Lavasa City – Scam Or Development?

I attended an event titled the “Lavasa Mahaghotala Sabha” or the “Lavasa Scam Meet” on 27 Nov 2010. This event was meant to launch a widespread protest against the Lavasa project. The speakers at the meet were prominent social activists Medha Patkar, Anna Hazare & many others linked to the protest. I have live tweeted at length at http://twitter.com/harshadoak (tweets reproduced at end of article) about who said what at the meet. Thought it would make more sense to go beyond the tweets & blog my take on Lavasa. 

Lavasa

Lavasa has been known to me for past 5 years or so, as a new city / hill station coming up near Pune, a city which would primarily be a luxury tourist & education center.  The video ‘Making Of Lavasa‘ talks of how Lavasa is meant to be an eco friendly city of the future.

The most powerful man in Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar & his family were always said to be the benefactors & promoters of Lavasa. Having said that, the way things are in Pune, for half the new projects, the rumour mill says that the Pawars are the real players behind the project (sharad / ajit) & for the other half it is Kalmadi. So as a Puneite, you pretty much presume this to be true.

So Lavasa was always looked at as Pawar’s child and everyone expected the Pawars to do whatever it takes to make Lavasa a success. One story was about how instead of developing the state highway through Tamhini Ghat, the funds were used to build good approach roads for Lavasa. Again just one of the many unconfirmed Lavasa rumours.

Over the past couple of years, started emerging stories of Lavasa as this great 5star destination that your friend / family had recently visited. The Lavasa hotels were pricey and yet you got a room only if you booked well in advance. This I can confirm, as I had checked. So Lavasa was rolling along well with the rich & upper middle segments of Pune taking ever greater interest & starting to patronize the place. Prominent educational houses from India & abroad were also also set to open grand new institutes / colleges in Lavasa.

Scam

While there were murmurs of Lavasa wrong doings & local opposition for the past year or so,  the project only made prime time news when Narayan Rane, the then state revenue minister opened a can of worms and said that the Maharashtra government was probing irregularities in Lavasa.

Anna Hazare's Lavasa Protest Handout

Since Rane’s announcement, it has been a roller coaster ride for Lavasa. It won a defamation case against London’s The  Times newspaper, it filed for a 2000 crore IPO and got large investment from many Indian banks. However it was also named in the recent bribery scam and got a show cause notice from the environment ministry. Lavasa has been asked to provide reasons why the government should not raze all construction after 2006.

Lavasa has since replied to the notice, saying “It was not necessary for our project to get an EC (Environ Clearance) from the MOEF (Ministry of Environment & Forests). Complaints made by the NGOs are baseless.”

So what is the Lavasa issue? From what I heard on Saturday (tweets below) & understand from the news & reports, the accusations against Lavasa are  –

  • Land being acquired by hook or crook.
  • Inadequate compensation.
  • State machinery used to coerce farmers
  • No proper plans to rehabilitate the farmers affected
  • Land being acquired at government rates when market rates are much higher
  • Most construction without necessary central govt. environment sanctions
  • State environment sanctions rigged / bought.
  • Fundamental issue of whether the state should have in the first place given out prime & fertile agricultural land to a private corporation
  • Lavasa allowed to build bunds in the Varasgaon backwaters, jeopardizing Pune’s water supply
  • Land leased includes land under water. The fact that the water is priceless & critical for the Pune area seems to have been ignored.
  • Lavasa to pull 3 TMC water from Pune. Pune already struggling with water supply
  • Water resources in the area are inadequate to sustain Pune’s growth as well as Lavasa.
  • Protesters say that Lavasa is being projected as a city for all, when in reality it’s only a luxury destination for the ultra rich.
  • Lavasa has been granted permissions in quick time by bending / breaking the law.
  • Land leased for 30 yrs by govt. which in fact will never be returned and is as good as sold
  • Land leased at throw away prices
  • Mega corruption for Lavasa approvals & sanctions
  • All new cities developed in the past were developed by the government, Lavasa is a private enterprise. Many find this improper.
  • Lavasa is essentially a city for the rich. The other segments of society will exist in Lavasa only to serve the rich
  • Shortsighted. With dam capacities dropping rapidly due to silting, the water storage will keep dropping while Lavasa consumption will keep rising
  • Lavasa constructions along the backwaters are bad for environment & will also stop actions like raising the dam height in the future

From the site & other sources, the things that seem to work in favour of Lavasa are:

  • There is a plan for development
  • Pune like most Indian cities is being overwhelmed by migrations from other parts of India. Lavasa could take some of the load.
  • Lavasa could bring in tourists from across the globe, would help the economy of the area
  • Lavasa claims that some 97000 jobs will be generated and that for most jobs, locals would be employed.
  • Lavasa provides an alternative for people to stop crowding a few pockets of Pune city & instead move to a new city
  • Lavasa is expected to attract world class education institutions & technology companies to the area
  • Lavasa has the luxury of a fresh start & can fix the things that have gone wrong in most Indian cities
  • Most of rural India struggles to makes ends meet. It is likely that the local people whose lands were bought by Lavasa & who are employed at Lavasa would be financially better off than earlier.

