Shimla Final Community Asset Mapping Workshop Report

1.   Introduction

Shimla, a picturesque hill station nestled in the Himalayan foothills, has lived through many changes in the last one century which are reflected in its demographic, social, and physical characteristics. Known as the summer capital of erstwhile British India, Shimla was also the state capital of Punjab for a few years after partition of India, before it settled into its current place as the state capital of Himachal Pradesh. At the onset, this history of Shimla being an imperial capital and then Punjab’s capital, should be kept in mind when writing about Shimla’s urban trajectory. This has had an impact on Shimla’s aspirations, record keeping, politics, migration patterns, and stories of caste-based exclusion. Pamela Kanwar’s (1999) work is a good starting point to think about how the past image of Shimla spills on its present aspirations (Articles by Pamela Kanwar are scanned and uploaded on Sharepoint. Additionally, interviews with Desh Bandhu Sood and Tikender Panwar provide interesting insights on this).

Currently, Shimla is one of the cities nominated under the Smart City Mission of Government of India which is geared towards ‘improving quality of life’ through local area development, provision of core infrastructure, and use of technology and ‘smart solutions’.

2.   Status of Smart City Project in Shimla

2.1.   The Smart City Proposal: Clean, Serene and Vibrant Shimla

The Shimla Smart City Proposal (SCP) focuses on building resilient infrastructure, augmenting mobility and easing traffic congestion, solid waste and waste water management, strengthening tourism, and creating open spaces based on the priorities identified by citizens during proposal development phase. The tag-line for Shimla smart city is ‘Clean, Serene and Vibrant’ Shimla selected after an open competition. Ironically, the tagline doesn’t entirely resonate with the proposal priorities which focus mainly on mobility and transport, augmenting tourism, and massive redevelopment in core area.

 Shimla SCP includes 53 projects spread across three categories – (i) pan-city, (ii) retrofitting, and (iii) Area Based Development (ABD). The pan-city projects include development of software for information management systems (for health, traffic, transport), installation of CCTV cameras, and city branding. Currently, there are a few CCTV cameras across major points in the core town of Shimla such as Lift, Scandal point, and at some junctions on Cart Road and Circular Road. However, the feed from these CCTV cameras doesn’t go into a central command centre. They have microchips and the data is locally stored (See Interview with Anil Semwal, IT Joint Director, HP). Informal conversations with other government employees also suggested that a number of these CCTV cameras are lying defunct.  

The proposed retrofitting projects are centred around improvement of junctions, roads, foot over bridges, construction of lifts, escalators, tunnels, smart parking, smart road, ice-skating rink, smart bus stops, e-toilets etc. The overwhelming focus here is on improving mobility and easing traffic congestion. Interviews with a number of elite and middle-class citizen group representatives and business owners in Lower Bazaar confirmed that transport and parking is a major priority. See for example, interviews with Ashwini Minocha, Joginder Kumar, Umesh Akre, Mahender Seth etc. (This category of elite and/or middle class of course should be problematised before making these categorizations and attributing opinions.) A few residents of upper Krishna Nagar also highlighted parking and traffic as a problem, particularly those who own a car. (See for example, interview with Geeta Vaid.) For rest of the community research participants from Krishna Nagar as well as street vendors from Lower Bazaar, instead of traffic, parking and congestion, there were other priority areas. For Krishna nagar participants these were cleanliness, access to roads and mobility, and housing.

I visited some of the proposed project sites under retrofitting component - the ice-skating rink, some e-toilets and the IGMC-Sanjauli Road. Observation notes on these are added in Sharepoint (22 June).

The ABD project focuses on redevelopment of 48 acres of Lower Bazar, Gunj, and Krishna Nagar in core area of Shimla. (See: Shimla SCP Proposal 2017). For this research study, we decided to focus on projects which have the biggest potential for changing the face of the city and are already at the centre of conflict – area-based redevelopment plan of Lower Bazaar, Gunj and Krishna Nagar. This redevelopment plan was also at the centre-stage of some of our initial stakeholder interviews regarding smart city imaginations (See for example, interview with the Mayor). This helped us in exploring how do people imagine change and smart futures. Additionally, we also explored narratives around assets, affect, memory, and digital capacities.

