Shimla - Buying an ultra-luxury cottage or a flat in the idyllic settings of Himachal Pradesh will get tougher and costlier if the state government accepts a commission's report recommending scrapping of the Himachal Pradesh Apartment and Property Regulation Act of 2005.
The Act was brought into place by the previous Congress government and enables builders to construct and sell flats in various categories.
Probing 'benami' or illegal land transactions in the state, the commission headed by Justice D.P. Sood, a former judge of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, in his report tabled in the assembly last week recommended to the government that the act be immediately withdrawn.
"Builders are creating concrete jungles and spoiling the natural forested environment of the state. Since the government lacks manpower to check and monitor each and every construction activity, the act should be withdrawn. The demand of Himachalis (to own a flat) can be easily met by HIMUDA (Himachal Pradesh Urban Development Authority); hence no private player should be allowed," Sood said in his 147-page report.
Representatives of real estate say if the recommendation of the commission is accepted, the construction of new cottages and flats will virtually come to a halt while demand remains high.
Sood observed that the basic purpose of the act has been violated since it came into being in 2005.
"It was enacted with the purpose of setting up housing complexes in the state consisting of 20 dwelling units for the labour class within a radius of 10 km of an established industrial area. But permission under the act has been given indiscriminately," he said.
As many as 173 builders and promoters have been issued licences by the government to construct apartments, cottages and dwelling units.
Spot inspection of the builders by the commission noted that the builders are catering to the needs of the rich people of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and non-resident Indians.
"They are not serving the needs and requirements of the people of Himachal Pradesh. Moreover, 90 percent of colonisers (those moving into the new neighbourhoods) are not from the state," the commission observed.
The builders, it said, have purchased a huge chunk of agricultural land, thus defeating the purpose of Section 118 of the Himachal Pradesh Tenancy and Land Reform Act of 1972.
The land reform act intends to preserve agricultural land and prevent it from being converted for non-agricultural purposes.
The report also observed that the builders normally shrug off the responsibility of providing essential services like water and electricity in the housing projects despite an assurance to buyers of providing these at the time of selling.
It cited the case of the promoters of Sugandha Apartments in Solan town.
Rajeev Chopra of Sugandha Apartments in reply to the commission stated that "water is the basic need of the human being and it's the duty of the government to provide water to members of the society".
According to the commission, the builder has promised 24-hour electricity and water supply in the project report.
The commission suggests vesting of the land of 42 promoters in the government, while the builders, who have been given permission between 2008 and 2011, should be asked to complete the projects within a stipulated period.
The builders who have been asked to complete the projects included Bemloe Development and Infrastructure Company, Janta Land Promoter Ltd, Optima Construction Pvt Ltd, Soma New Tom Pvt Ltd and Surya Builders.
Bemloe Development and Optima Construction are accused of serious environmental violations. They are constructing ultra-luxury cottages in Shimla and Kasauli towns respectively.
A select committee of the assembly, headed by legislator Suresh Bhardwaj, in its report last month, also recommend that the government abolish the apartment and property regulation act.
"The government is yet to take a call on the assembly committee report," Purnima Chauhan, director of town and country planning, said.
Under Himachal Pradesh land laws, only the state's permanent residents can buy land in the state. Others who want to purchase land for non-agricultural purposes have to seek relaxation under Section 118 of the tenancy and land reforms law from the government.
But buying a house from HIMUDA is the best option as there is no need to get government permission, which is mandatory in the case of purchase from a private realtor.