A fate like At­lantis?

Un­planned de­vel­op­ment is lead­ing to floods in Lon­avala. This can stop if the mu­nic­i­pal­ity de­clares it a hill sta­tion

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - APARNA PALLAVI

Un­planned con­struc­tion in Lon­avala i is caus­ing floods

i in the hill sta­tion

IT MAYBE far­fetched to say that the tiny hill town of Lon­avala will dis­ap­pear un­der wa­ter. But the idea is not all that wild, con­sid­er­ing that in the past 15-odd years, the popular hill sta­tion in the Pune dis­trict of Ma­ha­rash­tra has seen un­prece­dented floods almost ev­ery mon­soon. A boom­ing tourism business and the re­sul­tant spurt in con­struc­tion, cou­pled with in­ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture, have blocked the nat­u­ral wa­ter­ways in the 38 sq km town.

Tak­ing cog­nizance of the sit­u­a­tion, high­lighted by the res­i­dents of Lon­avala in a pub­lic in­ter­est lit­i­ga­tion (pil), the Bom­bay High Court in April this year called for a ban on all con­struc­tion work in the hill town till the time it has in­fra­struc­ture to support the growth.But the Lon­avala mu­nic­i­pal­ity plans to chal­lenge the or­der in the Supreme Court, even as res­i­dents con­tinue to strug­gle with floods, in­ad­e­quate wa­ter sup­ply and poor sewage sys­tems.

Houses on beds of streams

The town has wit­nessed a dra­matic rise in the num­ber of tourists, es­pe­cially after the Pune-Mumbai Ex­press High­way was com­pleted in 2002. The of­fi­cial pop­u­la­tion of the town is 100,000,but it nearly triples dur­ing week­ends as tourists pour in from Mumbai and Pune.

This has re­sulted in in­dis­crim­i­nate con­struc­tions. “As the num­ber of tourists rises ev­ery year, more and more res­i­dents are tempted to con­vert their houses into guest­houses,” says ad­vo­cate Tanu Mehta. The Lon­avala res­i­dent is ar­gu­ing on be­half of the Lon­avala Khan­dala Cit­i­zens Fo­rum who filed the pe­ti­tion in the high court. “Con­struc­tion is hap­pen­ing on the beds of streams and pre­car­i­ous hills. Now even hill­tops are be­ing lev­elled to cre­ate space for con­struc­tion,” she says.

Lon­avala is just a small town, but the num­ber of struc­tures it has is rather high, says a mem­ber of the Ar­chi­tects and Prac­tic­ing En­gi­neers As­so­ci­a­tion of Lon­avala. “Ev­ery month the mu­nic­i­pal­ity gives per­mis­sions to build 12-15 build­ings. As many as 80-100 struc­tures come up in a year,”he says.

Tanuja Mukher­jee, yesteryears’ film­star and pres­i­dent of the Lon­avala Khan­dala Cit­i­zens Fo­rum, says the houses—many of them un­of­fi­cial guest­houses—have been

con­structed right up to the edge of two large streams that meet in the val­ley.

“Most of the real es­tate de­vel­op­ment takes place dur­ing sum­mers when the streams are dry, so de­vel­op­ers do not even know that they are con­struct­ing on a stream,” she says. “When it rains, con­struc­tions get in­un­dated and the sur­round­ing ar­eas get flooded. Peo­ple build walls to pro­tect their prop­er­ties. In the process, the water­way nar­rows down, some­times to dan­ger­ous lev­els ,”she adds.

As a re­sult, ar­eas around the banks of the In­drayani river, Hudco Colony, Ban­gar­gaon, Gold Val­ley and the world fa­mous Kaivalya Dham Yoga cen­tre near the Mumbai-Pune Ex­press­way get flooded ev­ery year, say res­i­dents (see ‘Con­crete prob­lem’). A 2011 hy­dro­log­i­cal survey con­ducted fol­low­ing court or­ders on the pil shows that res­i­den­tial colonies are com­ing up very fast in ar­eas such as Gold Val­ley and Tun­garli Hill, where the gra­di­ent is steep and soil un­sta­ble. This cre­ates the dan­ger of flood­ing and land­slides. Tun­garli Hill, which is the ori­gin of nu­mer­ous streams that feed the Ul­has and Patal­ganga rivers, is cov­ered with week­end cot­tages that block the flow of the streams. In the Badriv­ishal area, which is in the wa­ter­shed of the In­drayani river, so­ci­eties have blocked the flow of two large sup­ple­men­tary streams of the river.

