible in every part of Shillong, praised by the British once as the ‘Scotland of East’. Other towns of the so-far-mostly green state are not spared too from the menace. The city, being in Seismic Zone 5, already witnessed two devastating earthquakes in recent history. The casualties would be manifold had one more struck the region. It will be mostly because of the haphazard growth of buildings, and of course the population increase. At such time, there is urgent need for a uniform law for constructing buildings in the entire state. But what is seen is an ugly controversy of division of opinion about need for building laws.
The present building bye-laws framed by the Meghalaya Urban Development Authority (MUDA) in 2001 and upgraded in 2011 is applicable only the Shillong municipality, an area of 10.5 sq km. It takes care of only 6 per cent of the total area of the Shillong Master Plan area of 174 sq km, let alone the entire state. However, there is a division of opinion on the jurisdiction of the MUDA bye-laws. The urban affairs minister maintained that the MUDA law will apply to the whole state, in absence of any such law elsewhere. On the other hand, the Meghalaya Town and Country Planning Act 1973 as amended in 2004 says that it is ‘applicable in the whole state except for the autonomous districts’. This means the Act is applicable only in the municipal areas of Shillong, Tura etc. Those opposing the bye-laws have argued that if the Act passed by the Assembly is not applicable in the ADC areas, how could the bye-laws framed by a department be imposed on them?
While there is a controversy over the applicability of the bye-laws, questions have also been raised about the ‘limited’ action of a committee constituted by the Meghalaya High Court in response to a PIL. The committee, as mandated by the high court, has identified 24 high-rise buildings for allegedly violating the bye-laws in the Shillong municipal area. The question being raised here is that if public safety is a concern as raised in the PIL, then why the high court has limited the survey of ‘unsafe’ buildings into an area which is only 6 per cent of the city. Neither the battle over the bye-laws nor the ‘limited’ action on high-rise buildings is going to serve the purpose of proper urban development. Selfless action, which is above politics and vested interests, is the need of the hour.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on August 1, 2015)