In the past five years, Pune city and surrounding areas have registered as many as 85 cases of hill cutting, of which penalty has been paid only in nine cases while the remaining are either pending in the high court or in local courts. This state of affairs highlights the blatant disregard to environmental concerns for commercial gains that has been the bane of the city and its fast depleting green cover.
From 2011-13, Pune saw around 70 cases of illegal hill cutting and excavation, of which penalty (Rs 14.90 lakh) has been paid only in five cases. While action is yet to be taken in nearly 37 cases, 14 cases are pending in the high court, 4 in the district court, one in a magistrate court and nine before the district administration.
Last year in Haveli taluka, 15 cases of hill cutting were reported, of which penalty up to Rs 60,2747 was paid only in four cases while 11 cases are pending.
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“These cases are pending at various levels. While some cases have reached the final outcome, there are others that are pending owing to appeals in courts. We have initiated action against such cases and have also conducted surveys besides auctioning land as was done in the Shindewadi case. We even conducted hearing for similar cases and even issued strict instructions,’’said D S Kumbhar, Haveli tehsildar.
After two years of the Shindewadi incident, the National Green Tribunal bench in Pune last month had imposed collective penalties amounting to Rs 76.20 lakh on two builders and the National Highway Authority of India for environmental damage. However, the builders appealed against the order denying the compensation to relatives of the victims.
Advocate Asim Sarode, who represented one of the victims in the Shindewadi case, said hill cutting cases are responsible for environmental degradation. He said the NGT has the powers to issue directions in such cases, as was done in the Lonavala case where a builder was fined for hill cutting in the picturesque hill station or in the Shindewadi case where NGT ordered compensation to victims.
“Hill tops and hill slopes are often neglected and the authorities take cognizance only after disaster or human loss takes place, as in the case of Malin,’’ said Sarode.
In the Lonavala-Khandala cases, the NGT bench in Pune had restrained two developers from constructing a resort-cum hotel on a hill top, endangering property of a welfare home for ageing blind adjacent to the construction site. Here too, a compensation was demanded and the party was asked to restore greenery for the damage caused in the area.
T C Benjamin, chairman, State Environment Appraisal Committee (SEAC), said that after the Malin episode, SEAC had submitted a report on hill cutting and quarrying activities that could cause landslides and affect environment.
“We stated that hill cutting affects the stability of the slope, leading to landslides just like in Malin. The adverse impact of hill
cutting and quarrying activities is the same and should be regulated by a proper authority by adhering to norms,’’ he said. He said the panel has also given its recommendations in the report and is awaiting the government approval.
The SEAC have highlighted in its report that quarrying should only be carried out in recharge zones on the hills. The hill slopes have run-off zones and recharge zones or storage zones. The run-off zones should not be touched, said the report. In the state, especially in Pune and Thane districts, hill cutting or quarrying activities are being carried out in the run-off zones. This is dangerous and it can lead to Malin-like tragedies, the report added.
The report also mentions that indiscriminate cutting of hills causes aquifers or water pools in between the basaltic hill structure to become exposed leading to evaporation of water that affect the water levels.