While the eagerly anticipated Pune Metro is being seen as an answer to the city’s traffic gridlock, a report by the Biodiversity Monitoring Committee (BMC) of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has suggested that the project could be catastrophic for the riverbank ecosystem along the Mula–Mutha riverbed through which a section of the Metro rail will pass.
The six-member technical committee had submitted its report to the PMC last month, which in turn forwarded it to the Maharashtra State Biodiversity Board (MSBB). The MSBB is expected to submit the report to the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
As per the technical committe’s report, the Metro project’s proposed alignment on the Mutha riverbed from Panchaleshwar temple to Nava Pul would “destroy the biodiversity of what remained of the riparian zone (the interface or space between the existing water and the actual riverbank) still untouched by urban incursions”. The report has recommended that the PMC consider alternative route options for this stretch.
The reconnaissance report was conducted at the behest of the MSBB by the committee on a two-kilometre stretch along the left bank of Mutha river in mid-September.
The six-member committee who conducted the survey included botanist Sachin Punekar; academic Avinash Kandekar; agriculturalist Sham Sasane; and activists Jaywant Shirke, Vijay Tikone and Babasaheb Patil.
“Our report certainly is not against the Metro project in any way. Rather it attempts to caution the PMC to take steps before it is too late. Our reconnaissance has shown that if the present route is adopted, then 63 plant species of exotic flowering plants would be felled,” said Dr. Punekar, a member of the BMC’s technical committee.
Dr. Punekar stated that the removal of trees would severely rupture the natural habitats of at least 18 different species of birds, such as the rare woolly-necked stork (listed in the ‘vulnerable’ category of the Red List published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature); 12 different species of butterflies, including the Angled Castor; and four varieties of fish.
The report cautions that the proposed metro alignment along the stretch would further strain the endangered flora and fauna of the riparian zone, stating that, “[The zone] has already been feeling the anthropogenic pressure of development, from the existing road to fast food stalls and parking of vehicles [near the riverbed]. The metro project will take away what little remains of it.”
However, the committee stressed that their assessment was based on a one-time observation and that all-season data was critical for a better understanding of the project’s impact.
It also noted that the project blueprint was in violation of an earlier NGT order pertaining to the proposed Vitthalwadi riverbed road, wherein the tribunal had ruled that no encroachment or future construction ought to be allowed inside the blue-line (danger line) of the Mutha river.
The BMC report corroborates the Environmental Interest Litigation (EIL) filed in the NGT on May 26 against the proposed Pune Metro Rail project, strongly objecting to the alignment of a portion of its route through riverbeds. The EIL was filed by Member of Parliament Anu Aga, senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, architect Sarang Yadwadkar, and Aarti Kirloskar. “There is a hearing of the NGT on October 27 on the EIL. The BMC report will play an important part in buttressing our arguments,” Mr. Yadvadkar said.