 2.2. Current status of Shimla Smart City Project

In the last one year, the proposed 53 projects have been further categorized into high feasibility, medium feasibility, and low feasibility categories based on factors such as availability of land, availability of funds, convergence with other departments, court orders, and government regulations (See interviews with Nitin Garg, SPV GM). Their prioritization however has shifted over the months due to new regulations and notices from the centre.  In June 2019, we received the following information from SPV regarding priority projects:

          ‘…purchase and procurement of e-toilets. That’s in its final stage. MC is doing that for us... Then another is purchase of garbage compactors etc…Then other project is pedestrian path from Sanjauli to IGMC...’ (Nitin Garg, 14th June 2019)

However, as of August 2019, a PMC (project Management Consultant) had not been appointed yet for Shimla. Informal conversations suggested this was because there was a conflict between two of the applicants who submitted their bids for the PMC position. One of the applicants filed a case against the selection procedure in High Court. The code of conduct due to National Elections further delayed the appointment process. As per recent information from the ground, E&Y has finally been appointed as the PMC, but The SPV didn’t confirm this on my last call with them in mid-August. Because the PMC had not been appointed as late as August 2019, none of the projects have hit the ground. After the PMC is appointed, the PMC will prepare Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) and initiate the tendering process which will take around 6 months. As per this timeline, the projects might hit the ground by March 2020.

Major milestones proposed in the Shimla Smart City Proposal:

  1. The DPR for all proposals and legal framework for redevelopment (URS) was to be delivered by FY18. This has not been achieved.

  2. Development of old ISBT into planning museum, SPV office, railway museum and commercial space, development of ice-skating rink, phase 1 of redevelopment project, safe shelters, Krishna nagar school, GIS mapping, app development and strategy for city branding was to be achieved by FY19. Not yet achieved.

A major hurdle for Shimla Smart City has also been National Green Tribunal’s order (Yoginder Mohan Sengupta vs Union of India and others, judgment dated 16th November 2017) which bans residential, institutional, and commercial constructions in core areas and green-belt areas of Shimla and restricts number of stories to two-and-a-half in all other areas. The proposed sites under ABD are all located within core Shimla. The proposal was premised on constructing multi-story buildings to replace old buildings to ensure commercial viability and to create open spaces. This order came into existence in November 2017 which is after the selection of Shimla as smart city based on its SCP. The TCP has challenged the order and the hearing is due in October 2019. This outcome will have a significant impact on our case study sites.

The order is also uploaded on Sharepoint. Excerpt from conversation with Nitin Garg:

ABD has been hampered to some extent due to the NGT order wherein they have put a ban on construction in core area and restricted number of stories to 2.5 stories. That issue is being taken up by TCP and they are taking the matter to supreme court and reviewing the petition in NGT also. That is the legal course they are taking up. That has certainly impacted the redevelopment project. NGT has formed a supervisory committee. All cases are going to go the supervisory committee. But even that is within the limitation of 2.5 stories. Even then, it can’t be beyond that… Now due to restriction on number of stories, commercial viability is also going to decrease considerably. And that is a major area of concern.” (Nitin Garg, 14th June)

 Community interviews suggest that people are also familiar with this NGT order. While some are in the favour of this order as it will help in retaining the beauty of Shimla, most people in the government and those with business interests are vexed by the NGT order.

 2.3. Links with the Past

At the office of Shimla Municipality Corporation, I saw a dilapidated room with a board saying ‘e-District Project Shimla – Office of the E-District Manager’. The room was empty and did not show any signs of active use. The board indicates that this project focused on providing access to basic services such as streamlining provision of BPL card, caste certificate, domicile certificate etc. This was launched in October 2014. Apart from this, during some informal conversations, municipality employees also mentioned the AMRUT project. Shimla and Kullu were the only two cities from Himachal Pradesh which received funding under the AMRUT Project in 2015, which is around the same time that Shimla lost out on the smart city tag in the first round of selection[1]. It would be interesting to trace the commonalities and continuities between projects such as e-District, AMRUT and Smart City given our interest in digitisation, local body politics and urban renewal.  This line of enquiry was not pursued in stakeholder interviews in this round of field work and can be taken up during follow up interviews.  

