For most people, a holiday in Matheran meant returning with shoes caked with red mud. But that might soon be just a memory. A walker’s paradise, Matheran’s red-laterite earth roads are giving way to paver blocks and asphalt, robbing the hill station of its unique identity and ecology.
This is being done without consulting the high level monitoring committee set up by the Supreme Court to supervise the hill station’s administration.
The local Matheran Municipal Council has awarded a contract of around Rs. 3 crore to paver block a 1km-stretch of road, work on which was on when Hindustan Times visited Matheran last month. The council also laid asphalt on a 300metre stretch of road from Dasturi point naka to Aman lodge railway station.
Residents say that this move will surely mean a loss of identity for the hill station. “Matheran is known for its red-earth, pedestrians and monkeys. Officials and politicians are hell-bent on ensuring that all that changes,” said Shiavax Lord, owner of the Lords Central Hotel in Matheran.
Conservationists believe that besides the loss of identity, a much deeper ecological problem can befall Matheran if the council goes ahead with its plan. “The hill station’s crux is laterite-base. This laterite doesn’t go well with basalt rocks or khadi, which is laid before making a paver block or asphalt road. Such roads will end up damaging Matheran more than helping it,” said Kirtida Unwalla, conservation architect and a member of the SC panel.
While work on laying paver blocks has been stalled due to opposition from the panel, the local council has said that it is determined to go ahead with the work after the panel grants its nod. “With laterite-stoned roads, there is immense soil erosion. We are sure that asphalt is the only answer,” said ex-council president and Congress councillor Manoj Khedekar.
Current president of the council, NCP’s Ajay Sawant, added that the conventional road-making methods are turning out to be ineffective in Matheran. “We are asking the panel to offer solutions, rather than just objecting.”
Meanwhile, panel chairman V Ranganathan said that their priority was to stop the work. “The council cannot arbitrarily take up such works. We are deliberating upon the solutions.”