Amol Pawar, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of con­struc­tion man­age­ment at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Con­struc­tion Man­age­ment and Re­search, Pune, blames faulty con­struc­tion for floods and wa­ter-log­ging. “Hudco Colony is sit­u­ated just two me­tres away from the flood-line of the Lon­avala dam,” says Pawar, who has stud­ied the flood­ing of the area.

Wrong, but not il­le­gal

While most agree that con­struc­tion has done un­told dam­age to the hill town, there is no way it can be re­garded as il­le­gal. Lon­avala, a known hill sta­tion and a mu­nic­i­pal­ity since pre-In­de­pen­dence times, does not have the sta­tus of a hill sta­tion un­der the Ma­ha­rash­tra Hill Sta­tion Pol­icy,1996.

The pol­icy re­serves 33 per cent of the area un­der de­vel­op­ment for open spa­ces and makes tree cover manda­tory and re­stricts floor space in­dex (the ra­tio of a build­ing’s to­tal floor area to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built) to 0.3.This apart, the height of dou- ble-sto­ried struc­tures can­not go beyond 9 m. De­spite re­peated pleas, the mu­nic­i­pal body has made no at­tempt to de­clare the town a hill sta­tion. In 1990, the Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment had writ­ten to the Lon­avala mu­nic­i­pal­ity to de­clare the town a hill sta­tion, but no step was taken.If Lon­avala gets the of­fi­cial hill sta­tion sta­tus, the mu­nic­i­pal body will have to make pro­vi­sions to re­strict con­struc­tion and pro­tect forests, wa­ter­ways and hills, says Mehta. What’s also mak­ing con­struc­tion easy is the Lon­avala de­vel­op­ment plan. Sanc­tioned as late as 2006,the plan does not recog­nise mi­nor streams. The land where they flow is be­ing sold for con­struc­tion of build­ings. “The mu­nic­i­pal­ity is within its le­gal lim­its while grant­ing per­mis­sion to con­struct,” says Ganesh Shete, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Lon­avala mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

The 2011 hy­dro­log­i­cal survey found large-scale water­way block­ages due to de­vel­op­ment and made strong rec­om­men­da­tions to re­strict con­struc­tion and re­store streams, says Mehta.It also asked for in­clu­sion of the streams into topo­graph­i­cal maps in the de­vel­op­ment plan.But the mu­nic­i­pal­ity did not make the changes to the plan, she says.

Ill-pre­pared for boom

To make things worse, the town’s in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment does not match the con­struc­tion boom. Its wa­ter sup­ply sys­tem is prim­i­tive and the sewage sys­tem still de­pends on old-style soak pits and sep­tic tanks. There is no mech­a­nism to dis­pose of 20-25 tonnes of garbage the town gen­er­ates daily but for a 2.4-hectare dump­ing ground that has been in use for 60 years now. Garbage heaps and blocked drains are common across Lon­avala. “We have asked the gov­ern­ment to give us land on own­er­ship ba­sis so that we can set up a treat­ment plant to treat 7-8 tonnes of garbage daily,” says Shete.

Res­i­dents say the mu­nic­i­pal­ity has proved sin­gu­larly in­ef­fec­tive in de­liv­er­ing when it comes to in­fra­struc­ture. The pil brought to light the fact that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity had never asked the gov­ern­ment for in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment funds. Even after the court or­dered in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment, the body failed to utilise funds ef­fec­tively. Last year, a con­trac­tor who has a his­tory of de­fault was given the con­tract to con­struct a sewage plant.He ab­sconded with 1.5 crore.

`This year, a 75-crore road con­struc­tion ` project failed to see the light of day due to bick­er­ing within the body.The amount was re­turned to gov­ern­ment.

Shete, who con­firmed the in­ci­dents, says new per­mis­sions have not been given after the court or­der. He, how­ever, warns that flood preven­tion will be a tall or­der be­cause it will in­volve un­do­ing the dam­age in­flicted by de­vel­op­ment over a decade and a half.

In Gold Val­ley area of Lon­avala, con­struc­tions are en­croach­ing upon the bed of a stream that joins the In­drayani river

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