Shimla: In a major setback to the Himachal Pradesh Government, the HP High Court has quashed the inclusion of Dharamshala in the Smart City Project.

The division bench of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Sureshwar Thakur, in its judgment on a petition filed by Shimla Mayor Sanjay Chauhan, pulled up the bureaucracy for “succumbing to political pressure to ignore Shimla’s rightful claim” and gave two weeks’ time to the state government to review cities on the basis of the required criteria before making a fresh recommendation.

The Bench also quashed proceedings of the high-powered steering committee, which had accepted the claim of Dharamshala, overriding Shimla’s self-assessment score and the Centre’s decision to go by the recommendation of the state government on Dharamshala.

The Court took strong exception to the role of the bureaucracy and observed it failed to exercise its powers in the larger public interest. The Court observed

“The state Mission Director has acted mechanically and blinded not even prima facie satisfying himself whether the criteria laid down has been followed by the ULBs. The entire exercise seems to be a formality. The decision has been taken in non-transparent, opaque and tainted manner.”

The Court further observed the proceedings of dated 15.7.2015 and 29.7.2015 merely an eye wash. Court observed

“No authority has put their signatures on the proceedings dated 15.7.2015 as well as 29.7.2015 as per the record made available to us. Now, as far as the proceedings dated 29.7.2015 are concerned, there is an attendance chart, but there is no attendance chart for the meeting held on 15.7.2015. The decision taken is unfair. There is procedural impropriety besides irrationality and capriciousness. Initially, it was stated that the meeting could not be convened due to shortage of time but the meeting was convened at 4.00 pm on 29.7.2015. Though, it has come in the noting portion that the members be informed telephonically but it was an impossible situation since no officer except from Shimla or surrounding could attend the meeting at 4.00 pm. We are unable to understand why there was tearing hurry to complete the proceedings on 29.7.2015 itself when it was open to seek further extension from respondents No. 1 and 2 for identifying smart city.”

Pulling up bureaucracy, the bench stated that “Greater the power to decide, higher is the responsibility to be just and fair. Every officer in the hierarchy of the State by virtue of his being public officer or public servant is accountable for his decisions to the public as well as to the State. The Principles of public accountability and transparency in State action are applicable to the cases of executive or statutory exercise of power”.

Earlier, Shimla MC Mayor Sanjay Chauhan had accused state Urban Development Minister Sudhir Sharma, who represents Dharamshala assembly constituency, for fudging data to make Dharamshala declared a Smart City.

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Rahul Bhandari is Editor of TheNewsHimachal and has been part of the digital world for last 15 years.