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NGOs and prominent citizens stand against government and PMC for anti-enviornment decisions, launch campaign

Residents, NGO’s unite and take to save city’s greenery

pune Updated: Mar 03, 2018 15:10 IST
Abhay Khairnar
Abhay Khairnar
Hindustan Times, Pune
pune,prominent citizens,stand against government
(From left to right) Anita Bennjer, Arun Firodia, Suresh Pingale, Anu Aga and Vandana Chavan at save Pune movement press conferance.(RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)

Various non-governmental organisations working in the field of environment under the banner of Green Pune Save Pune banner have objected the state government and Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) various decisions terming them as “anti-environment”.

Raising their concerns at a press conference on Friday, various NGOs and prominent personalities from the city have criticised the decisions taken by the administration in the last few months and have appealed to the residents to participate in the “signature” campaign and “miss call movement” to save Pune’s greenery, hills and open spaces.

The activists have appealed to the government and civic body to revise its decisions, including construction of affordable houses on the no development zone and construction of bungalows for officials on the ecologically rich Empress Garden.

Member of Parliament and industrialist Anu Aga, Rajya Sabha member and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Vandana Chavan, industrialist Arun Firodia, town planner Aneeta Gokhale Benninger, environmentalist Sarang Yadwadkar, Empress Garden’s secretary Suresh Pingle, industrialist Aarti Kirloskar, CPI (M) leader Ajit Abhyankar, Satish Khot of National Society for Clean Cities and many NGO representatives were present at the press briefing.

Chavan said, “The state government and PMC had taken various anti-environment decisions in the last one year that we need to oppose and require to force the government to rectify it.”

Recently, the government initiated a process for constructing bungalows at Empress Garden, a move which has angered the environmentalists. An online petition started against cutting down of trees in Empress Garden has so far garnered more than 30,000 signatures from residents in just a few days.

Aga said, “It is the responsibility of each citizen to participate in the movement and put pressure on the government.”

Last year, the state housing department had issued a notification allowing housing projects in no development/green zones across the entire state, said activists, adding that the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary too has been defunct due to the state apathy.

To make things worse, the state government has planned 100 ft wide roads within the riverbed and has also decided to build concrete embankments on both sides of the river, squeezing it to release lands for commercial development under the Riverfront Development Project, the activists said.

Firodia said, “Pune was really a smart city in the earlier days but lost its status. It is everyone’s duty to save the city’s green cover.”

Pingle said that the government is planning to encroach on the Empress Garden and construct quarters for class one officers, judges and PWD officers. The garden is owned by the state government but managed by an NGO. It is citizens’ garden and residents should come forward to save the garden.

Bennninger said that the hills in the city are saved by introducing the biodiversity park (BDP). There is a need to give compensation to the owners of the land reserved for BDP. She said that various things are proposed in the development plan (DP) but by publishing various notifications, the state government is de-reserving various green places.

Khot raised the issue of Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary and how the state government de-reserved a big size plot from the sanctuary and allowed construction in it. Yadwadkar raised various river related issues.


Empress Botanical Garden in Pune. (Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)

Environmentalists and NGOs opposing the proposed move by authorities to build houses for government officials on Empress Garden plan to meet district collector Saurabh Rao.

One of the oldest and largest gardens of Pune, Empress Garden is currently under threat as the state government has moved a proposal to slice away a substantial 10 acre from the garden to build bungalows for government officials. Located near the race course over 38 acres, the garden is managed by the Agri-Horticultural Society of Western India since the 1880s with an aim to nurture and preserve flora of the region.

While an online petition started by activists has already garnered 30,000 signatories, the activists plan to provide documents to Rao to prove that the land on which the government plans to build houses is a part of the garden.

“We plan to meet the collector on Monday and clarify the details that he has been wrongly provided and also show him the proofs that the Society holds,” said secretary, Agri-Horticultural Society of Western India, horticulturist Suresh Pingale.

The garden covers a sprawling 39 acre, and is home to many rare species of trees and flowers. “It is one of the most botanically important gardens in terms of history too. It was initially known as “Soldiers Garden”. The land where it is located belonged to Sardar Vithalrao Purandhare and was maintained by British officer General Finjer,” said Pingale.

In 1838, the ownership of the garden passed into the hands of the government. In 1845, it further changed hands and came into the possession of Sir Charles Napier. Throughout his ownership, the garden was known as the ‘Garden of Dr. Don’. The name ‘Empress Garden’ was given to the botanical park in honour of Queen Victoria, when she won the title of ‘Empress of India’. The Bombay Government transferred it to the Agri-Horicultural Society of Western India in 1892, one of the oldest of its kind in the country.

The Society organises annual flower shows and arranges various programmes throughout the year to create environmental awareness among people.

Prominent members of the trust include its president, industrialist Rahul Bajaj; vice-president Pratap Pawar and secretary horticulturist Suresh Pingale.

Pingale added that the society spends Rs 1 crore for the maintenance of 1,700 trees of 250 species within the garden and does not take any monetary help from the state or civic authorities. What the Public Works Department (PWD) and the government are suggesting is wrong. We own both the 32 acres as well as six acres which the PWD claims to be the government land. We have proof that we own the lease for the six acres where they want to construct.

“Almost 40 years ago, four acres were given for a stable for Turf Club, which we opposed. Thereafter, we have opposed a proposal to transfer 28 acres to Turf Club in 1974. Then another proposal was moved yet again to transfer two acres for judicial quarters. While this proposal, too, was scrapped in the face of protests, a new proposal, which includes the old one, has been approved and budget allocated for construction on over 10 acres.

“Now, three buildings will be constructed for senior officials, along with an office for the deputy collector of Haveli. A section of the land has also been marked out for the construction of Cantonment Court. We plan to meet the collector on Monday and clarify the details that he has been wrongly provided and also show him the proofs that the Society holds,” said Pingale.

A petition on also has gathered momentum with more than 30,000 people having signed to make the garden a world heritage site. According to the petition filed by environment lover Hoshang Commissariat, “Empress Garden, Pune dates back to 1838, when it was spread over 55 acres, home to some of the oldest and rare species of trees. Over the years, various governments have handed over bits and pieces of it to other organisations and now only 38 acres of the precious garden are left. Various petitions in the past were heard and approved by the government and land acquisitions stopped, one of them being 28 acres of Empress Garden to be handed over to the Turf Club. Hopefully, we can make our voice heard once again to stop 10 acres of the Empress Garden being allotted for construction purpose. Pune will slowly become a concrete jungle and as polluted as Delhi if we strangle its green oxygen belt.”

First Published: Mar 02, 2018 22:42 IST