Hills in and around Pune are a matter of pride and love for Punekars. These hills, covered in greenery and rich in biodiversity, serve as the lungs for the city.
They absorb the pollution and help make the city a pleasant place to live. Over the years we’ve seen the hills being targeted as part of “development plans”. Taljai Hill is no exception. The recent proposal to “develop” over a hundred acres of Taljai Hill has met with fierce opposition from locals in the Sahakarnagar-Taljai region and environmentally conscious citizens across the city.
Firm from the start I want to emphasize that we are NOT against development. But we are questioning the intentions of the government and policy makers. I grew up in Sahakarnagar and have seen Taljai hill dismantle over the years. Wide concrete streets were built, food stalls set up, buildings erected. Unfortunately, despite local opposition at the time and the concerns of environmentalists, these projects were pushed through by decision-makers without broader public consultation and participation.
The latest proposal is outrageous for many reasons. The first and most important concern is that the detailed project report (DPR) of this proposal has NOT yet been published. The proposal is already on the agenda of the Standing Committee, and yet the public is kept in the dark about the plan. That looks extremely suspicious. So it’s not just about the environment, it’s also about governance, lack of transparency and lack of public participation.
Now let’s see what exactly is proposed for Talyai in this new plan. The construction of a food plaza, parking lots, a sports facility, another sports facility for women, schools and an adventure park are the projects that lead directly to the concretization of a large area. Different types of gardens are also part of this proposal. The whole project will first destroy the existing natural ecology and biodiversity on the hills and then the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) will spend a lot of money on tree plantations, landscaping and maintenance of the gardens.
It’s just like cutting down trees and then installing artificial wooden nests for birds!
Let us now come to the question of “development”. At this point I would like to repeat that the citizens are NOT against sports facilities and schools, but against these projects on Taljai Hill. The location is the problem, not the planned infrastructure.
The urban development plan has reserved land for public facilities such as schools, gardens and land, which is known as recreational space. There are around 270 spaces in the city that are still unused. The total area of these unused areas is around 123 hectares.
Imagine converting even 2/3 of this area into urban forests and gardens. The city receives an additional green area without affecting the already existing ecology and biodiversity. Instead of spending 120 billion rupees on the proposed Taljai project, the PMC must focus on using that money to develop these recreational spaces for schools, gardens, playgrounds and urban forests. Most of the recreational spaces are not as biodiverse as those on Taljai. Converting these into urban forests is a far better idea than destroying an already existing ecology.
In summary, we call for transparency in the processes of such projects, wider public consultations and participation, a deeper analysis of the environmental impacts and alternatives and the publication of these results.
The real struggle is not between environment and development; but it lies between transparent, inclusive governance and sustainable development on the one hand and arbitrary notions of governance on the other.
We must save Pune’s hill to save Pune. This is a long and complex struggle and I am sure that the citizens will endure it.
The author is a resident of Sahakarnagar.
– Like Prachi Bari. told