The debates and altercations all started when the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) came up with the plan of implementing a Bio-Diversity Park (BDP) in the Wadgaon Budruk area of Pune. The Developmental Plan (DP) drawn up for such purposes necessitates acquiring of 1,600 hectares of land in some 23 villages. These villages, located on the brim of the proposed BDP site, have some 10,000 families. Of the required 1,600 hectares for the proposed BDP, 978 hectares come under the said village area and is private property. The rest of the land is government-owned. If the provisions for the said BDP need to be implemented, then these fringe villages will have to make way for the proposed project. Now, the villagers can only be agreed to part with their lands for the proposed BDP in exchange of hefty compensation.

Illegal quarrying activities carried out by the NCP member Vikas Dangat in the area reserved for the BDP

In the midst of all this, the National Congress Party (NCP) member Vikas Dangat had been busy carrying out extensive illegal quarrying activities in the hills, on a piece of land owned by him, which incidentally also comes under the said BDP project. A local resident, requesting anonymity, pointed out the said area to the media. The quarrying activities were being carried out by using heavy construction equipment like Earth Movers. Given the fact that the said hills come under the proposed BDP project, no substantial legal action has been taken against Dangat yet, save for some perfunctory inquiries made by the Revenue Department and a legal notice issued by the local Tehsildar. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) too has been silent on this issue.

As per the statement of Sandesh Shirke, the local Tehsildar, “Dangat has a plot next to the government-owned land. The excavation work is apparently for constructing a link road to reach his place, where a quarry is also located. We had issued a legal notice under section 48(7) of Land Revenue Code, 1966 on Tuesday and a legal hearing will be done on Friday. We can penalize him if he is found guilty”. Vikas Dangat admitted his excavation activities in the said hills and pointed out that the said activities were pertaining to the construction of a school playground in the area. He further affirmed that he had the knowledge that his 20 acres of land is a part of the land reserved for the proposed BDP, and that he was not building a road or carrying out any quarrying activities in the said area. While the Revenue Department has banned all construction activities in the said hills, Circle Officer S. D. Kendrekar confirmed that an investigation is ongoing to figure out the perpetrators, which is conducive to the statement given by the PMC City Engineer Prashant Waghmare on this issue.

The continuing debate over the proposed BDP

Following the debate over the proposed BDP, a meeting was held on April 30, 2013 in the Mayor’s Ghole Road residence to resolve the issues surrounding the disputed BDP. The meeting was chaired by the Guardian Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, and attended by several NCP members and the City Unit President Vandana Chavan. In an attempt to uphold the cause of the BDP, a deputation of the Pune Bachav Samiti, spearheaded by Chavan, challenged the ‘de-reservation’ of plots in the DP. Vandana Chavan, Congress MLC Mohan Joshi, and Pune Bachav Samity leaders paid a visit to the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to discuss the ‘de-reservation’ issues of the BDP.

Reactions of the conflicting factions of the National Congress Party (NCP)

Both the City NCP Chief and the Rajya Sabha MP Vandana Chavan, and Congress MLC Mohan Joshi are propagators of the BDP project. The Congress party ‘corporators’ took a swing at the senior leaders of the party, as evident from their statement, “Corporators are vested with the power to prepare the DP. There is no need for party legislators to interfere in it. They should focus on the state issues and leave the local issues to the corporators”. The NCP leader Subhash Jagtap pointed out that the ruling power has already advocated the DP and consequently, further debate upon the DP issue is pointless. He further added that, “The delay in approval of DP for 23 merged villages was due to the issue of the BDP. Raising the issue again will only delay the finalization of the DP”. Meanwhile, Deepak Bodke and Sachin Dodke (NCP ‘corporators’), confronted Vandana Chavan’s pro-BDP attitude and emphatically restated the 10% construction limit in the concerned area, as evident from Dodke’s statement, “The stand taken by Chavan is baseless. She is misguiding the citizens about the BDP. We have proposed that while allowing 10% construction in these areas, the PMC should make it mandatory to plant 400 trees per hectare. This will not only enhance the existing green cover but also benefit the landowners”.

The final summation of the current situation

As of October 25, 2013, the DP of the fringe villages is still awaiting the ratification of the government as a direct consequence of the severe aberration in the attitudes of the different factions of the National Congress Party (NCP). The NCP ‘corporators’ demanded a 10% construction limit in the area reserved for the BDP, but the BJP advocated a figure of 4%. As for the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the Congress and the Shivsena, all of them are strongly opposed to any constructional activities around the hills. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had appointed a six-member team led by K. B. Jain, Dean, Faculty of Doctoral Studies, Center for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad, to resolve the BDP issue. The said committee emphatically commended inclusion of the hills, forests, and other green areas in the 23 fringe villages, and had suggested that no permission of any kind of constructional activity be granted in the said areas.

But contradicting the opinions of the committee, the State Government had ratified an 8% construction limit and had invited opinions and declinations of the concerned citizens regarding the issuance of the notice for 8% construction. Almost 90,000 citizens responded by filing their opinions and objections to the Regional Town Planning Department, which was submitted to the State Government. Vandana Chavan refused to budge from her stand for the BDP, as evident from her statement, “There are some leaders in the party who are deliberately creating a controversy. The NCP’s stand on the BDP was decided by the party leadership. The NCP president Sharad Pawar and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar have already made this stand clear. However, leaders with vested interest are putting pressure on the corporators to support the anti–BDP stand”. She further announced that the BDP has the support of the citizens and it tops the priority list of the said citizens. The anti–Chavan lobby of the party wants to relieve her of the responsibilities as the City Unit Chief. While some anti–Chavan NCP ‘corporators’ were chasing the issue of her resignation, such demands were immediately brushed off by the Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar.

Conclusion

The entire series of incidents brings to light the rift between the various factions of the NCP. As the different factions of the NCP continue to oppose each other, both the issue of the BDP and DP remain suspended for an indefinite period. Amidst all this confusion, people like Vikas Dangat are trying to reap some personal benefits, however illegal those may be. As correctly pointed out by the NCP ‘corporators’ and Supriya Sule, NCP leader and the Baramati Loksabha MP, the hills are home to 1.5 lakh bona fide citizens of Pune. So whatever the final decision is, it should also safeguard the interests of these 1.5 lakh citizens. Already pressurized by the administration, the internal conflicts of the NCP are merely adding on to the agonies of the residents in the Wadgaon Budruk area.