Lavasa, modern India’s first planned hill city, being built on 25,000 acres of land in Pune district, has come under the scanner of the central ministry of environment and forests.
The ministry sent a letter to the Maharashtra government in mid-July asking it for details about the environmental clearances the state had given the project in 2002 and 2004.
“I have received representations from people saying that the Lavasa project violated environmental norms,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told HT. “I sought inquiries about it and wrote to the chief minister asking him to look into the truth of the allegations.”
The city is coming up in the Western Ghats on the slopes of hillocks surrounding the Warasgaon reservoir. It is to have, among other things, villas, luxury apartments and hotels.
CM Ashok Chavan said he had not yet got Ramesh’s letter, but would ask for it from his office. But sources in the state government said it had already sent the environment ministry an initial reply, pointing out that it had given an environment clearance not to the whole project but only to its first phase, on 4,942 acres, in accordance with the norm.
According to its website, Lavasa’s main shareholder is Hindustan Construction Company which owns 64.99 per cent of the company, while the remaining stakes are held by the Avantha Group, Venkateshwara Hatcheries and Pune-based Vinay Maniar.
The project’s initial promoters included Sharad Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule, and her husband Sadanand Sule, who withdrew from the project in 2004.
It also included Aniruddha Deshpande, a builder close to Pawar who also later sold his stake.
“My husband and I have nothing to do with the project,” said Supriya Sule. “We gave up our stakes in the early stages of the project. I also have no knowledge about environmental clearances given to the project.”
“Lavasa Corporation has complied with all the environmental norms, which have been closely monitored by the responsible authorities,” a spokesperson for Lavasa Corporation said.
The project has been dogged by controversy ever since it was launched in 2002. Critics, including local farmers, activists and non-profit groups, say it will cause large-scale ecological damage and have questioned the speed at which the state government cleared the project.
According to the state environment committee’s minutes that Hindustan Times has seen, the government modified Pune region’s zoning rules on May 31, 2001. The very next day, the government declared an area occupied by 18 villages a hill station, following which Lavasa started buying land in that area.
In September 2002, Lavasa applied for environmental clearance to the state government and got provisional clearance in three months, by December.
The government gave it the final one in March 2004.