TOURISM: The hill station will create more than 50,000 jobs over 10 years.
Hill-station tourism is not new for Indians who enjoy the cold weather at locations such as Darjeeling, Shimla, Ooty or Nainital during Summer. These towns, for over 100 years, have been looked at as India’s prime hill stations necessarily promoted and developed by the British rulers.
Over the next 10 years, another name might well be added to this list, which is 12,500-acre huge ‘Lavasa lake city’, being developed by Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) near Pune within the Western Ghat ranges. Promoted as free India’s first planned hill station, Lavasa lake city, will be ready as a complete town with a population of 1.5 lakh.
Being developed in accordance with the controversial Hill Station policy passed by the Maharashtra government, the Lavasa lake city, has attracted opposition right from day one. However, the developers have now overcome all the difficulties and socio-political hurdles, as the first phase of this Rs 40,000-crore project is nearing completion. The city is coming up on eight huge hillocks that surround the illongated Varasgaon dam backwaters to ensure excellent natural habitat for the city.
|CONTROVERDIAL ISSUES RAISED BY ACTIVISTS REGARDING LAVASA
“Lavasa is not a township or a huge real-estate project such as the Sahara group’s Amby Valley. It is a complete town that is self sufficient and meets residential and living needs of poor, middle-class and elite people. The hill station itself will create more than 50,000 jobs over the next 10 years. Hence, citizens residing here can enjoy the walk to work lifestyle,” said Lavasa Corporation President Rajgopal Nogja.
Lavasa is planned in four phases out of which, the first phase titled ‘Davse’ will be operational from 2010 with almost 1,000 villas and 500 apartments. The development of phase-II will begin next year and the same would be ready by 2014. The third and fourth phases would be ready by 2017 and 2021, respectively. “We are managing the Rs 40,000 crore investment through equity, debts and internal accurals as of now. We will come out with an IPO at an appropriate time,” Nogja added.
Considering Pune city’s identity as the next information technology (IT) hub, the developers have already working towards getting a number of IT firms to have development centres within Lavasa. In addition to this, prominent educational barrons such as Symbiosis, Oxford University and a number of other prominent institutions are setting up their campuses here. Names such as Apollo Hospitals, Accor developers, Grand Mercure Hotel and Spa, ITC, Inistitute of International Business Relations-Germany, University of Berlin along with National School of Hotel Management-Kolkata will all be at Lavasa to serve citizens.
The benefit that Lavasa enjoys over other similar projects is its pricing. There is a wide range of investment options at Lavasa beginning with studio apartments worth Rs 16 lakh to villas worth Rs 8-10 crore. “We are also creating small localities for people who will work here as workers, sweepers and maids,” he added.
Lavasa has already signed electricity supply agreements with power-starved Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MSEDCL) and Tata Power Company Ltd while it will pump water from Varasgaon dam, which is mainly responsible for Pune city’s water supply. “Lavasa pays the irrigation department for actual consumption of water. However, through several dams and check dams, we would be adding 0.9 TMC (thousand million cubic ft) water to the Varasgaon reservoir. Lavasa will consume approximately 0.5 TMC of water. Therefore, a surplus of 0.4 TMC water would be added to the Varagaon dam,” Nogja claimed.
Like all major projects, Lavasa too has landed into a number of controversies. There have been allegations of forceful land acquisition, construction of dams within Varasgaon dam, the company's close relationship with politcos like union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and the probable environmental hazards it might cause in future. Activist Medha Patkar had recently launched agitations at Lavasa demanding a CBI inquiry of land deals at Lavasa saying, land-owners were duped and not rehabilitated by the company using political influence.
Pawar's influence on this projects was obvious as his daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Supriya Sule along with his close associates Vitthal Maniar and Aniruddha Deshpande jointly owned more than 15 per cent stake in Lavasa Lake City. In the wake of agitations and controversies, Sule as well as Deshpande sold their stakes while Maniar continues to hold 6 per cent stake in the project. “Apart from Maniar, the ownership lies with HCC real estate (65%), Venkateshwara Hatcheries (13%) and Avantha Group (16%),” Nogja stated. “Lavasa is a privately developed hill station as per government rules and there is no participation of politicians,” he concluded.