Mumbai Local

Builders ravage Tamhini Ghat; flout NGT order

Earlier this month, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued an interim order to halt all constructions in the eco-sensitive zone of Tamhini Ghat, citing the area’s status of a wildlife sanctuary. The order comes almost 10 months after a group of environment activists filed a case with the NGT, and while they have welcomed the order they fear poor compliance to it.

Tamhini Ghat, a mountain pass in Khandala, once renowned for its dense woods and waterfalls is an exemplar of the ravages of ‘urban development’. Many of Pune’s prime water sources originate from this region, a crucial rainfall catchment area located 50 km from the Mulshi dam.

“All constructions have come up in the buffer zones and eco-sensitive areas around the sanctuaries. The court has also asked for a report of where such encroachments have cropped up,” said noted advocate-activist Asim Sarode, who is representing the environmentalists.

Tamhini Ghat is one of the relatively new sanctuaries in Maharashtra to be declared so in 2013. Its buffer zone, however, is yet to be notified which means that in the absence of the same, the zone is by default considered as a 10-km area around the sanctuary.

“Builders often take advantage of such loopholes to encroach and extend constructions,” said Mr Sarode.

The order prohibits construction activity within a range of 10 km from the wildlife sanctuary without the lawful sanction of the State Forest Department and the National Board for Wildlife till the case is on.

Activists say the sublime majesty of Tamhini Ghat is imperceptibly, but inexorably, getting eroded as it now serves as a repository for the leavings of a throwaway Indian society. The link between burgeoning encroachments and the ruination of Pune’s ecosystem is further aggravated by bureaucratic apathy.

“The water-holding capacity as well as the draining system will be directly affected, which in turn will sound the death knell for the biodiversity in this region,” says Rajiv Pandit, founder of Jividha, an NGO working towards environmental education.

“The new buildings are intended for the urban noveau riche, looking for exotic getaways a la Lavasa,” says Dhananjay Shedbale of the Devrai Trust, who set up the organisation in 2012 alarmed by the rampant destruction of the Sahyadri range. Four NGOs, the Devrai Trust, Jividha, Nisargsevak and Foundation for Ecological Conservation, had collectively filed the case with the NGT after underscoring the threat from illegal constructions to the flora and fauna of the region.

Mr Shedbale said that the lackadaisical attitude of authorities will only aggravate the situation.

“Action on part of government agencies should have happened much earlier instead of awaiting the formal court order. Even now, the business of hill-cutting and deforestation goes on in a clandestine manner,” he says.

Mr Shedbale cautioned that the situation was “extremely grim” and if not taken seriously, it would lead to ‘natural disasters’ such as the Malin tragedy of July 2014 — when a mudslide vanquished the mountain village of Malin in Pune’s Ambegaon Taluk. The mudslide killed more than 150 people.

He refutes government claims that such development projects generate employment for locals.

“There is no sustainable employment in such cases where local communities are involved,” Mr Shedbale notes.

RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, however, was more forthcoming when he alleged the Mulshi-Tamhini Ghat region was “a hotbed of irregularities emanating from the politico-builder nexus”.

According to Mr Kumbhar, a whopping 150 projects in Pune district have flagrantly violated environmental clearance norms of which 10 are in the Mulshi-Tamhini region.

“Under the guise of ‘respectable’ names like ‘non-agricultural plots’, ‘townships’, ‘bungalow plots’ and ‘plantation schemes’, Pune has become a hub for illegal real estate activities,” he alleged. He said only forceful action on part of the State’s agencies can put a halt to rampant construction activities and help preserve the district’s rich ecosystem. The hoary nostalgia associated with Pune’s once-pristine ecosystems has been ruthlessly replaced by indiscriminate urbanisation.

Pune, the largest city in the Western Ghats, has fallen prey to the builders over the last many years and concerned voiced by environmentalists’ have fallen on deaf ears.

As surging urban consumption colludes with callous bureaucratic regulation to destroy the wilderness, Pune’s environmental campaigners are beginning to wonder whether or not the preservation of their beloved Sahyadris depends on more ‘action’ than mere ‘agitation’.

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 6:26:43 PM |

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