PUNE: In the last few days, the slum pocket on Kondhwa Budruk hilltop has come alive with the news that the state government may regularise illegal constructions. Enthused, slum dwellers here are keen on converting their hutments into pucca houses hoping to make this hill, a biodiversity park (BDP) area, as their permanent residence.
"No BDP is coming up here. We have been living here for years and we will not leave. Our local leader has assured us that the BDP will be scrapped," said a resident here.
There is fresh fear among activists that promises local leaders have been making to slum dwellers may actually come true. With the state cabinet giving its nod to legalise illegal buildings, the BDP plan too could be sacrificed on the altar of political gains, they say.
"Illegal constructions have become a major problem. People constructed houses even before the 23 villages were officially merged in the PMC limits. Now, houses where people live must be regularised. I am going to request the chief minister to take a decision and regularise all constructions where people are living," said Hadapsar MLA Yogesh Tilekar, who is not supportive of the BDP idea.
Leaders from both BJP and NCP have made their displeasure with BDP known and want the state government to scrap the proposal and clear the way for construction on hills. "The government must first develop BDP on forest land. No land should be acquired from private owners as people have constructed houses and are living here. I will take a firm stand and save houses of people. Why should people be blamed for constructing on their own land," questioned Parvati MLA Madhuri Misal.
It's not just politicians but state government's town planning department too that is in favour of scrapping BDP. According to government sources, both town planning as well as urban development departments have strongly supported 10% construction on private land under the project, if the tree plantation condition is fulfilled. The town planning department has recommended that the PMC spare the smaller pieces of land, measuring than one acre, for BDPs.
The issue has been simmering since 2005, when the PMC approved the Development Plan (DP) for the 23 fringe villages merged with the city limits and made the BDP proposal. With a decision on the matter pending for nine years, thousands of constructions have come up on the proposed BDP area.
Along with legalizing illegal constructions, BJP MLAs have demanded that the state government must allow construction in proposed BDP areas. Their contention: Since the PMC has no mechanism to protect hills from slums, people should be allowed to construct on them and as owners they will protect the hills from slums and also save greenery.
Earlier, political parties had demanded 4% construction on BDP land, but a section of the BJP and NCP leaders want 10-20% construction per acre.
With a clear decision still awaited, land owners have already constructed in areas including Anandnagar, Vishrantinagar and Mahadevnagar, Hingne Khurd and Wadgaon, with activists alleging there is an influential builder lobby working against the BDP.
Activists working under the umbrella group of Green Pune Movement (GPM) have sought action against illegal constructions on land identified for biodiversity parks, and urged the civic body to step in. The group's members said both the municipal corporations and police officials have been entrusted with the task to ensure illegal constructions in BDP areas are curbed.
"The move to legalise illegal construction is against the law. The state government must take action against developers who have constructed in BDP areas and announce a plan to protect hilltops and hill slopes. If the state government decides to scrap BDP, we will move the court," said activist Satish Khot, a member of GPM. He said that the state government must accept recommendations made by the committee it had appointed.
A six-member committee headed by K B Jain, dean, faculty of doctoral studies, center for environmental planning and technology, Ahmedabad, had strongly recommended that BDP reservation on hills, forest and other green areas in these villages should stay and not be cancelled. However, the committee has not proposed any permanent mechanism to protect the land. The committee had recommended that the PMC execute BDP as "mission development" since it will improve the quality of life in Pune city. A task force comprising all stakeholders from the government and from among the citizens should be set up to accomplish the mission. "Corporate bodies may also come forward to participate in the mission," the committee had said.
State officials fear none of the recommendations may see the light of the day. "There is a lot of money at stake in the BDP issue. There are influential people who have invested in land in the 23 merged villages and many local leaders have become developers and are playing a major role in the state's decision on BDP," said a state official.