While work on the first phase of Pune Metro is scheduled to start from next month, the project seems to be facing a few hurdles. The Maha Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL), the company implementing the project, has sought a 28.44 acre plot from the College of Agriculture, Pune (COAP) to construct a maintenance depot for the PCMC-Swargate Corridor.
The reluctant college administration has written to the MMRCL, as well as the state agriculture department, citing the adverse academic and environmental implications the decision is bound to have. MMRCL’s endeavour to acquire the plot is also likely to run into legal hurdles as a whopping 6,133 trees, part of the genetically pure mother plant orchards, will have to be felled to clear the land for the intended project.
Earlier this week, the Bombay High Court had refused to grant permission to cut down 5,000 trees for Phase III of Mumbai Metro, saying “the environment can’t be massacred for development”. While officials at the agriculture college were reluctant to talk to the media, senior officers from MMRCL told Pune Newsline they have received the communication from college authorities. They admitted that the concerns raised were genuine, but at the same time maintained that it was too late to address these concerns and the project would proceed as per the Detailed Project Report (DPR).
In the communication from the administration of Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV) — the college is affiliated to the MPKV — university officials have suggested that instead of acquiring this swathe of land across the fields, cultivated by the college for the last 100 years, the required 30 acres can be carved out from its uncultivated campus in Khadki (Dairy Department), the adjacent Government Dairy Farm and Central Hatcheries, Pune. The college administration has pointed out that the academic activities of COAP, one of the five oldest agricultural institutes in India, would be affected. They have said farming on the rest of the land will also come under a cloud, as two of the three wells on campus, which supply water for irrigation, are located on the land sought by the MMRCL.
They have also pointed out that the horticulture college on campus, set up in 1980, will lose almost all the genetically pure mother-plants, which are used while teaching, as well as for production of seedlings. In fact, it will be left with almost no land to conduct experiments, endangering the very existence of the horticulture college, reads the communication.
Expansion plans of the COAP, which involve setting up a college for undergraduate studies in Agricultural Business Management, among others, will also face hurdles due to lack of space, if the land is handed over for Pune Metro.
“Agricultural education involves experimental learning modules which requires practicals on the fields. Also, availability of land plots is one of the criteria while granting funds for any institute by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, Delhi. If we lose a major chunk of land, then these prospects will take a beating… shrinking of the area will affect the agricultural education model in the entire state,” reads another communication sent to the principal secretary (agriculture) on March 24.
G K Ghorpade, registrar, MPKV Rahuri, refused to comment, saying the concerns had been communicated to the proper authorities. Brijesh Dixit, MD of MMRCL, the implementing agency for Pune Metro project, confirmed that the letters had been received from college authorities, but maintained that there was little scope for any change in the DPR.
“We are aware of the concerns that they have raised and we tried out best to accommodate them, but it’s not possible. Our team of experts considered the suggestion given by them, to shift the Maintenance Depot to the adjacent Dairy Department-Central Hatchery plot across the train track, but it was not found feasible for the purpose. The alignment envisaged in the original DPR would not allow us to shift the location. Maybe, if the concerns had been raised while the DPR was being drafted, it could have helped,” said Dixit, adding that the responsibility of the MMRCL was to implement the given DPR within the deadline.
Though the proposal to obtain land for the Maintenance Depot was made as far back as August 2008, when the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) first submitted the draft DPR for Pune Metro, the Metro authorities sent the first communication to COAP authorities in January 2017, a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the project.