Lavasa is an independent India’s first planned hill city. The under-construction town is just an hour’s drive from Pune in the Mose Valley and the backwaters of the calm Warasgaon dam area. This as-yet incomplete city has been controversial for multiple reasons including: procurement of land, harm to the environment (water usage), and loans acquired through political corruption. Till November 25 ‘2010, the construction work at Lavasa was in full swing when the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued a stop-work order and notice to Lavasa Corporation Limited (LCL).The reason given was that the company had failed to obtain environmental clearance from the Union ministry and had proceeded on the basis of a clearance from Maharashtra’s environment department. The ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), constituted in response to the public interest petition moved by the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), formed by activists and NGOs, in the high court of Mumbai for new infrastructure projects and Coastal Regulation Zone, said that planning and development of the whole project should be reworked as it violated environment laws, including haphazard cutting of hills. Lavasa challenged the ministry’s order in the high court, saying it had taken the requisite clearances from the state and the ministry had no jurisdiction over the project.LCL later applied for post facto clearance from MoEF for the first phase of the project, on February 1; Lavasa is being developed in two phases of 2,000 ha and 3,000 ha.
Lavasa Corporation Limited (LCL) is developing a hill station township project located 65 km from Pune in the Mose Valley and the backwaters of the calm Warasgaon dam area, set amidst 7 hills and 60 kms of lakefront. It is touted as independent India’s first planned hill city and is one of the largest Infrastructure Projects in the country. A total of 10,000 hectares (= 25,000 acres) land will be used for the project which includes mostly the farm land and private forests or forest like land.
The development plan is spread over 20 years and would complete by 2025. It involves dynamic planning in phases.
Phase I: Dasve, Mugaon, Bhoni – To establish Lavasa Brand .Development will be mostly mixed use with focus on front-loaded economic drivers
Phase II: Focus on meeting residential demand driven through development of economic activities and scaling up of tourism, hospitality, and leisure activities
Phase III: Sakhari, Wadaval – In addition to residential development, focus on developing a commercial business district
Phase IV: Bhode, Mose, Saiv – Development of the second commercial business district.
There are majorly five agencies that are responsible for framing regulatory framework for environment and pollution control. These agencies have different roles to play as far as framing of policies and their application is concerned. This can be easily differentiated in a tabular form:
Ministry of Environment & Forests (MOEF), Govt. of India
Formulate Strategies & Policies
Formulate rules & acts and seek approval from Parliament
Interact with Internation agencies
Issue Environmental Clearance & Permits
Implement Nationa Schemes
Monitor the process through Regional Offices
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Govt. of India
Prepare Technical guidelines
Provide technical backup to MOEF
Provide laboratory facility, monitor & R&D
Implement registration and other schemes
Monitor through Zonal Offices
Department of Environment (DOEN), State Govt.
Formulate policies & strategies
formulate rules, acts & seeks approval from Legislative Assembly & Council
Co-ordinate with MOEF & CPCB
Issue Environmental clearance & permits
State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), State Govt.
Consent management of Industries
Projects & Planning
Dayal Committee: A 10-member committee, constituted by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to assess the environment impact of Lavasa project.
Environmental concerns violated in Lavasa project – An analysis
The Lavasa has always been a contentious issue and a controversial project. For years, it has been blamed for the serious environmental damages including flora and fauna and has been criticized by the Ministry of Environment and Forests for quarrying and hill cutting. However, Post reviewing the project, this ministry provided clearance on 9 November 2011 to Lavasa with specific conditions, such as a cessation of hill cutting activities, building of a sewage treatment plant, and anti-poverty CSR measures aimed at the local population.
For a one year period from late 2010 to late 2011, construction of Lavasa had to be halted due to orders obtained from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. In late 2010 it ordered Lavasa Corporation to halt further construction for not having gathered proper clearances.
Ministry of Environment and Forests found Lavasa to be violating the rules and regulations under the Environment protection act 1986. According to MOEF, LCL (Lavasa Corporation Ltd) is in violation of
The EIA Notification, 1994;
The EIA Notification, as amended in 2004; and
The EIA Notification of 2006.
The site visit report has also brought out the nature and magnitude of the environmental damage caused by the project. As such, the construction activity is unauthorized, being in violation of the above three notifications and is also environmentally damaging.
Concept: EIA is a tool to assess positive and negative impacts of a project on surrounding area, population, vegetation, flora, fauna, property and overall environment.
