After being on the drawing board for almost two decades, the construction of Bhivpuri-Matheran ropeway is set to begin post-monsoon, after receiving the environment and stage II forest clearance from the Centre. However, Matheran residents are worried about the impact of the project on the eco-sensitive hill station.
“Matheran has laterite soil, which is soft, brittle and porous in nature. It will not be able to withstand the vibrations from drilling. The area is prone to frequent landslides. We have been raising these concerns for many years now. Despite that, if permissions have been given, then everyone will see the consequences,” said Maria Vaz, a hotelier and local resident of Matheran.
Vaz had last year written to different government departments, raising her concerns against the project. “Laterite will not be able withstand the stress of the vibrations from drilling and/or blasting, which will be necessary for laying the foundations of the Matheran ropeway. The vibrations… at the town centre and the vibrations from the constant movement of the cable car operations will cause structural damage to the heritage structures in Matheran, most of which are over 100 years old,” she wrote.
However, Matheran Ropeway Private Limited (MRPL) claimed that the soil testing report — prepared by an expert and authenticated by the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) — had declared it safe to construct a ropeway. “The residents can be rest assured that we are using the best technology here,” said an MRPL source.
Meanwhile, an activist on condition of anonymity said, “Most of the people visiting Matheran are middle-class families and will not be able to afford a ropeway journey. Then why build a project of which 94 per cent is on forest land.”
Hema Ramani, project manager of Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG), said: “Lords Garden, the point at which the ropeway ends in Matheran, is a small area and will see an influx of machinery when they construct there. It will also be encroaching on an open area. Matheran is barely 7.25 sq km area and there is so much pressure on it.”
However, some environmental experts also believe that a ropeway is the safest project for the area. “It is better than having motor vehicles travelling on the hill. It is the least damaging project as the tourists do not interact with the flora and fauna and in the night it will not be operational allowing free movement of the animals at night,” said Stalin Dayanand, Director, NGO Vanashakti.
While the project was first proposed in 2001 by Vinaychand Kothari, a hotelier from Matheran, it has been delayed over the years. Though all the permissions were obtained by 2002, they had been withdrawn after the Supreme Court ruling declared the scenic hill station as an eco-sensitive zone in 2003. The MRPL received both the clearances from the Centre this year after re-applying in 2008. However, the processes have further been delayed by at least two months with an error in the forest diversion clearance. While the forest department has categorised the land as reserved forest, the revenue department has termed it as protected. “We propose to meet the chief minister to clear the issue,” said the source.
To be constructed around two kilometres from the Bhivpuri Road railway station in Bhutavalli village, the MRPL has also asked the government to construct the access road to it. “Proper access to the project site is critical and the company may have to reconsider its decision to construct the ropeway if the approach road issue is not resolved soon,” said sources within the TATA Realty and Infrastructure Limited.
The 4.6 km-ropeway will consist of three stations with a transit at Garbett point.