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Greens to wear ghost masks to drive out ARAI from Vetal Tekdi

City environmentalists plan novel protest against grant of 20 hectares of hillock land to automotive research centre

Environmentalists in the city will don ghost masks to protest against the granting of 20 hectares of land in Vetal Tekdi a hillock home to the temple of Vetal (ghost) to the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI).

They said their efforts of planting about 3,000 trees on the hill in the last 20 years would go waste. So, they have decided to wear ghost masks and agitate before the Town Planning Department.


Environmentalists V B Jain Umesh Naik, Sunil Joshi, Vaibhav
Gandhi and Bhumi Jain wear the ghost masks


The Forest Department had earlier granted 22.75 hectares of land to ARAI in the hill top-hill slope area near Vetal Tekdi. The latest issue is of an additional 20 hectares.

Environmentalists said if the department officially granted the additional 20 hectares, then the land would be converted into a public or semi-public zone.

Internationally renowned scientist Dr Jayant Naralikar had opposed the ARAI project at Vetal Tekdi.

Umesh Naik of Prani Pakshi Vruksha Mitra Parivar said the hill should be left alone for city's environmental
development.

"The Vetal Temple on the hill has been made, so that there are no encroachments. Vetal Tekdi should be treated like a no man's land. Therefore we decided to use the ghost masks to agitate," said Naik.

V B Jain, a tree lover, said: "The forest land is already shrinking over the rapid urbanisation and government projects coming up in the city.

There is no need to give 20 hectares of additional land as the government has already given 22.75 hectares of land to ARAI on lease for 30 years in 1975.
 
The lease period was already over in 2005, yet that land is still being used by ARAI." Sunil Joshi, an activist from Jalbiradari, said: "There is no green patch of land left in the forest land."

Sanjay Athawale from Tekdi Group, an NGO, said they had planted over 3,000 tress in the hilly area in the last 20 years without any government support.

"The government cannot give away the forest land. This is not fair." Dr Uday Kulkarni and Satish Khot who have studied the issue also said the environment was under threat.

Avinash Patil, deputy director, Town Planning Department said: "We are just following the government notification passed in February 2011 by the Urban Development Department to allot 20 hectares of land to ARAI.
 
The ARAI has been asking permission for a maximum of a ground plus two-storied structure with a built-up area of 59,700 sq m.

We are conducting a public hearing to discuss suggestions and objections related to the modifications of the existing land on the Vetal Tekdi," he said.

Shrikant Marathe, director of ARAI, had said the project was eco-friendly and there would not be any construction work exceeding five per cent of the given land.

"We have been granted permission from the Ministry of Environment for our laboratory building and vehicle testing track projects," he said in a written statement earlier.

Forest land in Pune region
Total area: 53296.66 hectares
Balance area: 21,753.808 hectares
Shirota: 12,478.30 hectares
Vadgaon: 15,658.46 hectares
Paud: 8,389.27 hectares
Sinhagad:  7,761.44 hectares
Bhamburda: 1,915.40 hectares
Daund: 1,331.34 hectares
Indapur: 113.85

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