Preserving our forest land – no HCMTR on it, please!

Red marker stones for HCMTR December 2015

The High Capacity Mass Transit Route (HCMTR) originally proposed in the 1987 Development Plan has been pulled out again from cold storage. This time regular tekdi walkers were alerted with the marker stones that came up on the tekdi, on the slopes above Kanchan Galli. An RTI query in November 2015 revealed that there no DPR or Environment Clearance Assessment had been done, we were told that unless land acquisition is complete this would not be possible.

Reply to RTI from PMC
Reply to RTI from PMC

We accessed the proposal to the Forest Department on acquiring the required Reserved Forest Land and our letter to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Central and State authorities, Chief Conservator of Forests Pune etc. is copied below:

To  Shri.Prakash Javadekar Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

C/C Shri A.K. Nigam, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (HoFF) M. S. Nagpur
Shri Kunal Kumar, Municipal Commissioner, Pune
Shri Sourabh Rao, District Collector, Pune
Shri Jeet Singh CCF, Pune
Shri Nitin Kareer Principal Secretary,Urban Development Department,
Shri Praveen Pardeshi Principal Secretary CMO

SUBJECT: Objection to alignment of proposed HCMTR through Reserved Forest on Bhamburda forests on Vetal and Law College Hill.

Dear Sir

As per the information received by us through a RTI query on 17th November 2015, the PMC has requested permission from the Forest Dept to acquire around  55,000 sq m of  Reserved Forest Land in Bhamburda to build the HCMTR through Survey nos. 53, 93 and 94. We appeal to you to deny permission for this proposed project and our reasons for this appeal are stated below:

As residents of this area (Prabhag 36) and as regular tekdi walkers for decades, we strongly oppose any further destruction of the hill and the precious forests on it. In April 2014, under Section 28(1) of the Maharashtra Regional & Town Planning Act, 1966, which states that the civic body should take into cognizance the suggestions and objections of citizens while passing its Development Plan, we had objected to the 2 km stretch of the proposed HCMTR through Bhamburda forests.

Our RTI dated 17th November 2015 (Copy Attached) to the PMC has revealed that the PMC has neither a Detailed Project Report (DPR) nor any Environment Impact Assessments (EIS) for the HCMTR project. The reason given by PMC is that that no land has been acquired yet for the HCMTR. This logic of not making a DPR before land acquisition shows complete lack of understanding of the implications of the HCMTR alignment.

The alignment of the HCMTR project is being pushed through by the PMC without well-defined objectives. Originally slated to be open only for public transport vehicles/rail based system, PMC authorities have recently stated on record that the proposed HCMTR will be open for private motorised vehicles. In the absence of any measures towards holistic planning of transportation, the proposed HCMTR will only create more problems than it pretends to solve. Destruction of the eco-sensitive forest land for such a project is therefore not justified.
There have been many judgements and orders from the National Green Tribunal in recent times, directing the state government to exercise restraint while issuing permissions to convert land use in forest land. The mandate of the Forest Department is to preserve our forests and not allow misuse by any authority, we request you to keep these orders in mind while assessing the application from the PMC.

The Vetal Tekdi and the Law College Hill are crucial open green spaces for our city which is already choking under the burden of increasing vehicular traffic. The PMC Environment Status Report 2014-15 has highlighted the need to keep open spaces free of encroachment, given the rising number of vehicles on the road and increase in Nitric Oxide since 2010. Scientists at System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) have expressed concern over the increase in two main pollutants – PM 10  and PM 2.5 in 2015 in Pune. The Motor Vehicle Department Maharashtra Statistics for 2012-13 states that Pune City has maximum ratio of vehicles per thousand persons i.e.753 in the state. Latest data shows that 2-3 lakh vehicles are added every year.

The groundwater table in Pune until the recent past has been shallow and easily accessible. However, this resource is dwindling rapidly due to an increase in rampant construction and unregulated extraction by bore wells. The hills slopes are good recharge areas for groundwater and it is important to keep them free of concretization if we want to avoid further aggravating the already critical water situation in the city.

Several scholarly studies have documented that the Law College hill is one of the few places within the city where a rich diversity of bird species still reside. Their habitat will be destroyed by the road. For example, see Rapid Impact Assessment study of proposed road through Law College Hill by Moghe and Thakur in 2006
From the traffic point of view, the proposed HCMTR at this section will create two new choke points at both ends – the Senapati Bapat end as well as at the Paud Phata end. The 2007 draft DP has plans for a Metro where the proposed HCMTR joins the Paud Phata road. Clearly, there is no holistic traffic plan integrating the HCMTR with other projects planned in the city.

The current HCMTR project is going through in a piecemeal manner with no DPR or traffic analysis. Many sections of the proposed alignment have already been sold and built up for commercial purposes, making land acquisition of these sections next to impossible. Khadki Cantonment Board has already denied permission to build the HMCTR on their lands. Building parts of an HCMTR in sections across the city will make only additional large roads – and not a public transport system as visualized by the 1987 DP. The bio-diversity of the hill will have been destroyed with little benefit to the citizens of Pune. We therefore appeal to you to deny permission for the use of Reserved Forest Land for this project.

Thanking you

Sushma Date, Sumita Kale, Suvrat Kher, Darpana Athale, Gopal Phadke, Madhavi Rahirkar, Anil Kelkar, Cdr Mukund Lele Swati Pednekar and other members of DGPS.

HCMTR Paud Road access near Kelewadi Road
HCMTR Paud Road access near Kelewadi Road

HCMTR SB Road access between Passport Office and Forest Office
HCMTR SB Road access – Passport Office and Forest Office