One of the biggest green spaces in the heart of the city — the College of Agriculture campus — has shrunk by 119.72 acres in the last three and half decades, according to data obtained by The Indian Express under the Right To Information (RTI) Act. (One acre equals 43,560 sqft). The lost green space has been used variously for widening roads, building subways and offices, agriculture-related schemes and, most recently, for building a maintenance depot for the Pune Metro.
The College of Agriculture was set up in 1879 as a department linked to the College of Science (now the College of Engineering, Pune) and, later in 1907, became a separate institute. Back then, the campus sprawled over 150 acres.
In later years, as activities expanded, the campus grew to 569.91 acres — this included land at the college’s Shivajinagar campus, farms in the Ganeshkhind area, the dairy department in Khadki and research plots in Manjari on Solapur Road. Data shows since the eighties, the college has relinquished land for various projects of the state government, the Centre and the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) but was rarely given land in compensation by government agencies.
The lush green college campus is not only popular with students who come here to study but is also a popular destination for nature lovers. The old stone college building is one of the most beautiful edifices in the city and the location for many a film shoots.
Documents show the college received no land in return for a 35,000-sqft land it gave for construction of a subway on the Pune-Mumbai Highway, a 12,670-sqft land for the widening of Mula Road, a 1,23,202-sqft land for further expansion of the road, a 52,267-sqft land for widening of the Pune-Mumbai Highway, a 25,220-sqft land for the widening of University Road, a 1,549-sqft land for shifting the Mhasoba Mandir following the construction of a flyover on University Road and a 26,900-sqft land for a pumping station.
In December 2000, the college gave 8.46 acres to Sakhar Sankul, the office of the sugar commissioner, but received no land in compensation. Besides, the college gave 30.66 hectares for setting up the Directorate of Floriculture, which comes under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). In the most recent instance, the college provided land for a maintenance depot of the Pune Metro, work on which started last year. The state government handed over 28.44 acres from the main campus of the college to the Maha Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) although the move was opposed by the college authorities.
Communications sent by the college authorities to the Maha Metro as well as the state government, obtained under the RTI Act, show that the college argued if the land was handed over to the Maha Metro, it would hamper expansion plans of the college as well as affect its current academic and research activities.
“Agricultural education involves experimental learning modules, which require practicals on the fields. Also, availability of land is one of the criteria for grant of funds by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. 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,” states another communication sent to the principal secretary (agriculture) on March 24 last year.
The institute’s administration had also pointed out that a whopping 6,133 trees, part of the genetically pure mother plant orchards, would be felled to clear the land for the project. The state government, however, went ahead with the land acquisition, asking the Maha Metro to transplant the orchards elsewhere on the campus.