Action

Medha Patkar & her team led by Ms. Suniti have been opposing Lavasa since 2008. However only in the last couple of months has the protest really picked up steam, with many well known activists like Anna Hazare joining in and the Ministry of

Medha Patkar Speaks To The Gathering

Environment & Forestry taking a tough stand on Lavasa. Anna Hazare has written a letter to the Chief Minister & another letter to the Prime Minister about the Lavasa matter. He also has announced that he would commence a fast unto death starting 1st December 2010. Naturally Lavasa is making prime time news & is the topic for debates on TV & discussions at dinner tables across Maharashtra.

The activists want Lavasa stopped for good. They want the corruption to be investigated and the guilty to be punished severely. They say that what’s built illegally should be pulled down.

Concerns

  • Many of our top banks are heavily invested in Lavasa. So if Lavasa goes down it will take with it a lot of public money via the banks. The mighty politicos might have already got the gains they desired.
  • A section of the protest seems to have no interest in resolving the matter. They just want to finish off Lavasa & proclaim victory. What if each farmer was given twice the current compensation? Is there a way for Lavasa to exist without environmental damage & water woes for Pune?
  • There has always been a criticism of agitations led by Medha Patkar that the focus is on blocking rather than solving.
  • India has a very bad record at bringing the corrupt to book. In all probability the corrupt big fish will again escape. A few small players might get prosecuted.
  • The fact is that most small farmers are barely able to make ends meet and so the status quo is really not that great an option. So like Singur which continues to exist in all it’s poverty after the Tatas left, so would the farmers in the Mose basin. Can Lavasa be their road to prosperity and out of abject poverty?
  • A valid point made by one shahir was that – “Lavasa says they will give us jobs but what they want in reality is for us to be dogs at their door, their watchmen, drivers, sweepers… We are not educated, we wont  get any dignified jobs at Lavasa, we prefer farming.”
  • Most farmers have no money management or other skills & will end up blowing the sum they get after sale and end up doing menial jobs in Lavasa or in Pune city.
  • There’s great anger in the people affected. If this is not channelized through proper democratic systems and if some Sena like entity fuels the fire, there will be violence.
  • I am sure most readers are middle / upper middle segments  in society. Q for you. Imagine you already have bought an apartment in Lavasa. Would you still want Lavasa scrapped? It  sure looks like corruption & politics have played an important part in Lavasa becoming a reality, but I am sure there’s also a lot of work, planning, enterprise & hard earned money that has gone into it. If I had bought a shop or an apartment in Lavasa it would be so very unfair for my money to sink for no fault of mine.
  • Laws & Equity have to apply just the same to all. So while you want justice for the landless labourers & small farmers there also has to be justice for the big players who have invested crores into Lavasa. The argument that they are powerful and can take care of themselves is not acceptable in our democracy. The corrupt must absolutely be punished but those who have invested crores in good faith also need to be looked as a affected party.
  • Although there is no reason to question Medha Patkar’s integrity, her agitations are so far on the extreme left that there’s just no scope for a global perspective or private enterprise. I personally think that they blame private enterprise & foreign investment instead of the real problem of corruption. IMHO in a honest system, private enterprise will benefit the poor & the masses. However if the system is corrupt and businesses have to bribe & pay their way through, then they try to survive by all means possible and ignore public good.

Solution?

We are nowhere near any solution. The first step has to be to investigate the corruption that seems to be a part & parcel of Lavasa. If the corruption is  exposed, finding the irregularities should be easy. Lavasa per se doesn’t look like a bad idea. If the land was procured by proper means, the compensation & rehabilitation was just, the location & usage was eco-friendly & if the corruption was cleansed, I think most would we be ok with Lavasa? But that’s just too many Ifs… so unfortunately Lavasa looks headed the same way as many previous large projects. So we are likely to see a lot of politics around Lavasa but no action or solution, at least in the near future.

[HO: Pls ignore typos etc. Will fix article over weekend. Thought better to publish while relevant]

Lavasa Tweets @HarshadOak

Read from the bottom up. First tweet is the last one I wrote.

