Save Lavasa, The only Smart Hill City of India - Our Paradise

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Honorable Prime Minister,

Lavasa is a sprawling private hill city project, 65 km from the city of Pune in Maharashtra, nestled amidst 18 hills and 975 meters above sea level. Its developer Lavasa Corporation was originally registered in 2000 as Pearly Blue Lake resort Private Limited Company. The project was a business hotel to be developed on the banks of Warasgaon Lake in Mose valley, Mulshi block in Pune district. The company changed its name to Lake City Corporation Private Ltd on December 12, 2000. Later, in June 2004, changed it again to Lavasa Corporation Limited a subsidiary of Hindustan Construction Company

Two decades ago, then-billionaire Ajit Gulabchand envisioned something very different: a city called Lavasa, modeled on the cotton-candy harbor of Italy’s Portofino, a four-hour drive from Mumbai. To deliver that dream, he hired the architects at HOK, creators of LaGuardia’s Airport Central Terminal B in New York and the Barclays world Headquarters in London. Design awards and global news coverage followed. It would be India’s first privately built and managed city, one of five planned for 30,000 to 50,000 people each, soaking up settlers from the hinterlands looking for opportunities in urban areas. No more government bureaucracy. The first ever Smart Hill station project was being driven by a consortium of companies led by Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), which holds 65% of the stake in Lavasa through its real estate subsidiary HCC Realty. Other investors include the L M Thapar Group and Venkateshwara Hatcheries, besides several minority shareholders with 35% equity.

The project was approved under Section 20 (3) of the MRTP (Maharashtra Regional Town Planning) Act 1966 on July 15, 2000. Accordingly, the Maharashtra Urban Development Department declared 18 villages in Mulshi and Velhe block -- a total of 25,000 acres of land -- part of the project. Since then, the inhabitants of around 20 villages have faced eviction, land alienation, harassment by project officials, cheating by the land mafia and company agents, denial of community access to freshwater bodies, river, temples and common roads and the destruction of their natural habitat and forests. Taking advantage of Political and Bureaucracy privileges corporate Land grab, Facilitation by The Maharashtra government notification dated November 26, 1996 relating to the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning (MRTP) Act 1966 proposed the development of hilly areas throughout the state as hill-stations and resorts is at the root of issues related to land acquisition for hill station development. Financial creditors were willing to give all the possible support and investment to the maximum benefits of the Developers. The city’s master plan is essentially a layout plan for 580 ha which was approved by the Pune collector in 2006. This was revised by LCL after it was appointed Special Planning Authority (SPA) by the state government in June 2008. This bestowed LCL powers to sanction their own plans. Once the developer acquired the powers of a planning authority, it modified the layout plans and moved the implementation. The kick start of the massive dream project attracted many enterprises, hotels and people who thought that the new Paradise will be ideal for living, second homes and lucrative investments. Nearly 2,500 properties were sold without any hassles.

The people of these villages comprise poor marginal farmers who depend heavily on traditional farming techniques, livestock rearing, collection of non-timber forest produce, fishing, daily wage labor, and collection of natural resources. Though they have been living in the area for generations, it was only in 1964 that poor landless and socio-economically backward families were allotted excess ceiling lands under the Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings) Act, 1961. They made these lands cultivable and survived on them without any support from the government. But in view of the Private Hill City project, they were deprived of their rights. Today they have no land to cultivate and they are out of Jobs. Their sustenance is uncertain. So are many other employees, local sub contractors and who have huge pending arrears because of non payments for the work they have done.

After nearly two decades from the inception, today, unfortunately, Lavasa is an incomplete shell housing some 10,000 people inclusive of Local villagers, a symbol of the excesses gripping the world’s second most-populous nation. Lavasa Corporation Ltd. faces what may be its final reckoning, as the gross negligence in project planning, total mismanagement and complete violation of Human Rights forced lenders to restructure debts quickly or take defaulters to bankruptcy court. In an ironical strategy, instead of resolving their weaknesses, they preplanned and then manipulated the Insolvency process through immoral tactics that include disposing all the project machineries, materials, raw materials, scrap and furnishings. Finally in their strategy to their advantage, a very small creditor Raj Infrastructure Development (India) Pvt. Ltd. was set up to file a petition (Amount of just less than 3 crores) in the National Company Law Tribunal under Section 9 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Application to Adjudicating Authority)  Rules, 2016c and that is how the Lavasa Corporation Limited was put in the Honorable NCLT Mumbai vide order number CP (IB)1765/MB/2018 dated 30th August as a result of  misdemeanors of the corporation. At this point of time they also forced difficulties in few operational creditors like Ecol and Fortune hotel which resulted in their exit. Much pressure is being exerted on the pioneering operational partner and creditor Water Front Shaw Hotel/ Resort along with most of the restaurants on the promenade with the intent of facilitation of a resolution that helps the Lavasa Corporation, mainly Ajit Gulab Chand, the Chairman of HCC.