Air Pollution (From Process and Fuel burning)
Water Pollution (Industrial process, Effluents and sewage, Treatment and reuse)
Land Pollution (Chemical pollution, Waste substances, solid waste, treatment & disposal)
Ecology, Flora, Fauna, Fisheries, endangered species
Natural Resources (Air, Water, Land, Rivers, Streams, Ponds & Lakes, Hills, Forest,)
Ecoâ€sensitive zone, Sanctuaries, Migration routes.
Archeological sites, Roads, Military Establishments, Schools, Hospitals, Other social centers
Socioâ€Economy, Rehabilitation, Resettlement, Compensations
Disaster Management, Risk Assessment
Lavasa is in the province of WESTERN GHATS of INDIA which is among World’s 20 most ecologically sensitive HOT SPOTS. Also, the UNESCO is considering declaring Western Ghats region as the World Heritage Site according to media reports.
Western Ghat is a crucial factor for Monsoon of India and other meteorologically important parameters
The committee has recorded that Lavasa has caused massive destruction of the ecology of the area, especially causing grave damages to hills, flora-fauna, water body, etc
Land belong to Adivasi (Tribal) Land which can’t be sold or bought without the permission of the District administration to a Non Tribal entity, in fact that Mulshi and Velhe talukas, where Lavasa is based, is not designated as a tribal district. In 1976, the Govt. of Maharashtra implemented land reforms in the area. A case filed at police by one tribe Bandya Bhau Valhekar is pending at Mulshi
The project is spread over 18 villages consisting of various Gaothans (villages). There are some adivasi communities in the affected area and that there has been a large scale diversion of “ceiling surplus” land which was allotted to these Adivasis and Nomadic Tribes.
Also Ceiling land belongs to the landless poor people as per Ceiling Act. (THE URBAN LAND (CEILING AND REGULATION) , ACT, 1976, No. 33 OF 1976)
Land has been either by cheating or using muscule power, A poor farmer Dnyaneshwar Shedge has filed a complaint against Lavasa in one such matter
The 80 odd Katkari families of tribal stock in this area belong to Raigadh District; 47 of them are living in Mugaon village. They used to come for seasonal agricultural labor to assist local farmers with rice cultivation before the paddy fields were lost to the Warasgaon dam. But when the lands were submerged, the displaced farmers began to cut trees for making charcoal.
Many of those that Lavasa purchased land from are not “local farmers” but people who were living in Pune, Mumbai, Dubai or even London. A good chunk of land was originally bought by a real estate firm called Expat Limited before Lavasa Corporation came into existence. Even today some of the investors of Expat have not sold their lands to Lavasa.
Due to isolation, people had to walk 5-6 hr over hilly terrain to reach the nearest city in order to sell forest products like bamboo and charcoal. Consequently, this district became very sparsely populated with a total population of 3117 as per the 2001 census.
Effects on downstream users- Pune and further users, Pollution.
The back water of the dams were filled with stone crushing material and also that the villagers expressed that the project has adversely impacted their life and they are not willing to part with their land for any of the project activities.
The Varasgaon Dam is an important dam for water supply to Pune city. The Water Recourses Department of Government has sanctioned a quota of 1.03 TMC water to Lavasa, which was supposed to be the 1 month utility of water by Pune city. Due to this reservoir very nearly dries up in the hot summer months leading up to the monsoon. There are claims that water from Varasgaon is diverted to Lavasa and will result in problems in water supply to Pune city.
Objection to the cutting of hills for making roads, on the other hand it says that the roads were not wide enough for the expected traffic
A “world Class” huge convention centre does not go with the concept of a hill station with only 9 meters access road, without adequate parking provisions.’
Quite a few residential buildings are without adequate open spaces, set back distances, parking spaces etc
Height of buildings was increased from G+2 to G+5, which was illegal in the original hill station policy.
Land being acquired by hook or crook.
State machinery used to coerce farmers.
No proper plans to rehabilitate the farmers affected.
Lavasa has been granted permissions in quick time by bending / breaking the law.
Land leased for 30 yrs by govt. which in fact will never be returned and is as good as sold.
It was mandatory for Lavasa to seek PRIOR Environmental Clearance from the appropriate authorities under EIA Notifications 1994, 2004 and 2006. However none of them was obtained from the appropriate authorities.
