Pune's hills, water bodies gasp for life
Major rivers, hills around the city are in a critical state following unplanned concretisation, encroachment, and off the cuff outbreak of reckless development.
As the world celebrates Environment Day with much gusto perking up hope to condense the effects of climate change and other detrimental factors on the ecosystem, here’s a report on the health condition of rivers and hills around the city that have fallen prey to illegal concretisation, encroachnments and haphazard planning .
Pune, which once boasted of having major rivers, including Dev Nadi, Ram Nadi, Mula Mutha, Dhanori and Pashan lake, has lost its sheen because these water bodies are on the verge of complete concretisation due to ad hoc eruption of reckless development that began after 1997.
The 20-km long rivulet, which originates from Sus hills and flows through Balungha hills and Baner, once provided water to the entire Baner-Pashan area. But today, it has condensed to a metre-long stream from a 60-metre rivulet.
This happened when the PMC, using Rs 100 crore allocated under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), constructed concrete blocks for the 5-km stretch of the river to prevent encroachments near the bank.
“Concrete slabs were dumped into the river, while channelisation reduced its width and blocked water percolation,” environmentalist Sarang Yadwadkar said.
The 18.69-km-long water body has turned black following release of untreated sewage, poisonous discharge from industries. The PMC, in fact, is the major contributor of pollution as the civic body releases up to 40 per cent of the total untreated sewage into the river.
Similar is the state of Ram Nadi. A 48-km-long river has been reduced to half due to encroachments and road planning in past two decades. “Developers have constructed compound walls along the river banks and have dumped debris in the river, thereby raising the water level,” said activist Shailendra Patel.
According to Anupam Saraph, member of an NGO Jal Biradari, the river has not only lost it natural flow but is also losing its flora and fauna due to river restoration, water-sport, and river view projects.
However, environmentalists claim that the water bodies can be restored if the ecosystem of nullahs, rivers and lakes liberate them from human encroachment, management and intervention.
Destruction and encroachment can be noticed on Taljai hill and Katraj hill, where private developers are making a network of roads, while individuals have constructed houses in the eco-sensitive areas. “The state government’s decision to allow construction in the four per cent of the total area of Bio-Diversity Parks (BDP) has spelt doom for the ecology of Pune. Due to the rampant construction, more than 40 per cent of the hills have been chopped down,” said Prakash Gole, an environmentalist.
The State Urban Development Department has even proposed to convert about 50 acres of land in Kothrud, which is marked as Hill Slope Zone in the development plan, to Public Zone. The land will be used for the construction of a vehicle testing track and laboratories for the Automotive Research Association of India.
According to Aneeta Benninger of Green Pune Movement, although the government has passed a legislation asking local ward level functionaries and the police to stop illegal encroachment on hills, there has been no enforcement so far.
“Following the destruction of hills, watersheds too get destroyed thereby leading to decline in groundwater. Thus, we are going towards desertification and the land is gradually becoming wasteland, which will not be capable of producing bio-mass proportionate to its generic or intrinsic capacity,” said Benninger.
It has been about a decade since the Bio-Diversity Act was conceded by the government to protect the ecosystem and promote conservation. However, it’s a matter of shame that no local committee or board has been formed till date to check illegal encroachment and development on hills and rivers in Pune.