The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has proposed a helicopter service from Mumbai to Matheran. The tourism body though faces a green block in the form of the Bombay Environment Action Group (BEAG). BEAG claims that the smallest hill station in the country does not need a chopper service.
The Olympia Racecourse in Matheran is one of the sites on the anvil for a helipad. Pic/Merwyn Rodrigues
Hema Ramani, BEAG activist said, “There is already the road route from Dasturi into Matheran and the toy train, for such a small hill station which is already overcrowded. Tourists access Matheran in this way, so another mode of transport is not needed. We also do not know where the choppers will land, but, the Olympia Racecourse is the proposed spot. The racecourse is very far from main Matheran. The noise the helicopter makes will affect the flora and fauna in the area, and there will be air pollution too.”
The helicopter is slated to take off from Juhu. PIC/NIMESH DAVE
The environment group says they are fine if the helicopter gives a bird’s eye view of the hill station, not actually landing in Matheran simply hovering above to give tourists a view from above and then going back to Mumbai. “We have started writing letters to the MTDC and are ready to go to court if they do not stop this project,” added Ramani.
The Matheran Municipal Council though is very enthusiastic about the project, claims the state tourism body. Satish Soni, Jt. Managing Director, MTDC, admitted though that they are facing stiff opposition from the environmentalists. “BEAG is opposing the plan. Our team has visited various sites in Matheran for the helipad. There is no clarity at the moment about when the service will start. We are still in the process of procuring permissions. We want all good tourist destinations to be part of the helitourism venture that we have undertaken, so Matheran and Murud- Janjira are on our list.”
The matter is with the Eco Sensitive Committee and the National Green Tribunal. The No Objection Certificate (NOC) from these is awaited by the MTDC. “Pawan Hans is ready from their Juhu base. As soon as we get permission, the service will start. So far we don’t want to set any date all I can say is that it will happen as soon as we get the all clear from the various scrutinising committees,” Soni said.
Manoj Khedkar, Leader of the Opposition, Matheran Hill Station Municipal Council (MHMC) says that since Matheran is an eco-sensitive zone, permissions for setting up the helipad is taking time. Also, the proposal to use the Olympia Racecourse land as the helipad will be given the nod, provided the helipad doesn’t disturb the activities there.
“Our priority is to retain the green space, racing ground and sports activities that are in the area. While officials from MTDC and Pawan Hans have surveyed a part of the racecourse for the helipad, the proposal is still in the preliminary stage and is not going to be passed any time soon,” he said.
MHMC President Gautum Gaikwad said that while a General Body meeting of the council discussed the helipad proposal, no decision or resolution has been passed. “The standing committee will meet some time next week. There are some people opposing the helipad, but the chopper service will help the hill station boost tourism. No VIP comes here because there are no choppers,” he said.
The hill station was declared an eco-sensitive region by the Union Environment Ministry and is Asia’s only automobile-free hill station. BEAG says they are fighting to protect this hill station which sees water and electricity shortage, during summer. Matheran, which resounds to the clip clop of hooves is now caught in the inevitable tussle between development and environment.
— Inputs by Apoorva Puranik