#VinitasPune: Citizens Campaign To Save Pune’s Hills, But Is It Already Too Late?

Pune Hills
Image used for representation only

The ghastly Malin tragedy in 2014 where the entire village was flattened due to a landslide, caused due to illegal hill cutting and the mother-daughter who were washed away in Katraj in 2013 for the same reason have not been erased from citizens’ memories but the powers-that-be ensure that no lessons are learnt…

Last fortnight, a citizen with a twitter handle @tamhinighat (for some reason there is no name of the person to it) launched an online petition, appealing to the State Govt to immediately file review petition in Supreme Court against the Supreme Court order dated of 14th July 2020.

For, it has set aside the GR of  2017 of Maharashtra government  which has given protection to citizens and the hills and hill-slopes by ordering  “no-construction” zone up to 100 ft of end of hill slope.’’

It is indeed shocking that despite the National Green Tribunal, Western Zone bench at Pune having ordered to stop destruction of hills followed by the state government bringing out such a GR, the Supreme Court of last fortnight has reverted it.

The petition states: “we write this as citizens concerned with the rampant destruction of hills and hill slopes across Maharashtra. The hills are irreplaceable natural resources which provide oxygen, host biodiversity. Hills are home to innumerable endemic flora & fauna. The hills are of immense geological and hydro geological significance as natural groundwater recharge zones; their aquifers provide essential lifeline of groundwater to villages, towns and cities of Maharashtra.

“However, rampant construction, encroachment and hill-cutting have resulted in severe ecological damage and caused many disasters. Malin, near Bhimashankarin 2014, where 151 citizens lost their lives; Ghatkopar in Mumbai in 2000 where over 67 citizens lost their lives to landslide; and many such instances have been happening with alarming regularity across Maharashtra, year after year. What little was done to prevent the disasters, has now been reversed by the latest order of the Hon. Supreme Court.’’

The petition goes on to add that: “On 6th June 2013, an incident in Shindewadi, in Katraj Ghat, Pune caused the death of two innocent citizens – a young mother and her daughter were swept away to a horrific end. The cause of the incident was the careless extensive hill cutting at the site of the accident. Based on a petition filed by a Pune based NGO, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its order dated 19/5/2015 had directed the State Government to pass appropriate orders to local bodies to not allow permission for any construction upon a zone of 100 feet from the end of hill slope.’’

However, the vested interest lobby challenged both these orders in the Supreme Court, which on 14th July 2020 passed an order setting aside the aforementioned NGT order and the Mah State GR. The SC order states that the Maharashtra government failed to provide expert reports and adequate reasoning to support their GR issued in Nov 2017.

The letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray rues that, “It is appalling that the State of Maharashtra did not present facts and evidence of the numerous environmental accidents of humongous proportions which happen every year, nor of the human and animal lives lost, nor of the property damaged due to hill/hill-slope destruction.

“How could the ecological significance of hills as aquifers, hills as biodiversity parks, hills as forests, hills as oxygen producing lungs, hills as carbon sequestering natural climate change mitigation resources be completely ignored??

“Apart from Town-Planning, numerous other government agencies such as Public Works, Highways, Forests, Rural Development and Irrigation are constantly engaged in various infrastructure projects across the state of Maharashtra and many regions are hilly or extremely hilly. It is not as if the factors causing large-scale tragedies have now been completely obviated. On the other hand, the setting aside of the aforementioned NGT order and the State GR intended to protect citizens and the Environment, brings back the perils of hill-slope destruction.’’

RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar who had doggedly pursued this issue states that nothing has changed after the Malin tragedy, On the contrary, he says, that you have to just watch the mind boggling amount of destruction on the hills in Ambegaon (Katraj) where hills are being mercilessly flattened/destroyed, making way to multi-storey buildings.

Let us hope we don’t see another Malin kind of tragedy in the very percints of Pune, at Katraj. Frightening? Yes, but no one seems to care!

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#All views expressed in this column are the authors and/or individuals that may be quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same.

Vinita Deshmukh

Vinita Deshmukh

Passion for the written word that comes alive, not only to tell a story, but to speak out loud about all that's good, bad and the ugly in society...

That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.

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Vinita Deshmukh

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