Environment Ministry team completes inspection of hill city project

Chairman of the expert team of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) Naresh Dayal said on Friday that prima facie there was no large-scale destruction of forest land for the controversial hill city project, Lavasa.

Speaking to journalists on the third and final day of inspection, Mr. Dayal said that contradictory to the allegations made by social activists Medha Patkar and Anna Hazare, Pune's water supply would not be affected by the dams built in the hill city for the needs of Lavasa. “There is no specific evidence of water supply reduction to Pune. It should not be of any concern,” he said.

This statement has angered environmental activists protesting against the violations made by the Lavasa Corporation Limited. “The team should not have said anything before studying the situation carefully. Their mandate is to submit a report to the High Court,” said Vishwambar Choudhari of the Oasis Environmental Foundation.

The eight-member team, which included MoEF Director Bharat Bhushan, conducted a detailed study of the environmental impact of the 25,000-acre project on the directions of the Bombay High Court. All construction work in the hill city has stopped after November 26 when the MoEF issued a stop-work order. Lavasa challenged the order in the Bombay High Court as a result of which the team was directed to conduct an inspection and give a report.

Mr. Dayal emphasised that none of the parties wanted degradation of environment. “Even in the case of Lavasa Corporation, it would not be in their interest to have an environmental disaster. Even the villagers want environmentally sustainable development. Everyone's concern is similar.”

“We have gathered voluminous material in response to our queries from Lavasa. There are two environmental fact assessment reports, reports on the town planning, water supply, irrigation and forests. We will study these issues and give a factual report. The final decision will be with the Ministry and the High Court,” Mr. Dayal said.

The team held meetings with Lavasa officials as well as activists and villagers associated with Ms. Medha Patkar-led National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM). They also inspected various sites where environmental laws were allegedly violated according to Ms. Patkar. Ms. Patkar, along with Mr. Hazare, presented to the committee various concerns over the encroachment of reserved forest land.