Thursday, July 6, 2017

Real Estate, Water & Hon. High Court!

 “If you think the water isn't important, imagine Earth without it. Mars comes to mind. No water, no life support system”…  Sylvia Earle.

Sylvia Alice Earle is an American marine biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer. She has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence since 1998. No wonder Sylvia is so much sentimental about water, as who better than a marine biologist can understand the importance of water! And Sylvia isn’t the only one who has considered importance of water so that she can compare Earth without water as Mars; our Hon High Court also thinks on same line, “No Water, No Life”! Those who are wondering with my analogy of Sylvia & Hon High Court for them will give little background! Last year Mr. Amol Balwadkar (who is now elected member of PMC) & few societies in suburb of Pune named Baner-Balewadi filed a petition about fewer water supplies in High Court. By the way Baner Balewadi is fastest growing suburb of Pune & has been chosen by PMC Smart City Mission as Smart Suburb. This whole part is very vital for Pune as its entry point of West Side coming via Mumbai as well its gate way to Hinjawadi IT Park, i.e.  Home to world class IT companies which has made Pune’s name on international map. As well it’s in close vicinity to Pimpari Chinchwad Industrial estate & most importantly surrounded by numbers of reputed education institutes. No wonder in last ten years this whole area become most sought after residential destination for migrants coming from all over the country to Pune. And all these residences have attracted many commercial establishments which includes every popular shopping brand as well eateries & restaurants! But with all these growth comes the most important aspect essential for life, that is water & here the whole problem started!

In our country it may be difficult to answer most famous question, “Pahalae anada ya pahale murgi?” i.e. what comes first an egg or a hen? But when it comes to our urban cities, what comes first, buildings (which unfortunately we consider as growth) or infrastructure? Then even a school going boy will tell , buildings comes first & then depending up on mood of our Mai Baap Govt which comes in many names i.e. PMC or PMRDA or PCMC or Zillah Parishad along with local body’s elected members popularly called as “Mananaiya”, the infrastructure follows! This is bitter truth & even the so called Smart Suburb like Baner is no exception for the rule. Agreed if someone takes a drive on the main baner road & newly developed high street then he will feel that how well planned this locality is, making you think yes this is development. But behold this is just screen, right from narrow by lanes to having no other parallel road for the Baner road which is getting chocked under the pressure of thousands of private vehicles to having no proper drainage system in  place in many areas leave away the things like gardens or play grounds, everything is same like any other suburb. And yes water supply was on top of all making the thousands of societies depending up on tanker water supply which is uncertain & for which they have to pay lacs of rupees every year! The pinch became unbearable & repeated pleas to the authorities went useless, finally they decided to take help of only Messiah available in our country i.e. The High Court! 

Basically here the main issue was PMC just shrugged their hands initially, saying they have put a condition on all the new sanctions in the locality that water supply isn’t PMC’s responsibility. But then that’s standard approach of all the planning authorities as well local bodies because right from legal title to approach roads to water supply to drainage lines, they take responsibility of nothing & they think by putting these condition on sanction plans of the project they are done. Yet these local bodies collect every possible rupee in the name of development charges & paid FSI & premiums on stair case & balcony & added taxes under name of Ses & what not from the developer. Here developer has no choice but to surrender to the conditions PMC put on the sanction plan as he has already invested crores of rupees in buying the land & unfortunately we have total monopoly when it comes to plan sanctions with any planning authority! So the developer accepts these conditions & built the project & sale the flats by passing the responsibility to the residents which are flat buyers, as what else he can do? Because a developer can make approach road to his project spending from his pocket,  he even can provide drainage treatment plant if drainage lines are not there, gets electricity power cables laid from distance but how he is going to get water even if he lays water pipe lines & why he should pay for that water when the residents are going to use that water! Here PMC says that they have put a condition that the developer will take care of water supply but with same logic tomorrow our MSEDCL  i.e. electricity board will put condition to pay electricity bills also of the residents, isn’t it? Logically what’s developers job is to make arrangements to store the water in underground as well over head tanks & a pumping system with proper plumbing should be in place & for which there is water departments NOC which is mandatory to get occupation certificate. In addition to that he has to make rain water harvesting arrangements too. Obvious that the residents has to pay for the water tankers as water lines if present, have no water pressure & for that also PMC is not responsible as per the conditions apply thing on sanction plans!  And this scene is going for years all around the city but Baner people seems to have had enough & they went to court for justice.

