Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hills & the City, once again!

 Territory is but the body of a nation. The people who inhabit its hills and valleys are its soul, its spirit, its life....James A. Garfield

Well this may be true for the great American President but seems people in this very city are forgetting their own hills. Whenever Pune’s issues or problems we may call them then it can’t be completed without the three things; The Traffic, Water & Hills! Pune as I have mentioned earlier has a unique gift of having hills all around the city as well within the city also. Few of them are only for name sake now such as Ganeshkhind or Senapati Bapat road or even Chandani Chowk & some at Katraj., where there were hills but now the roads & commercial development around has wipes out any signs of hills. Few lucky hills like NDA hills are still remained as hills just because strict control of Military or else they too would have surrendered our greed of expansion & poor political will  or poorer administrative policies to protect the same.

Many wont like my statement as what right a builder has to speak on this topic rather isn’t it the builders only who are responsible for this condition of the hills? Is also many will ask. But let me clarify individually I am a citizen of this city first then a builder & take a look around the hills right from Parvati, to Indiaranagar in Bibwewadi or Varje or Ram tekdi at Hadapasr & tell me what you see? It’s all slums & not buildings. No sane builder will dare to buy a land which is marked as hill top hill slope leave apart getting it sanctioned! And if the buildings are their which are illegal then who has stopped the authorities to demolish them & more worst who are the people who has booked homes in such illegal building? I am not dodging the responsibility as a developer neither backing or supporting structures on hills but first question is how the building gets sanctioned on hills & if they are not sanctioned then what are we, including media doing till they come up? As no building can be build in single day, It’s a process of few months at least, till than where is the law & order governing the same? And what are we waiting for when we know there are illegal structures including slums on these hills?

I think answer lies in framing the policies without taking our system’s limitations in consideration. Recently the Hon High Court has ordered Collector office to demolish all the illegal structure around fringe area of the city, most of which is on hills. Now the Collector office is gathering the information of such structures for taking action on them, such is the condition of our system! Leave apart from taking action on them we don’t even have the proper information about such structures. The main question is why the hills are not well defined & why people tend to encroach on them? If we understand this then might be we can save remaining hills which are very much important for the city as it’s our true sky line. With all the modern surveying techniques like total station as well satellite mapping we haven’t yet marked a fixed line demarcating exactly where the hills ends, all in & around the city, not even on map. The one which has been marked has raised many doubts as where we can see plain land to naked eye there hills has been shown & where it’s clear steep slope on ground there is no hill area. These are just few of the objections raised by the people who owns the land in such part of the city. Then there are many cases where already development has been done & just some patches are remaining between two developments yet it has shown as hill. What’s the use of such mapping which doesn’t count reality at site? The need is urgently to define a perfect hill & hill slope & then mark it on ground making all the concern know that whatever may be the development policy or rules but this is final hill line which is not going to change for anybodies interest! And one need not have to be Einstein for defining such line any good engineer can do it. But this has to be done real fast as while I am writing this article still the so called hills are being encroached is a ground reality & then we will think of regularizing the development.

Then comes the State Govt’s decision about giving 8% TDR for acquiring this land under hill reservation & naming it BDP i.e. Bio Diversity Park. No two minds about making it BDP reservation, question is looking at our past performance whether this just declaring is going to help? Many NGO’s as well some political parties celebrated this decision like the hills have already become green but I think the real battle starts now. As how many people will give their land for 8% TDR & why they should give? The logic is any way in HTHS i.e. hill top hill slope zone the FSI was 4% but then when a man gives his land for road then there single sq ft is not allowed to build yet he gets 100% TDR for the area going in road so why a man with HTHS reservation on his land should give his land for mere 8% TDR? Especially now when the actual market rate of that land is much higher than the ready reckoner rate! Here I think the Govt has behaved sentimentally as what if the private land owners refused to give their land for this compensation? We haven’t even thought of that possibility & here is where the failure is most probable of the very purpose of greening these hills. And I am not speaking randomly, the news we all have read of the people agitating about this compensation, whose lands have been hampered by the HTHS reservation. What it indicates is any law if it’s not worked out practically then it may please some but won’t be implacable & exactly this is what I fear most.  And on top of this we all know the lengthy & time consuming process to get the TDR for our own land, so why should people wait & apply for TDR & why Govt itself don’t make TDR certificate & go the doors of the land owners? Here Govt has shown a carrot of additional 2% TDR for the early birds i.e. those who will hand over their land under BDP in first year only. But this carrot is stale & non lucrative as people won’t agree the basic 8% in itself is the scene! The media or NGO’s may cry over builder lobby behind this philosophy but no builder association or organization has uttered a word about this decision is a fact too. Had it been a realty  the way it’s being projected that most of these lands belongs to the builders then by now there have been huge oppose by the builders associations which we haven’t seen.

What I feel is why builders but not even common man won’t oppose the BDP's if the compensation is proper which at present isn’t.Any reservation has to be treated at same platform & I still don't understand what’s harm in giving 100% TDR for the land under BDP as we are forgetting major fact that the residential zone is fixed to use this TDR & so as the limit of utilizing TDR on any plot. So where is the question of burdening the city? And then why to restrict this TDR to just PMC limit allow it in fringe villages, why can’t we consider Pune as  a whole & restrict our vision just as PMC? If the city is going to become green then isn't entire region going to get advantage of its greening? On one hand we are talking about merging of the adjoining villages & making it greater city like Metro & on other hand we are restricting the means of growth! Rather the reason for encroaching of the hills for residences, may it be a slum or may it be some illegal building, lies in non availability of enough land or potential of the land for making homes for all segments of the society. A builder may build out of greed something illegal on hills but the buyer goes in such buildings sheer out of need is a fact! And if we provide enough for the need then no one will go & dig the hills is a truth we are ignoring. Here lies the answer what hills has to do with real estate? As if really the dream of all the hills becoming green is going to come true then obliviously the entire city is going to get benefited. Remember the real estate flourish in the cities which are more livable & what better living conditions there could be where from every corner of the city you see beautiful green covered hills!

It’s high time to decide whether we want to save our hills really or just for name sake. Because the more time is wasted in making & implementing the rules & regulations which are not going to work the more difficult it will be to protect the hills. If you don't want to give TDR then don't give a single sq ft but then make provision in budget to pay the land owners in cash for their land & at rate which they will agree not what the ready reckoner says. And this I am not saying as a developer but the recent judgments’ of the courts says while acquiring the land for any public purpose. Refer the Krishna Valley example where their main set back was because of not working out proper budgetary provision for land acquisition. And later court gave compensation to the affected land owners more than even market rates. Also there is no mention of how we are going to clear the existing encroached hills like the Parvati hill. While making a policy for future we are forgetting completely the present. Why can’t the Govt not announcing policy for existing known hills & solution to make them green?

Finally we all want the city hills to be green & make them as a home for all the missing species of the city, like poor sparrows that are also resident of this city. But for that we have to let our head work over the heart & not vice versa or else result will be worst than what we have experienced till today! And that's job of each of us, then only we are eligible to call our self as aware citizen!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

Envo-Power Committee, Credai, Pune

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