To the utmost neglect of basic rights, motor able roads, reliable utilities, security and living conditions of the populace, during the past 10 months of NCLT Process, this onetime hilltop paradise is becoming a hell on earth for some. The days of zero crime are over. Garbage collection is sporadic, so litter soils the man-made lake. Roads inside the city are not drive – able Storefronts are vacant. , Hotels are taking a big toll of loss because of the lack of significant footfall. Villages that lost their lands and depended upon jobs are unemployed, Signs of neglect are everywhere: safety, security and maintenance are non-existent despite the fact the Maintenance charges are regularly paid by most of the residents. For the unfinished building works—i.e. most of it—there is nothing happening.   Around 1,500 home owners were given possession (With un attended grave  warranty defects such as heavy seepages and cracks) , out of which there are 300+ senior citizens in a cluster which houses them separately and managed by another company Ashiana Utsav, who are dedicated to providing services that help Senior Citizens. More than 800 home owners are yet to get their position, the delay of up to 10 years has taken a miserable toll on them, and at this juncture of NCLT Process all of us in this grave uncertainity of loosing whatever investment they had made out of their hard earnings., because the process is turning towards strange resolutions from investors who are not qualified for such processes. Ever since the NCLT RP took charge we are in continuous doubt, whether the utilities like electricity and water will continue or be disconnected anytime. There is absolutely no administration and security anymore.

The senior citizens have been manipulated ever since they bought their houses in the following manner:

1.    Lavasa is the only place in the world where maintenance charges are duplicated for senior citizens by paying almost the same charges to Lavasa as well as to Ashiana Utsav. Ashiana residents are paying full maintenance to Ashiana and they are also paying full maintenance to Lavasa Corporation which is equivalent payment a Lavasa citizen having a dwelling unit outside Ashiana. So an Ashiana resident pays around 3 times as against someone with the same area in Lavasa.

2.    Ashiana/ Lavasa failed in their commitment for Senior Citizens to be close gated community with absolutely no thoroughfare. But the roads in between have a heavy traffic, giving rise to disturbance, noise pollution, smoke and security risk 24/7 much above permissible level especially when it comes to senior Citizens living.

3.    Basic safety measures and instruments not installed since 2012

4.    Medical Care is non existing

5.     There is zero accountability of the charges imposed

6.    The water is the most expensive in Lavasa as compared to any place in India. We are charged by square foot area of the house instead of actual usage at an exorbitant cost Of Rs. 25.30 / Kltr + 20 Paisa per sq. ft. fixed charge every month. In cities like Delhi the cost is not more than Rs. 5/ Per KLts and that too metered quantity.

I wonder why our system is not ready to prosecute such offenders under Economic Offenses, against criminal manipulation and under gross violation of Ethical business, manipulation and Human rights. Such criminals must be addressed seizure of all their assets along with severe punishments. Why does an old man 70, 80, 90 plus has to walk, travel, stand up in Queues, beg to the Police, face stubborn administrators, file petitions in Courts and slog for years to attend the hearings just to seek justice? It must be stopped by the Governance of our country, and make sure that each citizen lives his life in peace and harmony. Justice should be in the Governance and not to be sought by each and every individual citizen.

 For a glimpse of where Lavasa may be heading, please look to Aamby Valley, another affluent township outside Mumbai turned ghost town built by a separate developer. That $5.5 billion township is facing liquidation after its backer defaulted. After repeated failed attempts to auction Aamby Valley, the court ordered piecemeal sale of the project’s land. The current slump in India’s property market is even making matters worse. These are typical examples which raise a Questionas to  why and how permissions are given for Private Cities to developers when we are aware of the majority of Builders and Developers as the biggest con men in India. 

India is not ready for such project at this time, May be we shall be ready after 10 years provided BJ continues until then. We sincerely have faith that along with our support that it will be so and India will surely change. Going back to a fair and justified resolution of Lavas with your kind intervention  

“Selling big land banks like Lavasa or finding investors who can write big checks for a project like that would be quite a struggle in the current environment," “There are just too many distressed sellers and not enough buyers in this market." That is why as a last resort I am writing this petition for your good self to seek a resolution from the only Man who can do it.

Honorable Prime Minister, without continuing with the misery of more than 10,000 lives inclusive of couple of thousands of Villagers, a good number of senior citizens, more than 1, 200 school and university students are at the verge of collapsing without a single fault on their behalf, I seek your intervention to SAVE LAVASA before the NCLT and Lavasa Corporation render this beautiful city to a nightmare of insolvency and disaster. You are therefore requested to consider the resolution that will save not only the hill city of Lavasa, but many lives that live here permanently along with the villagers and operational partners. My humble suggestion May be that you will find the solution in Inclusion of Lavasa in smart cities mission since Lavasa qualifies most of the core infrastructure elements required for any smart city. Lavasa Smart Hill City Development Corporation may be put in place to ensure the revival and unlimited development of all the smart initiatives of Smart Education, Smart tourism, Smart IT Industry, Smart Hospitality etc.

Thanking you and with my best regards

God bless you, Sir

Suresh K Goswami