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Monday Musings: Pune’s BDP - A hill lost will be lost for ever

Civic chief Saurabh Rao’s assurance to protect 978 hectares of biodiversity park must now translate into action.

pune Updated: Sep 10, 2018 14:25 IST
Pune,BDP,Monday musings
The city has lost hill after hill in the construction boom over the last few decades, and that is why a biodiversity park (BDP) was created in 2005 as a result of strong citizens’ movement and enlightened leadership from then mayor Vandana Chavan and others.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)

Last week, environmentalists from the city scored a major victory when they worked out a solution with Pune municipal commissioner Saurabh Rao for protecting the 978 hectares of land on the hills around Pune which constitute the biodiversity park (BDP) zone of Pune city.

Pune’s topography stands defined by the majesty of the Sahyadri hills around it. But we’ve got so used to these beautiful hills and taken them so much for granted that there’s little we can do when they are engulfed and ravaged by construction activity, one after the other.

The city has lost hill after hill in the construction boom over the last few decades, and that is why a biodiversity park (BDP) was created in 2005 as a result of strong citizens’ movement and enlightened leadership from then mayor Vandana Chavan and others. In 2005, the Pune municipal corporation (PMC) reserved 978 hectares of land on the hills around Pune by creating the biodiversity park (BDP) zone.

This was done while preparing the development plan for 23 merged villages, which included the hills in localities such as Baner, Bavdhan, Katraj, Kondhwa, Bibvewadi and Sinhagad road, among others. Of the 978 hectares, 124 hectares is government-owned and the remaining 854 hectares is owned by private parties. In August 2015, the state government had issued a notification stating that no construction would be allowed in the BDP.

However, there has been constant pressure from builders, landowners and politicians to dilute the provisions in the BDP reservation. As recently as November 2017, ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members in the PMC and none less than Pune’s “guardian” minister Girish Bapat demanded 12% construction on BDP “under the Mahabaleshwar pattern”.

Bapat said it is only by allowing “minimal construction” that the hills around the city would be saved; otherwise, you would have slums on this reserved land.

Thankfully, the state government rejected this suggestion and issued directives last month to compensate landowners in the BDP by allowing PMC to acquire their lands in the 23 villages by offering 8% TDR (transfer of development rights). Landowners can sell their TDR or development rights to builders for undertaking construction elsewhere.

Last week, Chavan, social worker Baba Adhav, industrialist Arun Firodia and NGO representatives such as Maj Gen (retd) SCN Jatar, Anita Benninger, Sujit Patwardhan, Sarang Yadwadkar and Ravindra Dharia met the civic chief and welcomed the state government’s decision to protect the BDP.

This meeting was extremely fruitful because the civic chief assured to “load” biodiverstiy park (BDP) reservations onto the 7/12 extracts of land owners, to prevent sale of lands within the BDP area.

Rao said it was now the PMC’s responsibility to protect the BDP lands and the PMC administration will take up this matter with the revenue department to reload BDP reservation on 7/12 extract of the land owners.

This is a fabulous example of how citizens, politicians (at least, one section) and the civic leadership have come on a common page to protect Pune’s environment.

It was during this meeting that Firodia spontaneously announced a contribution of ₹10 lakh for creating a vigilance squad on BDP lands. Jatar offered ₹10,000 for the same cause.

We now want to see these decisions translate into action as soon as possible. This newspaper will keep a close watch to see how things progress. Watch this space.

First Published: Sep 10, 2018 14:24 IST