MSRDC set to develop New Mahabaleshwar
The state government has tasked the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) with planning a “New Mahabaleshwar”. The move has alarmed environmentalists as Mahabaleshwar is an ecologically sensitive area (ESA).
The state urban development department issued a notification on Friday under the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act, 1966, appointing MSRDC as a “special planning authority” to develop the hill station across 52 villages of Jaoli, Patan and Satara tehsils in Satara district. A list of seven conditions have been imposed to ensure environmental safeguards are in place while developing New Mahabaleshwar across an area of 37,258 hectares.
“There is a huge tourism potential at Mahabaleshwar. Rather than haphazard development, which would not be ideal, the idea is to have planned development with a focus on boosting infrastructure, enhancing the economy while protecting the ecology of this hill station,” said Nitin Kareer, principal secretary, urban development department. Among the conditions imposed are prohibition of construction on areas with a slope of 20 degrees or more and restrictions on development under provisions for ESAs in the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Mahabaleshwar is currently the wettest location in the country this monsoon with over 8,000 mm rainfall in less than four months. There are concerns that development could harm the natural ecology of the hill station, especially considering the recent flash floods in Kolhapur, Satara and Sangli districts.
However Kareer said “very stringent conditions” would be in place. “We should not connect the recent floods to the proposed development of this hill station as their occurrence is due to extreme weather events and blocking of waterways,” he said, describing the plan for the hill station as “a much more comprehensive plan focused on sustainable development”.
MSRDC said a development plan will be prepared for all 52 villages within the next one and half years, as per the notification. “We are appointing a consultant for a detailed study to prepare this DP. On Sunday, we will issue a tender for appointing the consultant to understand what is feasible and what can be proposed for the DP,” said RL Mopalwar, vice chairman and managing director, MSRDC. The study will be completed in six months, he said.
“With our plan, we will be able to balance the scenic beauty with positive expansion promoting leisure and religious tourism,” said Vijay Waghmare, joint managing director, MSRDC. “The plan will be prepared in a sensitive manner keeping in mind the presence of a tiger reserve, the Kaas Plateau, and all other environmental safeguards.”
Experts seemed unconvinced by such assertions. Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay, who is currently fighting a case before the National Green Tribunal regarding a dispute over Mahabaleshwar’s eco-sensitive zone, said, “It is difficult to digest how such capacities will be built into planning any classically-sensitive hill station.”
Ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel formed in 2010, said, “Being an ESA, Mahabaleshwar has always been a large sacred forest, close to the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve, while acting as the catchment for five major rivers — Krishna, Koyna, Venna, Gayatri and Savitri. The coming in of new infrastructure, roads, and resorts will spell disaster for the ecological sanctity of this hill station.”