Apart from that, we procured copies of the Interim Development Plan 1979 and amendments made to it from the TCP (Town and Country Planning) office, HP (uploaded on Sharepoint). More documents related to building bylaws can be downloaded from TCP-HP website. One of the TCP town planner’s also shared copies of City Mobility plans and city heritage development plans. These are also uploaded on sharepoint and can be analysed to explore continuation of smart city proposals from previous projects. Interviews conducted with Sanjay Chauhan (ex-Mayor) and Ashwini Minocha (business owner) would also be helpful in this regard.

 2.4. State of knowledge on ICCC

Information on ICCC in Shimla is rather fragmented. Digitisation and IT did not feature as a major priority in most of the stakeholder interviews. In fact, even with Nitin Garg, it was not until our fourth meeting with him in June that he highlighted ICCC as a priority area. The centre is focusing on ICCC, he said. Excerpt from interview with Nitin Garg:

 “Pan city proposal includes IT component. That will include construction of command and control centre and we will be integrating different services on that platform…There is no specific time line for that as of now. We will be trying to achieve it in minimum possible time. By the end of next year (2020), it should be in place. Tentatively, it will be located at Tutikandi parking. Location has been finalized by IT department.” (Nitin Garg, 14th June)

The Joint Director of IT Department, HP confirmed that the ICCC will be located at the new parking complex in Tutikandi. Notes for this new parking lot and further updates on ICCC can be found in interview notes with Anil Semwal (8th August 2019). Anil Semwal was the only bureaucrat to talk at length about ICCC and IT component within smart city mission.

(Side note: Our experience of visiting 5-6 government offices and departments in Shimla, applying for permissions, accessing old records, etc suggests that even now a significant portion of government’s work is yet to be digitised. Most of the government employees I interacted with use desktop computers (which look like they are of an older make and model) but latest smart phones. They are tech-savvy in their personal lives, it seems. Yet, there is reliance on paper files and paper trails for a simple application in the municipality.)

 2.5. Future Aspirations: What is ‘Smart’? What is ‘Small’?

In almost all of our interviews (stakeholder and community), we explored the theme of smartness, what does smart city mean for them, and what do they think is the future of Shimla.

For most of the community participants, smartness is about availability of civic facilities. What those civic facilities should be and which ones should be prioritized varied with a person’s background and social and economic status. For Krishna Nagar respondents for example, especially those staying below Luv-Kush Chowk, cleanliness and sanitation is a major priority. Another is regularisation of their existing houses. A huge proportion of Krishna nagar residents work as sanitation workers either with MC or with a cooperative society hired by MC called SEHB for door-to-door garbage collection. Retired MC sanitation workers especially underlined the need to focus on cleanliness in Krishna nagar in particular and Shimla in general. For them, smart city seemed to be barely a label, an identifier, under which this project can be prioritized. For Lower Bazaar respondents on the other hand, cleanliness is not a major concern.  

 Some of the Krishna nagar respondents were very astute in their remarks, and asked – for whom is the smart city? They articulated exclusion and caste-based and vote-based politics, and these threads should be explored during analysis.

One of the recurrent aspirations that was articulated in community interviews was that Shimla should become like Chandigarh – a planned city with no encroachments. To borrow Ritojyoti’s articulation during a discussion, in doing so, a past model has become a reference point for future. It would be interesting to see how this reference point changed with the respondent’s background.

 For policy stakeholders, smartness was about improving efficiency and delivery of services on one hand, and ‘straightening out the city’ on the other by removing encroachments, re-building unstable buildings, and improving aesthetics and built environment. Excerpt from the Mayor’s interview:

‘‘…The entire market has to be built anew. Naya bazaar banaoge toh tareeke se banaaoge na (if you will make a new market, then you will make it properly, right?) It’s completely broken and haphazard right now. If you will make it anew, then only it will feel/look like a smart city (naya banaoege tabhi toh smart city lagega.) Right now it’s not in any organized manner. There is no system…And smart city is where people get all the services they need, they don’t have to be search for anything, and everything is available properly. That is smart city…” (11th April).

In any case, for almost of the community participants, smart city was about availability of civic facilities.

