Lavasa's special planning authority status revoked: A smoke and mirrors trick by Maharashtra govt?

Withdrawal of the Special Planning Authority status to the company that's developing Lavasa City near Pune is quite in order, though unexpected. It cannot be that the private entity can be granted virtually the status of a republic enabling it to build as it wants are does.

That the SPA status was conferred though contested by activists who feared alleged bending of rules, grant of undue favours, pressure on land owners in the 2000 hectares of area smacked of political interests backing private interests.

The Devendra Fadnavis government's withdrawal could be critiqued by his party's rivals, Nationalist Congress Party, as a politically inspired move. The latter's associate now, Congress, smirks with handkerchiefs hiding in their mouths, but it had to come. But it is not clear what other purpose it would serve.

The High Court had asked the government, some six years after the initiation of the project on a site picked by Sharad Pawar, to give the SPA status conferred on Lavasa Corp a re-look. The SPA is allowing it to perform municipal duties of providing water and sanitation .

When a city, emerging or new, has that status, it controls everything, including town planning. It could be at variance with established norms with regard to floor space index, public facilities, public spaces, etc. In Lavasa's case, it means non-democratic city governance combined with freedom to plan how it grew.

Chances that it could grow beyond the space available already are dim because hawk-eyed activists are unlikely to enable it to embrace more lands adjoining it. After its clearance in 2001, no other such city has been contemplated though Pawar had spoken of there being potential for another dozen or more such cities.

Lavasa - is one of the most controversial projects in the Western Ghats. PTI.

Lavasa - is one of the most controversial projects in the Western Ghats. PTI.

It is common knowledge that builders who develop a single apartment block or a township of any size in cities with a building code to be enforced by the civic body to play ducks and drake's with rules. Politicians and bureaucrats flouting rules - difficult to say whose initiative is stronger among the two classes - is more the practice than an exception.

The Indian Express says today, if SPA meant giving "powers to draw up land use plans, sanction building and development plans on its own, besides unhindered power to develop lands falling in the hill city's jurisdiction" and also keeping democratic superintendence of urban spaces in limbo.

This status accorded in 2008 had survived a Comptroller and Auditor-General's negative observations in 2012 and the Congress and NCP government had sat on its own proposal to revoke it. That indicates possible baroness of the political establishment, but the present government has chosen not to be inhibited in this regard.

Decisions with political intent are cleverly guided by the bureaucracy and the fig leaf in this episode is that about a year ago it had notified a new Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority and Lavasa happened to fall within its footprint. That is naivete fished out for public consumption to avoid providing political motives.

Having said that, the various Metropolitan development authorities in the state - Mumbai, Nagpur, and now Pune does not automatically imply that development and adherence to codes are ensured. The civic bodies within them often bring to naught good planning because of political pressures and venality.

I have heard of a city planner of a new city developed by Maharashtra's CIDCO explaining that his work was not proactively to pursue a city as per frozen plans but accept calls from powerful ministers who constantly wanted zonings changed - from residential to commercial or vice versa, public spaces to housing, etc.

Broadly speaking, this revocation of a special status amounts to the state reclaiming its authority. But it does not in the least mean mischief would be avoided in the same area in the future. Lavasa, which appears like an elegant European city, could now lay itself open to several plunderers. Its another smoke and mirrors trick.


Updated Date: May 24, 2017 16:01 PM

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