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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Group opposition greets civic chief’s visit to Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in Pune

Land Grab? Siddharthnagar slum dwellers claim ownership of sanctuary land, obstruct PMC work

pune Updated: May 13, 2018 14:37 IST
Prachi Bari
Prachi Bari
Hindustan Times, Pune
A group from Siddharthnagar slums opposed citizen activists from entering the Dr Salim Ali bird sanctuary on Saturday.
A group from Siddharthnagar slums opposed citizen activists from entering the Dr Salim Ali bird sanctuary on Saturday. (SHANKAR NARAYAN/HT PHOTO )

In a clear attempt to disrupt the revival of the Dr Salim Ali Bird Park at Kalyaninagar, a group of residents from Siddharthnagar slums in Yerawada created a scene in the presence of Saurabh Rao, Pune Municipal Commissioner, and claimed that the land of the bird park was ‘mahar watan land‘ and belonged to them.

Vikas Shantaram Bhigardive, who was leading the group of about 15-20 young men from Siddharthnagar slums, refused to permit Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) trucks and earth-moving equipment from entering the park to remove rubble and debris and lay fresh soil for the trees.

It was only after much persuasion by Rao and the assembled gathering of citizen-activists and bird park lovers that the civic vehicles were allowed to enter the park by the agitating group.

“We may not have our names on the 7/12 extract (saat-bara), but there is a notification in the city survey records as well as in ‘Modi script’ that this land was gifted to us by the kings long ago and that it cannot be transferred to any one,” said Bhigardive.

While the Kalyaninagar residents maintained that the land belonged to businessman Farouk Wadia, who was keen to hand it over to the forest department for the sake of the bird park, the slum dwellers claimed that it belonged to them.

Rao was invited to visit the bird park by the members of the Kalyaninagar Residents Association and the National Society for Clean Cities (NSCC) to see the progress of the cleanliness drive done every Saturday inside the sanctuary; inspect the illegal tree cutting and dumping of debris inside the park.

The civic chief had called all his senior officers, right from Vijay Dahibhate, zonal commissioner; Suresh Jagtap, joint commissioner; Aniruddha Pawaskar, roads departments head, among others. Also present were A Sreelaxmi, deputy conservator of forests, Pune Forest Division, Geeta Dalvi, Pune tehsildar, and others to help assist and survey the work needed on the land.

Rao spent more than two hours at the sanctuary and said that CCTV (closed circuit TV) cameras will be installed at the park as soon as possible to monitor tree cutting, vandalism and other disruptive activities that have occurred in the past.

“I have already informed my officers to work on installing the CCTVs at the entry gate,” he told the assembled gathering of about 200 people.

“Our role is to preserve the trees and whenever possible try to increase the green cover. We will work hand-in-hand with residents and resources, like the forest department and social forestry. Prima Facie, it looks like there is some dispute on the title of this place, so the matter is subjudiced, appropriate court will take a decision,” he said, adding that preserving the green cover is the responsibility of the civic body.

The municipal commissioner also directed PMC officials to install two gates at the unauthorised openings into the sanctuary.

Vandalism at bird sanctuary is new reality

During his visit to the bird park, Saurabh Rao, Pune municipal commissioner, was appalled to see restaurant waste dumped on the ledge alongside the river, evidence of 10-12 burnt trees and other acts of vandalism at the bird park.

He then directed the ward officials to immediately set up penalty to stop these dumping.

Meghna Bafna, a resident of Kalyaninagar, who is an active volunteer in the clean up activity, said, “This is a natural bird sanctuary on the Mula-Mutha river bank, dedicated to the memory of the great ornithologist Dr Salim Ali. This land is being used to dump debris, and also illegal activities, which in the last two three weeks, we have been coming here to clean and we notice that the debris accumulates again.”

Javed Munsiff, Sarang Yarwadkar, Samir Nikam, Satish Pradhan, and many other environment lovers and activists gathered in large numbers to show the commissioner the state of the reserved land.

Samir Nikam, a resident of Sangamwadi, said, “PMC needs to see how there is encroachment taking place on the Mutha riverbed. People are using it to dump debris and rubble, thus creating a problem for biodiversity to this area.”

The civic chief assured that trees that are within the sanctuary will be protected and at no cost will trees be cut without any permission. “We need to protect this natural heritage and who this land belongs to doesn’t matter when it comes to environment,” said Rao.

“There are 10 to 12 trees that have been burnt in the last two weeks. We come every day to nurse these dying trees. Two years ago, this same land was densely populated with trees, but now there is hardly any tree cover,” Bafna said.

Panchshil Group saga

Two months ago, the PMC served a legal notice to the Panchshil Group under Section 8 of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975, on charges of illegal razing of 500 trees at the natural bird sanctuary on the Mula-Mutha riverbank. Following recent changes in the Development Plan, the Panchshil Group undertook construction activities at a plot close to the bird park on the bank of the Mula-Mutha rivers behind Kalyaninagar, said Manoj Pachpute, tree authority committee member, PMC.

Atul Chordia, chairman of Panchshil Group, denied allegations saying everything was being done as per norms. “It is not true that trees have been cut. My plot is two acres and the reservation on it was vacated as per Supreme Court order. The order copy can be made available,” he said.