Another interesting observation in Shimla, while conducting field work is that people of Shimla don’t think of Shimla as a ‘small city’. They acknowledge that land is a limited resource in Shimla but whenever I suggested we are studying ‘small cities such as Shimla’, their reaction was one of confusion. When we asked questions on particularity of Shimla as a small city, the answers were worded in terms of Shimla’s particularity as a ‘hilly city’ instead. In this context, it is also important to clarify what does smallness mean, and what meanings does it carry for the residents themselves.

3.   Consultations and contestations

As we began our research on Shimla as a smart-small city, we found that Shimla won the smart city tag only after filing a petition in Himachal Pradesh High Court challenging the selection process followed by the state of Himachal Pradesh (Sanjay Chauhan vs Union of India and others, judgment dated December 17, 2015). After the High Court’s intervention, Shimla Municipal Corporation (henceforth, SMC) rallied its resources to win the smart city tag in 2017 during Round 2 of the selection process. It launched a public engagement and consultation phase to gather inputs from city residents. This included distribution of door-to-door survey forms, ward-level meetings, a social media campaign to increase downloads of existing apps such as Swachhta App (in order to increase points required for city assessment as part of the smart city proposal), and launch of an online poll and discussion forum. The bidding process was led by the Municipal Commissioner along with the then Mayor and Deputy Mayor (both of whom were elected representatives from CPI(M)). The proposal was accepted by the Ministry of Urban Development in June 2017. By that time, a new local government led by BJP had taken over after local elections. (See interviews conducted with stakeholders in April 2019).

When speaking about this journey to us, most government stakeholders expressed pride at being selected after a ‘struggle’ and at facilitating extensive community engagement for developing the smart city proposal. However, finding details about the citizen consultations was a difficult feat. The Shimla Smart City Proposal (SCP) we found online did not have the complete annexes and we couldn’t find any other documentation at the municipality regarding this. We finally found the details of ward-wise community meetings and survey results when we visited the Shimla Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) office where we found a complete version of the SCP. What struck us is that the copy of the SCP available on is only 100-page long and ends abruptly after Annexure 4 but the softcopy we received from SPV office was thrice its length with 10 Annexures including copies of discussion documents, resolutions passed and notifications issued, citizen engagement report, newspaper coverage, details of SMC meetings, and so on. We don’t know why the complete file was not available online, though we assume it’s probably because of its heavy size.

 In community interviews, we also asked questions about these consultations, what have people heard about smart city, did they participate in any surveys or meetings regarding the proposal and so on. Very few respondents reported participation in these consultations. Almost no one reported filling any surveys. Most of the respondents in Lower Bazaar (shopkeepers and vendors) said that they heard of meetings in the MC office but they weren’t invited. Neither did they know of any meetings in Lower Bazaar. Nonetheless, a few gatekeepers such as more established business owners, hoteliers etc. reported participating in these meetings (See for example interview with Ashwini Minocha and interview with Mahender Seth). None of the vendors, other than the Union President Om Prakash, reported participating in any consultations.

On the other hand, in Krishna Nagar, some respondents reported having heard of or even participated in these meetings (See interviews with Nirmal Singh, Dharm Das, Ramanand). A few them referred to meetings with Tikender Panwar and Sanjay Chauhan (ex-Mayor and deputy Mayor, Shimla MC, CPM) wherein they were assured by these political leaders that their houses will not be demolished under smart city as long as they are stable and even if they’d be demolished, they’d be suitably rehabilitated (See interviews with Nirmal Singh, Nagesh Kumar etc.) 

It’s important to highlight here is that the biggest concern for Krishna nagar residents is property ownership and security of tenure. Their priority is authorization of houses, as opposed to traffic congestion which is highlighted in SCP. It would be prudent to analyse how much does this priority of secure housing is addressed in the smart city proposal. Further, where does caste fit in the smart city? Repeatedly, Krishna Nagar respondents said that they are considered ‘outsiders’ because their forefathers migrated from present-day Punjab. Because of this they are refused HP bonafide certificates and land registrations even though they have been living in Krishna Nagar since four generations. Ironically, historically, most of Shimla’s population is migrant. Even Lower Bazaar shop-owners are second generation migrants from pre-independence Punjab and North-west Frontier Province. Yet, this narrative of being treated like an outsider did not crop up in Lower Bazaar interviews. This precarity only emerged among Valmiki and Ravidas communities of Krishna Nagar.