  • [LAST TWEET] Bhai vaidya – The builder lobby in india today thnks “If it’s open land, it is ours”
  • Anna Hazare- all need to do their little bit for society. U need to let d govt know that u protest
  • Anna Hazare- i have bn working in d field of water & land for 30 yrs. I am very worried for Pune
  • Anna Hazare- due to silt, capacity of all dams drops drastically. Jayakwadi is at 1/2 capacity in just 50yrs
  • Anna Hazare- our leaders vision extends to max 5 yrs while they r in power. The ppl need to have d vision for 100 yrs
  • Offtopic.. Anna Hazare now has quite a paunch. Hopefully will help him in his fast unto death
  • Anna Hazare- I appeal to Pune to rise. Think of your future generations. Lavasa is a grave threat 2 d city
  • Anna Hazare- ppl need to think of society as their family. Bigger d family greater d joy
  • Anna Hazare- why fear gng to jail… Esp. d seniors in society. u get bfast and 2 meals in jail.
  • Anna Hazare- we have to fight this second independence struggle.
  • Anna Hazare- we along with other activists r creating a draft bill for an independent CBI.CBI today is of little use
  • Anna Hazare- CBI today only acts against small fish, never against ministers IAS.. CBI needs to b an independent entity
  • Anna Hazare- only bcos of RTI these corruption scams r bng exposed. But why is no one going 2 jail.. ?
  • Anna Hazare- Lavasa has bn permitted to bld 10 bunds in d varasgaon water. Pune will suffer. Govt. is drunk on money & power
  • Anna Hazare- primary Q – what was d need divert govt. & tribal lands for lavasa
  • Patkar says this is a fight for equity, justice & rule of law. If nothing else, send a postcard email…to the president saying u protest
  • Patkar says – its time d new CM prithviraj speaks on lavasa. Says he needs to even ignore d deputy cm ajit pawar in this matter
  • Patkar says -Krishna valley leased land for 30 yrs to lavasa.Which is ridiculous.. Will they destroy bldngs & 5 stars after 30 yrs?
  • Patkar says all owners in river basins, valleys r bng hounded by land agents who r middlemen for corps.
  • Tired tweeting. Will tweet if special. Patkar in action http://twitpic.com/3ap9un
  • Patkar says – Lavasa is not a one off. Hiranandani got land at 40ps to build for poor. He built a ultra luxury complex
  • Patkar says false documents, rigged approvals & lies r what lavasa like projects r based on
  • Patkar says – earlier villages used to b gradually gobbled up by cities. But one look from Sharad Pawar and d Mose basin was gobbled up
  • Medha Patkar says ‘Development has become an inhumane conspiracy in India!
  • Ambedkar says – D new middle class in India call us anti development but is this development for the masses of d country?
  • Ambedkar says once Lavasa loses d power to buy at govt. rate, its growth will stop, as they wont b able to buy at mrkt rate
  • If lavasa is irrelevant 2 u, apologies for bombarding your timeline with Lavasa meet tweets
  • Ambedkar – Social welfare seems 2 have bn forgotten. Profit is now d only concern..says will lead 2 corruption
  • Ambedkar -Lavasa is an example of a nation within a nation.They will run their own thing with all kinds of city corporation like powers
  • Ambedkar – lavasa has power to get land by agreement / acquisition. Acq right shld b immediately withdrawn.
  • Ambedkar says Lavasa allowed to make land non agri & sell was a serious SEZ like exemption given by govt.
  • Prakash Ambedkar says -the lavasa ads in papers say lavasa pop will b 60 lakhs 1 day.Looks like lavasa will b established while Pune ruined
  • Kamble says that even bihar has voted for good governance but maharshtra continues 2 vote for money barons
  • Kamble says earlier after drinking water 2nd priority was 4 farming. Govt changed this to industry. Farming dropped 2 third place
  • Kamble says that Lavasa corp says they dont steal water from pune. Says that’s a lie
  • Kamble says d notice by jairam ramesh is a gr8 victory for d lavasa protest.politicians who now deny it, were big stk holders until 2 yrs bk
  • Says – per person lavasa will get 4 times as much water as a person in pune. Some 800 odd liters per person
  • Says d maharahtra pollution control board is hand in glove with lavasa corp. Says lavasa is lifting 3tmc water from pune
  • Says lavasa was falsely presented by state govt 2 centre as a project under 1000 mtrs and so not requiring central approval
  • #lavasa d person who presented d eco angle 2 jairam ramesh spks – lavasa is a humongous threat to d environment
  • #lavasa leelabai we r d land owners they need 2 come to our door. U cant coerce us out of d land
  • #lavasa leelabai says we bot this land ages ago who r they to take it away. We will not let lavasa vehicles thru
  • Leelabai says that they now refuse to go to lavasa office for talks & ask lavasa ppl to come to their home, which is their office
  • leelabai a lavasa affected says that while she was away 4a protest, a tar road was paved thru her land overnight, destroying farm & trees
  • #lavasa spkr says that when fights brk out betwn #pune & lavasa in some yrs over water, its no use remembering this protest then
  • Bhapkar says protests like #Lavasa have d moral high ground.
  • #lavasa maruti bhapkar says – krishna corp & govt. bent & broke all kinds of laws to make lavasa possible
  • #lavasa Cant thnk of parallel english word 4 ‘ladhvaiye’. Fighter maybe …
  • #lavasa most r bng referred 2 as ‘ladhvaiye’ . Lavasa fight has bn gng for over 3 yrs says spkr
  • #lavasa Anna Hazare 2 start a fast unto death for d cause on 1st Dec. Not clr yet on what all r d fast issues
  • #lavasa mahaghotala sabha starts with a song by Sane Guruji ‘ata uthavu sarey raan’ http://twitpic.com/3ao8la
  • Next song (powada) says.. Look d Americans r here with bombs & weapons to sell and our leaders r wagging their tails..
  • #Lavasa Povadaas firing up things.. Rise in revolt.Finish off ur enemy.say d song.
  • #lavasa | song says your SEZ wants 2 make us dogs at your door. Jobs that might b created have no dignity for tribals. Anger++
  • #lavasa D fire & anger in all songs is impressive as an art but also scary at the same time
  • #lavasa ‘shahir’ performing. Incidentally d most wellknown shahir ‘Umap’ died yday
  • #lavasa Fiery folk artists performing. Song asks ‘where is our share of d nation’s wealth’?
  • #lavasa Now cries of ‘inquilab zindabad’… This is no ordinary meet. | Got another handout abt tolls http://twitpic.com/3anyzc
  • At Lavasa mahaghotala sabha. Handout http://twitpic.com/3ansbd. On d lawn ‘bharatiya baithak’ with varkaris all arnd,wtng 4 spkrs
  • [FIRST  TWEET] 5.30 today. Hazare, Patkar, Lavasa. Should be interesting. Hope to make it. http://twitpic.com/3an7ge

