Lavasa is not an ideal city, as Madhu. Kishwar has written in her article “An Ideal City on the Hill” . It is a replica of Adarsh Housing Society. A city founded on lies, cheating, deceit, gross corruption and violation of laws is the best example of crony capitalism in this era of unholy alliance between corporations, politicians and bureaucrats. Lavasa has been propagating its “benefits” and ‘achievements” with claims that the locals are the “beneficiaries”. The truth is that they are only the corporation’s labourers, almost all contract labourers. Its propaganda machinery has been at work, and it is not a surprise that “feminist” friends have virtually come out of the blue to the promoter’s rescue.
The author has certainly heard Lavasa’s well public is ed allegations against the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and the Union environment ministry. Why did she not speak to any of the NAPM members? She has certainly not inspected the documents that have built up the case against the corporation. The story of Lavasa is of shocking illegalities and irregularities pushed by highly-placed politicians, their kith and kin, friends and investors. Land once allotted to the landless was purchased by agents and NRIs, while Lavasa was shown as the fifth or seventh purchaser These irregularities have been unearthed by the revenue administration itself and all these violations are now being scrutinised.
The author has ignored the fact that the project on 25,000 acres of land was not fully planned or approved. Nor has the constructed area of over 5,000 acres been approved even by the state agency It also lacks a comprehensive enviromnent impact assessment and social impact assessment plan. Cutting of hills and felling of trees, construction on 20,000 sq metres and above, and investment of about ifs 50 crore cannot and should not go without the requisite statutory permissions and public hearings.
The environment ministry has not acted merely on the basis of complaint by the NAPM. After a thorough investigation by Maharashtra’s Department of Environment, it gave all chances to Lavasa Corporation. The corporation’s l,000-page long reply confirmed the issues raised by the NAPM, The Hill Station Development Policy 1996, of Maharashtra and the Special Planning Authority status issued to Lavasa, the first private developer, are signs of political manoeuvring, proved by the left overs , notings and minutes of high-level meetings as well as the latest investigations leading to the environment ministry’s order asking the state Govermnent to review both. Like Adarsh, all the officers and ministers involved in fraudulent sanctions and clearances need to be considered as offenders of law and brought to book under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
Is the local population receiving the first benefits or just the last crumbs? The only hospital at the township charges a minimum of Its 200 and the only primary school is English medium. Children walk around two kilometres to board a state transport bus to go to the high school and many still go to the primary school run by the Zilla Parishad and approach the primary health centre run by the Government. The services are the same as in other Indian villages.
Employment claims are taller still. Thousands first lost their livelihood. Those who still have land at a higher level on the hills around are being pressured to sell them. Employment is provided only to a few hundred locals and not even 15 of them have permanent and direct employment with Lavasa. In any case, employment guarantee is the state’s responsibility To say that the private, profit-making Hill City Project is investing Rs 3,000 crore through elite institutions and companies, and plans to invest Its 40,000 crore to create employment is a perverted presentation of urban development at the cost of rural development.
An “ideal city on the hill” without a base would not only collapse but bring down the remnants of the legal and just process of development planning in this country.