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Panchgaon Parvati Hill Complex or Taljai Hills may be one of largest areas in the city under the Pune Forest Division, but it is also one of the most neglected. Since two years, Taljai Hills does not have any security guards. The compound wall has been lying half-constructed since one year, resulting in heavy encroachment, leading to tree felling, stealing of sandalwood and people indulging in drinking and gambling.
Panchgaon Parvati Hill Complex includes Parvati, Hanuman tekdi (hill), Waghjai, Dhankawade Pathar and Taljai Hills.
Two years ago, there were six security guards working for the hills. “The funds for the salaries of the security guards used to be issued by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). It was discontinued two years ago, and we couldn’t keep security guards thereafter,” said Ruplaug Punde, the Range Forest Officer (RFO).
She added that last year, the Forest Division had launched an initiative wherein Rs 2 was collected as an entry fee by the visitors. The amount was supposed to be utilised to hire security guards and pay them. “However, on the very first day, there were huge protests by the public and we had to discontinue it,” said Punde.
Lokesh Bapat, an environmentalist and secretary of the NGO Tellus— which has been working for a no-plastic drive in the city and for various green issues pertaining to Taljai Hills— said such a large area needs at least 10 security guards who should be equipped with good equipment.
“A few years ago, I witnessed a few people felling a tree and when the security guard tried to catch them, he was badly beaten up. The guards should be given motorbikes so that it is easier for them to catch thieves. Besides, the compound wall work should be completed soon; half of the area is left open and makes the hills vulnerable. One can find large number of liquor bottles in the area,” said Bapat, who conducts the cleanliness drive on Taljai, in addition to building waterholes and planting trees in the area.
On the construction of the compound wall, Punde said, the work will resume once the departmental funds get approved. “We have sent the proposal and are waiting for funds. Once we get the funds, it will take two years for us to build the wall,” she said.
In addition to various native and exotic trees, the Taljai Hills also has several sandalwood trees. Absence of compound wall and security guards make sandalwood theft easier, said researcher and plant taxonomist Sachin Punekar.
“Besides, a large number of pigs and dogs can be found on the hills. While there have been instances when dogs have injured or killed peacocks and hare found in Taljai, the pigs increase the possibility of transmission of bacterial and viral diseases to existing wildlife of Taljai, said Punekar.
Other than these visible challenges, the hills’ biodiversity is also under threat. Punekar says that owing to tremendous amount of exotic plantations, the native flora and fauna have come under threat. Some of the exotic trees on Taljai Hills are Giripushpa (Gliricidia sepium), Subabhul or Kababhul (Leucaena leucocephala), Australian Babhul (Acacia auriculiformis), Patangi (Dalbergia melanoxylon), Gulmohar (Delonix regia), and so on, other than many exotic weeds. “These exotic species don’t just harm the native flora, but the native fauna too seems to be dying,” he added.
Punekar also points out that urbanisation around Taljai has stopped two-way migration of wildlife. “Earlier, when the area around the hills wasn’t developed, the wildlife from Taljai would migrate to Ambegaon-Narhe area and vice-versa. Now, this possibility is completely ruled out,” he said.