To Save 100 years old botanical - Empress Garden Pune

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The move to construct residences for top officials here has heckled the trust that manages the garden. Prominent members dash off a letter to CM to stall the move

Its claim of being the largest garden in the city will soon be challenged, as the state government has moved a proposal to slice away a substantial 10 -acre from Empress Garden, near the race course, which presently stretches over 38 acres, for constructing a residential complex for its top officials and other offices. Pushed from its lofty perch, it will then be second to Pu La Deshpande Garden, situated in Sinhagad Road, which is spread over 35 acres. The government’s move to compromise the lush garden, has incensed the trustees of Agri-Horticultural Society of Western India, which manages Empress Garden. Prominent members of the trust include its president, industrialist Rahul Bajaj; vice president, Pratap Pawar and secretary, horticulturist Suresh Pingle. They have dashed off a letter to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis opposing the government’s move. The government officials, on the other hand, have claimed that this piece of land never belonged to the trust.

The history of Empress Garden dates back to 1838, when it was spread over a sprawling 55 acres, home to some of the oldest and rare species of trees. The name Empress Garden was given to the park in honour of Queen Victoria when she won the title of Empress of India. It came in possession of Bombay government in 1892, and was subsequently handed over to Agri- Horticultural Society of Western India.

According to the trustees, proposals to take possession of the land was moved five times. Almost 40 years ago, four acres were given for a stable. Thereafter, eight acres were taken for yet another purpose. Around 1974, a proposal to transfer 28 acres to Turf Club was moved. After protests from the trustees and vociferous citizens, this proposal was cancelled. Around six years ago, a proposal was moved yet again to transfer two acres of land for judicial quarters. While this proposal, too, had to be scrapped in the face of protests, a new proposal, which includes the old one, has been approved and budget allocated for construction of over 10 acres.

Now, three buildings will be constructed for senior officials, along with an office for the deputy collector of Haveli. A section of land has also been marked out for the construction of Cantonment Court.

Referring to the letter that the trustees of Agri Horticultural Society of Western India, which manages the Empress Garden, received in January 2018 from the office of Public Works Department (PWD), the letter to the CM states: “We are shocked and surprised to read the contents of the letter and also the attached paper giving information about the proposed construction of residential quarters in the premises leased by the Maharashtra Government to Agri Horticultural Society of Western India. It appears that the government is proposing and planning to construct buildings at an estimated cost of Rs 4.85 crore. We were completely unaware of the proposal and came to know of this only from the letter. We are managing the garden and have plans to develop this into a world class botanical garden. To achieve this, we add about 50-100 rare varieties of trees every year. In recent years, we have also planned about 100 trees on Survey No 504, where the construction is planned. A new environment centre at the cost of Rs 4 crore is being developed. Diversion of land would hamper the long term development of the garden and cause of environment. We may add that when a similar effort was made in the past, citizens of Pune reacted very strongly against the move. We request you to review your decision.”

Said Suresh Pingale, “The garden was spread over 55 acres, of which only 38 remains. If they take away 10 acres again, what will be left of the garden? We have protested time and again but they are relentless. We have now written a letter to oppose the decision. But till date we haven’t heard from the chief minister or any government official. If this doesn’t happen, we will launch a campaign with the help of citizens to protest the move.”

Suman Kirloskar, vice president, of the trust, said, “This is not the first time that government leaders are eyeing Empress Garden. Are there no other spaces available? We need lungs for the city, which such open spaces provide; we need to conserve such spaces. The residential complex can be moved elsewhere.”

Government officials refute the trust’s claim, which they have underscored in a letter written to its president. They have stated that their officials were stopped from entering the land when they visited with machinery to carry out the land survey. An official from PWD’s building construction section, who is looking after the project, said, “The proposal was initially moved in 2015-16. The decision was taken by the officials in the District Planning and Development Council’s meeting, when a budget of Rs 5 crore was allocated. We had floated the tender for this construction after receiving orders from the government in January. But few people approached us with the lease documents stating that this land belonged to them. So we cancelled the tender. Following this, we obtained the documents from the Defence Estate officer, which clearly stated that the Agri Horticulture Society has the possession of 38 acres of land, and the 10 acres being used for construction, are not a part of the garden at all. This land parcel belongs to the state government and hence there is no reason for them to oppose.”

█ The garden was spread over 55 acres, of which only 38 remains. If they take away 10 acres again, what will be left of the garden? We have protested time and again but they are relentles.


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