While handing over 55.74 hectares of land to the Au tomotive Research Asso ciation of India (ARAI) in 2008, the forest department had said that the land cannot house labourers working for the ARAI.Eight years since, the pristine hills of Vetal Tekdi are sporting several labour camps. The only problem is that it’s not the ARAI labourers who’re living here, but those from the forest department itself.
“About two-three huts have been atop the hill since the last one year.However, their numbers have increased significantly now. This is not only causing ecological problems, but there is also a fear that full-fledged slums will sprout up here,“ said environmental activist Ameya Jagtap, who complained to the forest department.
However, it appears that the labourers aren’t affiliated to the ARAI at all. “We are aware of labour camps which have come up on land allotted to ARAI. But they belong to the forest department, which will also conduct afforestation activity. The ARAI has no role to play in either. We have brought this to the forest department’s notice.To take action against the squatters is now their responsibility,“ said Rashmi Urdhwareshe, director of ARAI.
The Vetal hill, which is among the last remaining green spots in the city, sits right in the middle of Pune’s urban sprawl. Several other hills in Pune, like the one at Warje, are already in danger of being consumed by human settlements. Ecologists now fear that Vetal hill may also meet with the same fate.
“These hills are the lungs of the city. It’s only at places like these that the natural habitat can be preserved. If human settlements come up here, it’s a problem for the animals and birds.There are many species of deer and birds that are present here. If they sense disturbance, they’d abandon the hill and move away. Moreover, there is also the fear that they would worsen and develop into permanent slums if action isn’t taken on time,“ said Rajiv Pandit, founder of Jividha, an organisation working for environ mental awareness and education.
The forest department has acknowledged the issue and has promised action. “It’s difficult for our labourers to come and go all the time.The timings of water tankers too aren’t fixed, so the labourers prefer to stay here. They are working on building a retaining wall. The work will finish by March-end and we need the labourers to stay there until then. Once it’s over, the camps would automatically clear out,“ said Vijay Mane, assistant conservator of forests. However, Satyajeet Gujar, deputy conservator of forests, had a different take altogether. “These people have encroached upon forest land. We are planning action against them and are already in talks with the police regarding this,“ he said.
When asked, AK Nigam, principal chief conservator of forests, said, “I will enquire with the concerned officers as they might know more.“
Source : Pune Mirror