The new hill city proposed across seven villages in Mulshi taluka of Pune district is not going to come up anytime soon. The state nod to the project — designating seven villages as a hill station through a May 19 notification — is based on 20 conditions, including five approvals.
The developer will have to get clearance from the forest and environment ministries, besides a no-objection certificate from the irrigation department, as well as from Tata Power Company, which owns the Mulshi dam for running a power project.
While the NOCs may be not be difficult to acquire, the forest and environment clearance will take long. For instance, the state expert appraisal committee (SEAC), which has been considering the project, noted in the minutes of its meetings on March 12 and 14: “If clearance is to be granted, it should be on the minimum permissible area of 400 hectare and on trial basis, for say five years, with stringent environmental conditions.”
But, the question being asked by experts and environmentalists is how valid are the government’s 1996 special regulations for hill stations.
“The state law is tilted in favour of developers and invades several central environment laws. The projects are being cleared in Western Ghats, which is one of the 10 biodiversity hot spots in the world. Does the state clearance take into consideration the overall impact of this kind of construction in such an eco-sensitive zone?” asked YP Singh, an IPS officer turned lawyer and activist.
Singh questioned the state government’s haste in clearing the project when the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report is being considered, and demanded that the regulations be scrapped.
Social activist Medha Patkar agreed. “After the Lavasa controversy, the government should have been extremely wary about granting such clearances. The same area already has two hill stations, so what is the logic of allowing a third one?”