#VinitasPune -Will We See This Promise Save Our Hills?

Pune Hills
Image used for representation only

Just last week, Pune’s Municipal Commissioner promised to save our Bio-diversity Parks that adorn our hill slopes and hilltops.

Evidently, the citizen movement triggered off in 2005 continues to campaign relentlessly at all levels in order to build promise for this imminent need. 

Pune has been blessed with adorable geographical beauty. It is like a saucepan surrounded by hills that are a part of the elite and eco-sensitive Sahyadri Ranges. This is the reason for Pune’s enviable cool climate, though, it has taken a beating over the past few decades.

In the late 70’s, I stayed in a hostel during my college days and our rooms had no fans, yet, even in the summer months, we never felt the need for one. 

Now you need air conditioners and even inhalers to help you breathe with all the pollution around. Proved beyond doubt, our hills are the lungs of our city, yet, they are being constantly plundered as a result of the avaricious lobbies. 

It is indeed unfortunate that a formidable citizen movement that kicked off in 2005 has to continue with its campaign 13 years down the line.

With no action on the ground, it is only unkept promises that come from the politicians and bureaucracy

At the heart of this massive citizen campaign (under the auspices of the Green Pune Movement, now with several NGOs), is the reservation of 1648 hectares of Bio-Diversity Park (BDP) on the hills and hill slopes of the 23 merged villages of Pune.

Effectively, these areas are no-development zones and should be maintained as natural forests with variegated flora and flora. As most are aware these merged villages are now, new residential neighbourhoods in the surrounding fringe areas of the city.

Out of the 1648 hectares of BDP, approximately 976 hectares are privately owned and 688 hectares are owned by the Government.

Privately owned lands in these BDP areas need to be compensated while acquiring them and It is this consideration that is being constantly debated.

Also witnessing heated debate over the years, is allowing a portion of this for construction. Corporators, MLAs and MPs of various political parties have openly declared that 4% or 8% and lately 12% (by BJP’s Girish Bapat) construction should be allowed in these reserved BDP areas.

Even if we were to take 4% for construction, it should be examined in its entirety. We are not birds that make nests and simply fly away from them.

When you say 4%, it means providing water supply, sewage lines, roads and other such public and private amenities which would imply that you are actually cutting through the slopes and top of the hill!

So, can you imagine how monstrous it would be to provide 12%! The leaders have reached such levels of consciousness that they actually try and convince you that this is required to avoid slum encroachment on the hills.

As per the BPMC Act, the ward officer and the corporator of that area can be slammed for personal criminal negligence if they fail to curb such encroachment.

Yet, they want to permit concrete buildings to come up there. If this ins’t outrageous, what is?

Over the years, the activists have met several politicians like Suresh Kalmadi and Ajit Pawar who all promised to seriously look into the issue but it ended with those promises.

Prithiviraj Chavan in 2010 too made similar tall promises, in his capacity as the then chief minister. He had stated: if Rs.1,000 crore can be garnered in a short time, then hills could certainly be preserved for bio-diversity. He suggested the JNNURM pattern of funding – out of Rs.1,000 crore which is required – 50% to be given by the central government, 30% by the state government and 20 % by the PMC.

He announced a State Level Group with Divisional Commissioner Dilip Bund, Municipal Commissioner Mahesh Zagade and Collector Chandrakant Dalvi to be the nodal officers to co-ordinate with members of the Green Pune Movement and corporates. Yet, nothing happened.

Admirably, Municipal Commissioner Saurabh Rao has shown enthusiasm at a meeting in his office with Green Pune Movement activists. He assured them of the formation of Task Force groups for Bio-Diversity and Development Plan, besides other issues.

He has promised to immediately start work of acquiring BDP land belonging to the Government, for which he will establish the BDP Implementation Committee and ensure enough funds to implement the BDP.

At the meeting industrialist Arun Firodia volunteered to contribute Rs.10 lakh and leading activist Maj Gen Sudhir Jatar, Rs. 10,000 which is indeed a nice gesture.

It is probably not appropriate to be cynical over this issue, however much one would like to be. For, even if justice is delayed in this case, it is a case of better late than never.

So, here’s hoping it will be progress to action the ground and will keep the lungs of our city, healthy.

Urban Town Planning expert, Aneeta Benninger who along with environmentalist, politician Vandana Chavan is at the helm of this campaign, encapsulates and explains  the fundamentals of the issue.

Very importantly, Pune was to be the urban forestry model for the whole of India, based on the BDP reservation formula, but wonder whether we have frittered it away.

So, let’s understand what is the issue, through Aneeta’s simplified explanation…

  • BDP is the most critical integral part of the Green Development Plan (DP) for Pune and must be retained to ensure a clean and healthy environment.
  • According to pediatricians, incidence of respiratory disease has increased drastically due to air pollution. It is essential therefore to ensure that this pollution by poisonous gases like carbon dioxide is mitigated. During photosynthesis trees absorb carbon dioxide to prepare their food. They keep the carbon and release the oxygen in the air. This gives clean air to us. So the best way to clean air pollution is to create a forest. Trees absorb and store carbon in their woody area and purify air for us by releasing oxygen.
  • One hectare of proper forest ( with all the layers of ground cover, bushes, short trees and big trees) will absorb about 10 tonnes of carbon in the Pune type forest, One person needs 12 sq. mts or 129 sq. ft of forest to ensure a supply of clean air.
  • The BDP including Government land encompasses 1648 hectares. Approximately 976 hectares are privately owned and 688 hectares are owned by the Government.
  • How do we acquire it? By giving a fair compensation to the private parties in the form of cash at the ready reckoner market rate for 100% area acquired or 4% TDR to be used in “D” zone.
  • How much will it cost? = at the 2010 Ready Reckoner rate it is approximately Rs 1. 1 crore per hectare. So it will cost approximately 1073.60 crores for the total land.
  • How will we protect it from different kinds of encroachments especially slums? By enforcing the legislation of holding the government officer and the local representative from the ward, personally criminally liable for allowing illegal uses.
  • Will it be sustainable in the long run? Yes. This is a unique initiative of Urban Bio Diversity Forestry and is eligible for carbon credits as a Clean Development Mechanism(CDM). 1 ton of carbon sequestered is equal to 1 carbon credit and fetches Rs.1250 per tonne. One hectare of forest will sequester 10 tons of carbon and will earn Rs.12,500 per year. Thus the entire BDP will earn Rs. 2 crores and 6 lakhs approximately. This will increase as the carbon market improves internationally and nationally.
  • We can also sell “Clean Air Shares” of the value of land acquisition plus planting plus maintenance. Each share will cost approximately Rs. 15,000. In one hectare there will be 833 shares and this will fetch Rs. 1 crore 25 lakhs per hectare or Rs.2060 crores for the 1648 hectares. The share amount can be paid over a ten year period. Thus people can pay at the rate of Rs. 125 per month so that the burden for the individual is not too high. Many innovative ways can be found to ensure sustainability.
  • The Government of India is very keen to promote Pune as a “model” for Urban Forestry, “Clean Development” and Global Warming and Climate Change mitigation effort. They are interested in funding this initiative partially and lending all other support.

 

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#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them. 

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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