Hill Tops & Hill Slopes in Pune - The Controversy over BDP raises its head again!

The most damage happening to Pune's Hill Tops and Hill Slopes is due to the BDP Reservation that came into being as a brainchild of some activists posing as Urban Planners. The 4% development rule in the core city of Pune has also ensured that Hill Tops and Hill slopes have been retained, but the requirement of land acquisition forced by the BDP Reservation actually caused maximum damage to the city's hills on its fringe.

Have you seen citizens get divided over an issue of a hilltop or a hill slope in the core city of Pune? No. The reason why citizens and political parties are so divided over the issue is because the BDP reservation has made them unnecessarily take two extreme positions when it comes to hills in Pune. These both warring sides have forgotten that Urban Planning is often about compromised allocation of land resources to meet the demands of various functions in a city.

And by compromise I don't mean that we should compromise giving up Open Lands, Riverfronts etc. But at the same time, planning solutions and policies to resolve problems that are facing a deadlock is absolutely necessary. Taking a stand on either of the extremes is causing maximum damage to the city and particularly its Green spaces. Unfortunately, in the heat of being self righteous, most citizens and activists are creating a situation which will only worsen and possibly damage the hill tops and hill slopes of the city. We have to remember that most times, 'No Action' is the 'Worst Action'!

While most of us are really concerned about the city of Pune and its hills, why isn't any of these groups talking about or raising up a storm over hills and hill slopes that are routinely brought under real estate development outside of the city? Just drive 2-3 kms outside of Pune and you will see a very different approach to hills and their development. Also, while we may consider that 'No Development' is the only way to save hills, we really need to think again. Across all countries and particularly in India, private ownership has been largely successful in retaining hills. While public ownership has actually caused environmental degradation. Why then are we talking about a BDP Reservation that requires private land to be acquired by municipality? Aren't we actually doing exactly opposite to actually saving our hills? World over, private ownership, with the right policy directives, have transformed natural areas. California, is an example, where rocky hill slopes & hill tops has been opened up for only low density premium real estate, making these 'rich' havens pay for the conservation of the remaining hill side and making it accessible as public land. When we speak of conservation, we have to have the correct fiscal mechanisms in place too. Where else will Pune Municipal Corporation get the money to first acquire and then develop the BDP, if it ever happens? Activists, often fail to answer these questions, while taking an unrealistic stand.

Now the BDP has become a political issue and lost all its logicality. For example, the BDP reservation was actually proposed in 1997, the plan getting a State sanction sometime in 2003. During this time, the NCP was in power in the State and NCP-Congress was in government in Pune. While Adv. Vandana Chavan has been most vocal about saving hills, why didn't the NCP actually implement the BDP? What was stopping them? The reason that BDP didn't take off was merely that it is an absolutely wrong, unrealistic and financially unviable policy. And I attribute the entire onus of the burden of degradation of the hills of Pune to the BDP policy framed then. A Non-issue was made into an Issue due to mistake in policy making. This can go down as a classic example of what wrong policies can do to a city!

Having said this, I am of the opinion that hills are public Green spaces and need to be retained so. Detailed survey of the Hill Tops and Hill Slopes can give so many new insights and options into evolving planning solutions for the hills. I would like to ask whether, all these apparently Pune's well wishers, have ever considered doing such a survey? If they have, they will realise that its quite possible to identify and restrict genuine homeowners whose development can remain restricted to a certain portion of the hill slope. But acquiring these lands and possibly converting it into slums in the near future, is definitely not a solution. BDP reservation is sure to do that!

Lastly, coming to possible planning solutions. There are many. But these solutions will surely try and accommodate genuine landowners/homeowners and cannot take an extreme view regarding hills. Planning solutions can be making micro-plans for the hill tops and hill slope areas, similar to town planning schemes. Development is restricted to a certain portion of the hill slope which is relatively stable and suitable for putting in the required infrastructure. Building/house heights can be restricted, like its done near the Airport. Type of construction can be defined to ensure slopes are properly retained.In fact, allowing genuine homeowners to remain on the land will have tremendous benefits and the hill tops will certainly be conserved with appropriate planning mechanisms.

To accommodate the landowners with minimal compensation, TDR and such other instruments can be used. Allowing restricted real estate development after paying hill slope premium in a restricted area can generate funds to ensure that the remaining hill slope gets conserved and people are not displaced. Such premium housing can actually fetch a higher price and thereby private interest will ensure that the remaining hill slopes are maintained as green spaces. Solutions can be worked out if we really want to ensure that hills are conserved. And sticking with the BDP reservation is definitely not a solution. Period!


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