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Monday, April 26, 2010

Edition 16 : Who Moved My Land?

Part of the land adjoining historic Council Hall seems to have been usurped after the plan of the rennovation of building comes to fore. While officials claim the new building will facilitate the modernisation of government machinery, activists say there is no word on the misuse of land.
The land sharks in Pune city are everywhere. Not even government offices are being spent from the eyes of these sharks. Taking objection to one such case, a Right to Information activists is running from pillar to post to save one of the prime plots in the city. The case involves one grade II building which is also one of the landmarks of the city. The Council Hall, which housed first meeting of the Maharashtra’s legislature stands witness to the attemps to usrp land by vested interests. The state government is going to build a new building near the site of the Council Hall, where at present some of the government offices are located. The new building will house all major government departments. Pune’s guardian minister, Ajit Pawar laid the foundation stone for the new building at site in June last year. Rs 42 crore has been earmarked to build a “new” structure at the district collectorate. Pawar claimed the new building will facilitate good functioning and speedy work for government works. At the time of passing the plan, it was declared by the government that the building, which has a Grade II status, will not be tempered with. Even though there has been no harm to the building yet, the land surrounding the building has suddenly vanished in the melee of tin shades, pointing to construction activity. The fact was noted by Rajesh Shende, president of the Janhit Foundation. Shende had received some information through RTI. The activist noticed that the new activity is beyond that what the administration had marked in the orioriginal plan. “The tin shades I saw were not on the places which was marked in the maps. When I asked the authorities, they told me that this construction is not part of the original plan but was designed through internal resolutions. The budget for this activity was sourced under the rights with the divisional commissioner,” Shende said. The Plan Shende had asked the information about the budget process, drawings and maps for new building. The new building will be a two storied one. He was informed that no existing building will be destroyed for the new structure. However, the trees were cut on the spot where now construction is going on. Shende has received the information on Dec. 11, 2009. Interestingly, within two weeks from providing this information, a bunch of big and old trees were removed from the ground. Activists of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena had then agitated against the cutting of trees which is banned by the Bombay High Court, unless a permission is sought. According to Shende, “No construction can be done near a heritage site. The perplexing question is who is trying to get hold of this land? Why is authority providing no information? This everything is done in so much a hush hush manner.” l
The most irritating part is that the administration is not forthcoming with information. The land costs crores of rupess today. There should be transparency involving such an important place. Even the information that I wanted to seek was not given properly. There is something fishy in the whole affair.- Rajesh Shende
History Of The Building
The Council Hall was built in 1870. British engineer Colonel Melliss was the architect of this majestic structure. The cost of the land was Rs 50,875 then, while the expenditure of the construction was Rs 1,22,940! In 1886, a fancy dress competition and a ball were organised in honour of Queen Victoria’s son in this hall.The Pune district gazette of 1985 desbribes the building thus: It is a double-storeyed building nearly rectangular in plan, 183’ by 53’ and 40’ to the top of the walls. It is in the Venetian-Gothic style of ornamental coloured brickwork. The porch in the middle of the west face is surmounted by a tower or campanile 76’ high with low-pitched tiled roof. On the ground floor at the north end and stretching above the first floor to the roof is the Council Hall, 80’ by 40’ and 40’ high.

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