Lavasa: What is all the fuss about?

Francois Gautier | Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pune, once a quiet city, has exploded. Landing there provides a startling view of how apartment complexes have mushroomed till the end of the horizon on all sides. After a harrowing week, my wife and I decided to take a break. But where to go? We had already seen the overcrowding at Lonavala. We were reminded of Lavasa, though we were aware that the Union environment and forests ministry had once issued a stop-work notice to the multi-crore project, citing lack of clearances and environmental degradation.

We had also read Medha Patkar’s numerous appeals on the issue and how the project was displacing tribal people. But as the drive from Pune was short, we decided to give it a try.

Entering Lavasa was a pleasant surprise: we stumbled upon a beautiful lake in a picturesque valley surrounded by seven hills and 18,000 acres of forested land, at nearly 3,000 feet above the plains. Never before had we seen in India a new city so well planned and designed, with so much green space.

What was the controversy then? It seemed, it all started with Medha Patkar who accused the Lavasa Corporation of‘violating all environmental norms by digging up hills, uprooting trees and pulling down the ‘Nasa’ point, which was over the prohibited 1,000 m height. Furthermore, Lavasa Corporation is secretly planning to construct 10 dams inside a river valley. We could lose the entire Western Ghats to many more similar projects like the Lavasa.’ Wow!

During our visit, we learnt that Lavasa’s master plan was prepared by one of the largest town-planning firms in the world: Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, from St Louis, US, using the principles of new urbanism, which means that development should be dense at the centre of the valley and sparse as it moves up towards the hills, so as to minimise the ecological footprint.

We were told that nearly one million tree saplings and an equal number of shrub and stump have been planted. The target is to plant 2 to 3 million trees in the entire valley to enrich its biodiversity. A 11-member central team deputed to look into violations in the project, said that ‘prima facie there does not seem to be a large-scale destruction of forest.’
But this did not deter Patkar, who recently vowed to continue her fight against the hill city project. Who is Medha Patkar? She often seems to have blocked projects that were actually beneficial to India, like the Narmada dam, which today has made Gujarat the greenest state of India, benefiting millions of farmers, the very people Medha says she is defending.

Some facts that came out recently shed some light on Patkar. Few years ago, Dr Urmilaben Patel, member, Congress Working Committee, wrote to Pranab Mukherjee, who wasthen the external affairs minister: ‘You are aware that the Narmada Bachao Andolan headed by Medha Patkar is actively involved in opposing all hydro projects in India. I have recently received material I find quite disturbing. I specifically draw your attention to the message of Ms Patkar using the words ‘pressurising the UPA government’, and ‘honouring’ a Supreme Court judge for a favourable verdict, as is explicit in the emails. It seems it is a deliberate act on the part of Ms Patkar to defame the UPA Govt. I humbly suggest that Govt should immediately enquire how Medha Patkar managed favourable verdict and take appropriate action against Ms Patkar for bringing disrepute to the Govt, and to the Hon’ble Supreme Court and halting the progress of the nation. I feel this issue is of national importance and deserves your personal attention.’

Nothing ever came out of it. Yet, since then, even more disturbing evidence of NBA’s nefarious collusion with foreign elements has emerged in the form of an exchange of confidential emails between Ms Patkar and Patrick McCully, former director, International Rivers Network, Berkeley, US. Now who is Patrick McCully? He is a man who cavorts with enemies of India, particularly with Angana Chatterjee, on the board of IRN, a known India baiter, who was very close to Ghulab Nabi Fai, who has just been sentenced in the US for being an ISI spy. Chatterjee is married to Richard Shapiro, director and associate professor of the graduate anthropology programme at CIIS. Now both Shapiro and Chatterjee were regulars at ISI-sponsored junkets. Chatterjee was charged with being propped up by the ISI to launch an anti-India campaign. Further, Shapiro was denied entry to India in 2010 for what was reported to be his anti-India propaganda.

Will Medha Patkar answer these accusations and come clean on her real reasons for targeting Lavasa, one of the greenest and most environmental-friendly cities in India?

The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do notnecessarily reflect those of the newspaper



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