4.   Governance structure

4.1. SPV and composition of SPV

After being selected, Shimla Smart City Limited (SSCL) was constituted in August 2017 as Shimla’s SPV. SPV is a para-statal organization, registered as a limited company under Companies Act 2013 and responsible for implementation of smart city plan at city level. Shimla’s SPV office is located in New Shimla. This is the first important milestone for Shimla smart city. A series of meetings were held between September 2017 – October 2017, minutes of which are publicly available on the SMC website (also saved on sharepoint).  Initially, we did not know what happened after October 2017 and why there is no update on Shimla smart city on SMC website after this period. Initial exploratory visits to the Municipality yielded little results. Elected representatives at municipality level changed right after Shimla was selected as a smart city, administrative officials were reshuffled, and SPV’s General Manager was changed. Informal conversations with several MC employees kept directing me to Prashant Sirkek and Dharmender Gill. Prashant Sirkek was the MC Joint Commissioner during the time when Shimla MC was preparing the smart city proposal under the guidance of Sanjay Chauhan and Tikender Panwar. He was given the charge of smart city. After Shimla was selected as smart city and SPV was constituted, it was Prashant Sirkek who was leading the SPV as its General Manager, keeping the MC involved. He was the SPV GM from September 2017 till some time in 2018, after which he took a sabbatical from government service and is reported to be overseas since then. As a result, I haven’t been able to touch base with him. Dharmender Gill was a Senior Engineer in the MC and was also closely involved during the proposal development phase. He has been heading the newly formed Shimla Jal Prabandhak Samittee since 2 years which is responsible for water management in Shimla. When I reached out to him, he refused to discuss smart city, saying he has been out of touch with those discussions. The MC commissioner, Pankaj Rai, who has been the sole point of continuation between the previous and current local government and is the CEO of SPV, did not give us a detailed interview but instead directed us to speak to Nitin Garg (A detailed interview with him should be scheduled during follow up and would be extremely helpful). The current GM, Nitin Garg, was helpful, but his narrative also doesn’t account of for a period where SPV was completely inactive.

Notwithstanding these delays and hiccups, the SPV, under the direct leadership of Nitin Garg with Pankaj Rai’s supervision, has held more than 10 stakeholder meetings in the last year months to discuss details of proposed projects with 23 government stakeholder departments such as transport, tourism, SMC, forest etc. However, Nitin Garg didn’t give us a copy of these MoMs but allowed me to read through them at his office and take notes. These detailed notes are uploaded in Sharepoint. The current Mayor shared some minutes of Board of Director meetings (uploaded on Sharepoint).  

A Project Management Consultant (PMC) has not been appointed yet for Shimla Smart City and as a result none of the proposed projects are on ground yet. Local officials accrue these delays partially to local, state, and national level elections scheduled one after the other in the last two years, change in SPV’s staff, and a court conflict regarding the selection procedure of the PMC. Further, the SPV is severely resource crunched, a situation further aggravated by regular advisories from central government on smart city implementation which changes project prioritisation and implementation plans regularly and at short notice.

 4.2. Diagram of MC and SPV governance structure

Since the projects are not on ground and the SPV itself has seen some flux in the last two years, it would be difficult to depict the flow of responsibilities through a diagram. The diagram below gives an overview of the major stakeholders involved and relationships between them. Its striking that more than the local elected representatives, it is the bureaucrats and the state-level departments which have a major role to play in smart city. 


5.   Case Studies

As already mentioned above, for this research project, we decided to focus on two areas proposed for redevelopment under smart city – Lower Bazaar and Krishna Nagar. Excerpt from Smart City proposal:

“The redevelopment project includes 48 acres of Lower Bazar, Gunj and Krishna nagar and capitalizes on the opportunity to replace dilapidated and unsafe building stock with new resilient, modern, earthquake safe, smart green development, unlocking its full tourism potential.”

The proposal then goes on to place the ‘charming pedestrian street, the mall road’ in stark contrast with the ‘dilapidated building stock of Lower Bazaar’. The proposal is peppered with strong imaginations of ‘pulling down’ existing old buildings while ensuring tenants and landlords retain their legal status.