NAPM pointed out this to Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) Govt of India which in turn issued a STOP WORK notice to Lavasa on 25th November 2010.
Lavasa moved to High Court against MOEF order, however; the High Court rejected Lavasa’s request to allow continuation of construction work. The works at project site came to halt.
MoEF constituted Dayal Committee and further Ravindran Committee which recommended that Lavasa should be asked to pay 5% of the project cost as the Environment Protection Fund in lieu of the environmental damages caused by it.
Dayal Committee Report and its outcome
The Dayal committee visited the site from 5th-7th January, 2011 and inspected every Construction, every site of the project, assessed the environmental state and accordingly submitted the report to the MoEF which included a list of damages that the LCL has caused to the environment conditions .However the chairman of the committee is being criticized for pointing out very Minor issue and damages to the environment.
After three days of on-the-spot assessment, the 11-member team of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) declared that the Lavasa project had caused no destruction of forests.
The statement given by the chairman Mr. Dayal of the committee was “Prima facie, forest destruction does not seem to have happened in case of Lavasa.”
The committee also reported that no reduction in water supply to Pune city was found to have occurred as a result of the project. The Dayal committee apparently gave a clean-chit to Lavasa mainly on two issues:
Impact on forests and environment
Impact on the water supply to Pune city
LCL (Lavasa Corporation Ltd) is in violation of (i) the EIA Notification, 1994; (ii) the EIA Notification, as amended in 2004;
and (iii) the EIA Notification of 2006.
The site visit report has also brought out the nature and magnitude of the environmental damage caused by the project. As such, the construction activity is unauthorised, being in violation of the above three notifications and is also environmentally damaging.
The MoEF order is more on jurisdiction than on environment issues.
However, having regard to the above but taking into account all the facts and circumstances of the case, particularly the
submissions made with regard to the investments already incurred, third-party rights which are accrued, the various steps taken for establishment of a comprehensive hill station
development, the employment generated and the claimed upliftment of the area under consideration, MoEF (Ministry of Environement and Forests) is prepared to consider the project on merits with the imposition of various terms and conditions,
including the following:
The payment of substantial penalty for the violation of environmental laws, which is incontrovertible;
Over and above the penalty, creation of an Environmental Restoration Fund (ERF) by LCL with sufficiently large corpus which would be managed by an independent body with various stakeholders under the overall supervision of MoEF;
Imposition of stringent terms and conditions, to ensure that no further environmental degradation takes place and that any degradation that has already occurred would be rectified within a time-bound schedule.
MoEF does not have objective and measurable norms. Therefore, instead of restricting themselves to environmental issues, it has resorted to questioning state government
jurisdiction, Special Planning Authority, MKVDC land transfer, land purchase, Lavasa master plan approval by collector, Hill Station policy, regional development plan, MRTP Act, etc. These haves nothing to do with environmental issues.
Naresh Dayal, chairman of the technical committee, after completing his site visit made a statement to the media in Pune that there was no major environmental degradation and yet the report seems to magnify minor environmental issues to justify continuance of the stop work order.
There were more than 1,000 villagers supporting Lavasa, whereas those supporting Medha Patkar were a mere dozen. Yet
the committee gives more space to highlighting issues of Patkar’s supporters.
Any road under construction in hilly regions requires cutting which looks harsh and bare initially. Reference photographs included in the report only show such roads in the early stages
of construction and which were only about 5 km in length. It has conveniently kept out the photographs of over 100 km of roads that have been completed with enhanced green cover.
With all the above observations carried out by the government constituted committee, post-facto green signal to Phase-I of Lavasa by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) given on the November 9th , 2011 was widely condemned by many intellectual groups and was declared as a blot on the democratic process. It also created a shockingly dangerous precedent in the history of environmental action in India. MoEF’s improper action has in fact sent shock-waves to eco-activists within the country and also across the world. Although it is not the first time in the long history of Indian Environmental clearance regime that political highhandedness has been used to subvert rule of law and the ends of justice, this case is unique since the clearance has disregarded well established evidence based on facts collected by no other than the MoEF itself. It is surprising that the Ministry’s decision has come in the wake of the case filed by the Maharashtra government against 15 persons including promoters of Lavasa Corporation for alleged violations of the Environment Protection Act (EPA), while the Maharashtra Chief Minister on the other hand has recommended that Lavasa be considered for environmental clearance, exposed the double standards of the state government.
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