PUNE: Just weeks ago, Mirror had reported on the unsettling development of unknown landowners and agents taking advantage of the months-long COVID-19 lockdown, quietly excavating and levelling huge portions of the Sutardara hillock near Kothrud.
Shockingly, this tranche of the eco-sensitive Sahyadri ranges had seen the sudden appearance of pucca houses being constructed on pieces of land, with even approach roads and power supply snaking their way to the top, signalling the tacit aid of people in power.
But finally now, the development and construction department of Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) seems to have swooped down to take action here, with a team of junior and deputy engineers surveying the hill and finding over 150 illegal constructions erected without a nod from the civic body.
Since Wednesday, the authority has started slapping demolition notices on buyers of these properties under sections 52 and 53 of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning (MRTP) Act of 1966.
Through the notices, plot buyers have been instructed to remove any construction themselves, or face prosecution along with the demolition of their reinforced cement concrete (RCC) structures. Further, any expenses towards demolitions are to be recovered from the offenders.
Officers checking the spot also noticed that buyers seem to have been compelled to make the purchase given that all civic amenities were provided to them by local influential people, including approach roads, water supply, electricity connections and drainage lines.
Now, the officials have approached revenue authorities to know the names of the original property owners and suspected property agents involved in changing the ownership and topography of the hill.
Most of the construction has been observed on survey number 112 of Kothrud between Rambaug Colony and Shivteerth Nagar, in ward number 11of PMC.
The huge violation came to light after former deputy mayor Deepak Mankar approached municipal commissioner Vikram Kumar, demanding action against the illegal constructions on this no-development zone area, where any construction activity is prohibited. Part of the hill also falls under the biodiversity-park (BDP) zone.
Rajendra Raut, superintendent engineer attached with the PMC development and construction department, said, “Since most of our engineers are busy on COVID-19 duty, we could not complete the entire survey of the area. But so far, we have detected around 150 plots sold, where multistoreyed constructions have come up in a very short period of time. The area of each plot ranges from 100 square feet to 2,000 square feet. All constructions are of the pucca RCC variety.”
He added, “We have slapped notices on them. When manpower becomes available, we will track down all offenders and ensure that illegal encroachments are removed.”
Mankar’s complaint in this matter states that since April this year, unidentified landowners started leveling land on the hillock by cutting rock. Over 100 plots were created, barricaded and sold as smaller pieces. Many residents, under the impression that they are legal, purchased the plots and erected multi-storeyed houses.
Elaborating on the same, Mankar shared, “The shocking thing is that none of the authorities noticed this huge excavation held throughout the lockdown. This cannot happen without the blessing of the local municipal authority and a few political bigwigs. An in-depth investigation will certainly reveal names of influential political leaders and some land mafia involved in this scam — and it is going to emerge as a big one. Unfortunately, the buyers here are migrant workers, domestic workers, small traders, self-employed persons, etc. They may lose their life earnings to this fraud.”
Shyamal Desai, a civic activist and part of the Save The Hills movement in the city, rued the development, urging authorities to take stringent action. He said, “We have already lost hills at Parvati, Taljai, Warje and Katraj in the name of official excuses. Sutardara was the last hill giving a different identity to the city and the Kothrud area. PMC must act against such violations to safeguard these hills for the next generation at least.”