It seems as usual initially PMC took it lightly as they thought they have covered their back with conditions on sanctions & can get away with it but high court has different logic. First is PMC has charged the developers with development charges which are meant to provide infrastructure & second is in many cases they have been collecting property taxes from all of the residents which covers services such as water supply. So the court asked what’s this for if you are unable to provide basic thing like water & second is if you can’t provide water they why you allowed to start these buildings in first place! Being a sanctioning as well planning authority PMC can’t escape by just putting some obscured condition on the sanction plans is what court said & then strait way ordered not to allow any new construction in Baner Balewadi area unless a concrete water supply plan is in place. Going a step ahead court has asked to stop the ongoing constructions also which are sanctioned with such conditions. I think with due respect to Hon High Court, this is bit too much as what’s the fault of such developers as well people who have booked in these sanctioned projects? This country really makes me scare to start any business may it be a liquor shop or a housing project, as any day anything can happen & your business can  be dead in minutes with one order! Anyways that’s not the issue the main problem is now what next with our so called Smart City?

As today baner balewadi people has gone to court & got stop work to all the projects in the locality which on prima fascia may seems bizarre decision but logically is correct. Because if you don’t have any infrastructure in place which is essential for living in place, then why you allow new buildings to construct, is the question even a toddler will ask. Now issue is what if this trend gets followed in entire Pune region as well in State because baner balewadi isn’t the only suburbs where water is problem. And if some court can give such decision on basis of water supply then same can be applicable for inadequate drainage lines or poor road network & then comes no public schools or hospitals, as list of insufficient infrastructure is endless here! 

Here there are two sides of the coin named infrastructure; one is obvious the govt, call it PMC or PMRDA which can’t shrug their responsibility of providing things like water, roads & drainage & has to seriously now work on a plan for the same. Instead spending crores of rupees for things like beautification of roads & riverfront & launching unrealistic projects like elevated road from river bed, first every rupee must be planned & spent for basic infrastructure across the city. With things like GST already the revenue is going to be a problem & if courts come down this way on property tax as well development charges then better PMC should be braced to take the impact of lesser revenue. And not to forget with RERA in, for a while the new projects launching will be any way slow, which again will be dent in revenue collection! At the same time the residents also should understand that the speed of city growing will never match with infrastructure making speed the way it is in developed countries like USA. We are developing country & we have limitations on financial front which is main aspect for developing infrastructure & then lets accept we have other hurdles too like political interference & deep rooted cancer names corruption in the path of development. Here I want to ask a question to all the Punker citizens, what we do when we don’t have public transport in place; we buy our own vehicles right? Same way how many of us send our kids to PMC schools which has worst infrastructure or send their parents to PMC hospitals when they are ill? I am sure none of my flat holders does that & how many has scowled PMC or any govt authority for not having proper schools or hospitals & has thought of going to courts? No one has done it, mean we are not depending on PMC for any of the infrastructure then why just on water we are dependent on PMC, only because it collects property tax from us? Well in the same property tax, including road, all things such as education, public health services etc are included, mind it. Lets  accept, water is going to be a grave problem  in future just like any other service & Pune is lucky that here you get water at least by tanker unlike my home town back in Virdrabha where we doesn’t have source in itself! The issue is with a proper distribution system in place which will happen only by public pressure & till then we have to suffer but survive! In our recent projects we have been collecting water deposit from the flat holder so that it gets covered in flat valuation & the flat buyer gets loan also for the same. Then we put this amount in FD account & from that interest the water tanker bills are paid, so the flat holders doesn’t feel the pinch every month separately for water. I don’t say this is right solution but we are need to look out for solution about water & stopping entire new projects will only worsen the scene as that means no money for development works & the wheel of development will get stuck, is that what we want as citizens?

Here media also has great role to play as high light every segments responsibility towards city’s civic issues & keep hammering it instead thinking of just prime spaces for advertise revenue or writing only the stuff what people likes to read! High time PMC as well other authorities like PMRDA also should take lesson from this court verdict as development doesn’t means making some DP & ranking in second place in Smart City Mission; but development means taking the responsibility of what you have committed to your residents & deliver it to end level. The way in RERA, developers are going to be held responsible for their commitments to the flat holders, same way our city rulers are also responsible for what has been committed to citizens; may it be election “jahir nama/ wachan nama” or so called development plan i.e. DP. With this Baner water issue court verdict, citizens now has got sword in their hand & no neck is untouchable from this sword, lets understand this fact or else Doom’s Day for the city isn’t long!

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

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