Related

  • Guest

    do u get paid to write or is it you just do it out of choice?

  • Mandkul

    Completely disagree with your counter views. So what if Indian banks have given money to Lavasa? Let it fail. At will at least be a deterrent to Politicians and Builders for many such projects they are planning all over India. Also when Hijawade IT park came up, how many of those farmers got what jobs in IT indistry? For that matter how many Maharashtrians got jobs there? It will be much better if set up such projects in states from where the migration is taking place to cities in developed states. Have you heard of an IT park in Jharlhand, Uttarakhand, Bihar etc? Is any SEZ coming up there? Let Lavasa farmers continue to farm we have food scarcity. There is no need to provide fancy cities for American returned Desis to live at the cost of locals

    • Thanks for the comment. 1) If the banks had invested after due deligence & in good faith, how can we in a just democracy just let them lose money because the govt. machinery was corrupt and had rigged the documents? 2) If the farmers were rolling in produce & wealth, “let them farm” might work. But the fact is that they barely make ends meet. If compensation & rehabilitation was proper, I think most farmers would be happy to shift.

    • Sammy

      Harshad, thanks for trying to balance both sides out.

      Mandkul, while I appreciate the general frustration against corruption and the builder-politician lobby, where do you propose that our growing population live? Let’s get real – we either start dramatic population control, or figure out how to provide reasonable living standards for citizens. Otherwise people keep adding to the sprawls and outreaches of Mumbai and Pune and we keep destroying the environment in the suburban areas without adding anything in terms of infrastructure or planning.

      At the least Lavasa is trying to be ambitious and is aiming to create a non-polluting, well-planned city. Give people credit for meaning well, instead of constantly throwing road-blocks in their path.

      • Mayurbhave

        Who is buying houses in Lavasa? It is not the homeless people or there is not a population issue. Greedy, Rich people are buying their second or third homes. So, why should we care for them loosing their investment. The biggest impact is on the ecology, environment. 5-star hotels generate maximum waste per person. They consume maximum resources per person. मानवाचा विकास म्हणजे सृष्टीचा नाश.

        • Hi Mayur, Thanks for your comment. IMHO it’s unfair to tag people as bad or greedy only because they buy a flat at a hill station. Given a choice most humans would like to have a large plush place overlooking a river.

    • Sensibility

      Every big construction is a corrupt undertaking and there is bribery and black money involved. Should that all be stopped or razed to the ground? I think a majority of Indians will be homeless then. what about those who had no clue about all of this and put money down for lavasa? Should they spend the rest of their lives running in courts?

      When you write something, put some thought in it, and don’t just pen anything just because it does not affect you directly or lose you anything.

      • Sensibility

        BTW reference to American returned desis is prejudice and racism. How many time desis shout racism and then blatently indulge in it themelves! Clearly this is a jelousy thing lol