Successive administrations in Shimla have failed to address the acute shortage of parking spaces not only for the huge influx of tourists, but also for the rising number of local automobiles that are perched along most lanes and bylanes of the city, aggravating traffic congestion. In a bid to deal with the problem and earn revenue, the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) has been almost every other year proposing to levy a green tax on vehicles coming from outside Himachal Pradesh. It has done so once again. That the well-intentioned plan has remained a non-starter is a sad reflection on the poor thought and lack of planning put into it.
In 2016, the High Court had discontinued the cess imposed by the corporation. The SMC was rebuked for erecting barriers at four entry points to the capital city on highways to collect the tax without taking due permissions, as also for the nightmarish traffic jams that it led to. While the problem is sought to be resolved by collecting tax via an app or at toll counters, unless it is complemented by adequate parking lots, the visitors are bound to feel cheated. Interestingly, Manali has been successfully collecting the green fee at toll barriers for some years. Even as the earnings are used to improve civic amenities, related questions about the conservation of greenery and reducing carbon emissions remain.
Curbing serpentine traffic queues and removing bottlenecks, especially during weekends and the holiday season, require a multi-pronged strategy. It remains to be seen if Shimla’s other revived plan (a project report was also made in 2008) of constructing a tunnel parallel to the old Sanjauli-Dhalli tunnel so as to accommodate the burgeoning crowds meets the promised deadline of a year. Shimla is in danger of losing its title of the ‘queen of the hills’ if thousands of tourists, instead of enjoying the scenic hill town, continue to end up fuming and choked on roads chock-a-block with vehicles.