We, the Government
By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
Mussoorie is a small town. If we walk to the top of the road from our front gate, slowly swivel left, we can take in the whole of our little hill station. Crowning the spur on the south-east, ahead, rises the majesty of St George’s College: proud alma mater of every Manorite. Panoramically, left, there’s Wynberg Allen in an area named after a fort in Afghanistan: Bala Hissar. Left of that, high Landour was our first expat settlement, now largely a green cantonment. Cascading towards us, our town is divided by the ridge of the oddly volcano-shaped Gun Hill. Its shaded northern flank affords views of the snow-white Higher Himalayas. Its sunny southern slopes face the great valley of the Doon. Here, our red-roofed cottages are linked by the Mall ending in the iconic Mussoorie Library where the Mall splits into two. The wooded northern facing Charleville Road is named after the old Charleville Hotel now transmogrified into the sprawling Lal Bahadur National Academy of Administration. Still further on is the disciplined Tibetan Colony. This was to be the home-in-exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. On second thoughts, however, our government worried that the Chinese might send a commando force across the border and kidnap him. (The term ‘Surgical Strike’ had not acquired the political capital it now seems to have.) His Holiness was asked to move to safer Dharamsala. To continue with Mussoorie’s topography, after the splitting of the Mall at the Mussoorie Library, the left fork, with excellent views of the Doon, winds around the south-facing side of Mussoorie to its western spur. That is crowned, on its northern tip, by Waverley Convent run by the sisters of Jesus and Mary.
That’s Mussoorie: our home town described in one paragraph.
To this town came ravenous quarriers, hungry for its 99.9% pure limestone. They tried to camouflage their rapacity under the net of “Defence Necessity” which, as a Veteran Family, we know is a lot of BS. (Yes, that could stand for ‘Bloated Suggestions’: of course, of course!) To counter the quarriers with deep pockets, two old widows and a spinster formed the Save Mussoorie Society. They were so transparent and naive that they refused to admit politicians and lawyers into their ranks, or accept outside financial help. Their simplicity won the hearts of the citizens of our town and the help of RLEK who took up their case with the Supreme Court of India. Quarrying was banned in Mussoorie and the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) was set up. It commissioned a wing of the LBSNAA to do a Carrying Capacity Study of Mussoorie to evaluate the environmental impact of human activity on our small town. But the creativity and ingenuity of administrators is boundless, particularly when their own interests are involved. For 20 years, the Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA) has found ways and means of circumventing the limitations to, so-called, “development” mandated by the expert Carrying Capacity Study.
Now the GP front page article of 6th March says that there is a suggestion that the Powers That Be are considering the sanctioning of a ropeway from Dehra to Mussoorie. This cable car will deposit at least a thousand passengers ‘at a time’, presumably on every trip. Even if it makes only two trips a day, that would amount to 2,000 visitors every day. The chances are that most, if not all, will be day trippers. Such people do not stay in hotels; they eat garbage-enhancing, plastic-wrapped snacks rather than dine in restaurants; their shopping is minimal. They do, however, impose the maximum strain on the environment because they utilise free public services rather than the in-house ones provided by hotels.
Is this an imposed decision? Were the opinions of the Members of our Municipal Board sought when this decision was taken by the State or Central Government? The 20-year old Carrying Capacity study says “One of the immediate requirements is to involve the elected members of the City Board in urban development decisions”. To our City Board we say: We, the Government, don’t need more tourists who spend less, but less tourists who spend more time, more attention, more money.
Less is More!