The huge problem in Shimla that no one is talking about

“The queen of hills” is a title that is so heavily abused in reference to Shimla that it evokes little else than absolute cringe in me. While tourism is a key driver of the economy here, I’m not sure how the natives feel about an inability to get to work thanks to the hour long traffic jams that greet you in the odd chance that you live in the outskirts and in some cases, even the “inskirts”! (I checked, three other people on UD agree that it’s a word.)

Daytime travel this summer has been the absolute worst and while commuting was always stressful during tourist season, it was never as bad as it has gotten now. And now that we’re on this topic, who decides when season-time starts? Besides, since there’s an additional tourist rush in winter, effectively a second “season”, plus every single time it snows, isn’t the word season a rather ineffective representative anyway?

I’d like to bring your attention to a rather disturbing thing I noticed this time during my annual month spent at home.

Shimla 2017

If you see nothing wrong with the contents of this image, it’s because it has become this just slow enough to not have alarmed you, but quickly enough to have been substantial if you look at it for a month every year. Truth is, YOU USED TO BE ABLE TO SEE THOSE HILLS CLEARLY just a few years ago!
Unless it rains, the clarity in the air is completely gone. So what’s causing this? Is it the volume of traffic that Shimla is attracting but unable to cope with? Is it the substantial amount of trees cut down for that four-laning process enabling yet more cars to come here? Is it proof of insufficient efforts at the bureaucratic & in fact the grassroots levels to give a damn about the environment?

You guessed it, it’s all of the above. The consequence? Particulate matter. We are lucky to have one of the lowest corruption rates in India, yes, but does that in any way indicate that our governmental machinery is effective in any way? Absolutely not! There is absolutely no answerability and you’d be damned before you could find someone who takes responsibility even if there has been an AVOIDABLE health & safety disaster (remember when a significant population of the city was exposed to jaundice and very many people died? I remember. My grandfather was one of them.)
Do you know how many people resigned after that fiasco? Zero. Null. Zilch. शून्यThere are people who vehemently claim India is the best, Himachal is the best, Shimla is the best, (Sanjauli is the best,  Chawk is the best, and so on) at absolutely any criticism of the way things are handled here, and would advise you to “go to Pakistan” fairly swiftly, but truth is if this was any other country this would be on the front page of every god damned news paper (until the problem is solved and then again every year that follows), the central agencies in charge of disease control would come knocking on the door and impose quarantine zones and do whatever it takes to limit further spread of the disease, and the culprits would be gone for a very long time. A lot of people would lose their jobs. But that’s in countries where human life has value, and on those grounds, it doesn’t apply to India.

What matters more here is “कौन कोंग्रेस का है, कौन भाजपा का ।” Bloody “शासन में कौन है ” determines if any action is taken against anybody else.

Himachal, and more urgently Shimla, is sitting on an environmental time bomb, and the wick has already burned halfway through. I almost wasn’t going to write all of this, but I had an interesting dream just the other night. I was 12 years old again, walking on that forest road between Khalini and BCS and when I looked around me and all I saw were huge trees so characteristic of Shimla, but not even a speck of dust.
If you attempt to do so today, it would probably be better if you covered your face first.  If you have a balcony or terrace in your house, you already know it’s pointless to try and clean it very efficiently, because it will have a layer of dust all over again in a matter of HOURS, not days.

And this huge looming smog problem? It is not bad enough yet to be irreversible. It’s bad, but not Delhi bad.  What can you do about it?

For starters, talk about it. Talk to your parents, your friends, your cousins, your grandparents, hell, talk to your dog about it. Only when there’s a conversation about this, is there a possibility that any other measure will be effective. Only when everybody recognises the problems around them, will there be enough pressure on entities to deliver action rather than being out of the limelight even after catastrophic failures that they could have avoided by not being corrupt, careless or incompetent.

Chirag is a Media Technologist Originally from the Himalayan region of Shimla (India). He holds a MSc in “Medientechnologie” from the German University TU-Ilmenau, and a bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering.
Passions include drones, cameras, astrophysics, and making life here on planet earth a little bit better.

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