 Building earthquake resilient and green buildings is iterated several times throughout the smart city proposal. Yet the absence of a disaster management expert in stakeholder consultations and meetings, as well as our stakeholder interviews is conspicuous. The other oft-repeated concern in the proposal as well as stakeholder interviews is to improve the aesthetics of the city by giving it a ‘complete facelift’. “Presently the area selected has worthless dilapidated buildings with priceless views,” the proposal says (p 43/92).

Further, the proposal calls the vegetable and meat markets as ‘non-functional’ which in reality is entirely untrue. Both the vegetable market and the meat market are bustling with activity. 

Aspirations of Istanbul, Barcelona and London also feature in the proposal. In stakeholder interviews as well, we have been given references of Barcelona, Singapore, Estonia etc. Another reference point, which featured strongly not just in the proposal but also several stakeholder interviews with bureaucrats and local elected representatives is that of Bhindi Bazaar in Mumbai. See page 180-181 of Shimla Smart City Proposal for ‘learnings from Bhindi Bazaar’.

In community interviews, shop-owners in Lower Bazaar asserted that such a massive redevelopment is not possible because of complicated ownership and tenancy regimes. Any relocation and redevelopment will lead to litigations, they said. To bypass this, the proposal and policy stakeholders have relied on introducing a regulatory framework for redevelopment which will have legal backing along the lines of Urban Renewal Scheme introduced in Maharashtra. While litigation is the risk from Lower Bazaar, vote bank politics is the challenge in Krishna Nagar. Krishna nagar residents are confident that they won’t be uprooted because of the Valmiki community has a stronghold here. While this is not discussed at all in the proposal or policy stakeholder interviews, the proposal does mention that the redevelopment will be done in “small phases with quick results to gain confidence of people for subsequent phases.” 

As per the annexes, the idea of prioritizing the core area was approved with a ‘broad consensus’ with 15 out of 25 wards voting for it. 

We conducted a total of 49 community interviews. This is in addition to 22 stakeholder interviews. Stakeholder here includes policy makers/bureaucrats, elected representatives, and citizen/interest group representatives. Out of a total of 71 interviews, 56 are with written consent. Break up according to stakeholder and community group:

The community interviews focused on the following themes:

·      Oral histories and memories of particular places (shops, houses, areas)

o   Assets – what do people value in the city in general and in ABD area in particular

·      Needs – what are the requirements of Shimla and of the ABD area

·      Awareness about smart city plan, citizen consultations if any

·      Opinion on smart city plan and meaning of ‘smart city’

·      Imagined impact of smart city projects and future of the city

·      Digital capacities


Because none of the projects were on ground, it was difficult to probe deeper about impact of smart city plan.

6.   Themes for analysis and way forward

Possible Analysis Strategies:

·      What is Smart? What is Small?

o   Different interpretations of smartness by the community, local representatives, bureaucrats, state and centre. Difference in aspirations and priorities of the community vs priorities identified in the proposal.

·      Tracing continuities

o   Placing smart city plan in the larger trajectory of urban renewal and redevelopment by tracing continuities between proposed smart city projects and older projects (central as well as city-based).

·      How ‘smart’ is smart city?

o   Digital capacities of government employees and procedures and digital capacities of people

o   What do people use their smartphones for?

o   Distrust with government – disillusionment with swachta app, e-district cell defunct, heavy reliance on paperwork

·      Smart city for whom?

o   Politics of land, caste, and exclusion in smart city.

o   Reasons for selecting Krishna nagar and lower bazaar as ABD

·      Smart city by who?

o   Politics between MC and SPV

o   Speed of smart city implementation (and delays)

o   NGT order – role of environment, sustainability, earthquake resilience in smart city


Way Forward: What remains to be done?

- Follow up interviews with Commissioner, Mayor, NGT, urban secretary, TCP town planner, Raja Bhasin, HP Urban Secretary, HP Urban development minister to explore long-term trajectory of urban development and renewal projects in Shimla

- Follow up interviews with IT Cell, Police Cell, Disaster Cell to understand the current digital infrastructure of the city

[1] Source: (accessed 6 April 2019)

By Mahima Taneja, Research Assistant