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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

ARAI’s new lab: A Boon or Bane

ARAI in Pune has proven its significance in the past. Now, an ambitious plan of a new lab puts Puneites into dilemma..

Land status changed for ARAI’s lab

The urban development department is planning to convert about 50 acres of land in Kothrud, which is marked as ‘hill top hill slope zone’ in the development plan of the city, to ‘public/semi-public zone’. The department has invited suggestions and objections from citizens on modification of the zone.

The land is to be used for construction of a vehicle testing track and laboratories for the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI). Forest Department’s land at survey number 102 (part) Kothrud has been granted to the ARAI a few years ago for its ambitious projects.

“After consulting the director of town planning and after making necessary enquiries, the government is of the opinion that for granting permission to ARAI for laboratory building and vehicle testing track, it is necessary to delete the said land, approximately 20 hectares (50 acres), from hill top hill slope zone and include it in public, semi-public zone to allow existing built up area of 24,265 sq.m. and proposed built up area of 35,435 sq.m., the state Urban Development Department (UDD) said in a public notice issued last week.

The proposed modification in use of land is in public interest, the UDD said. The modification would be allowed with the condition that in the area of 50 acres, maximum ground+2 (G+2) structure and maximum 59,700 sq.m. of built up area is permissible.

The part plan has been kept open for public inspection at the office of the deputy director of town planning, Pune division, at Sahakarnagar. The suggestions and objections have to be sent within 30 days to the town planning office.

ARAI director Shreekant Marathe said, “After the modification we will get more land for urgent construction work needed for the organization to set up three new laboratories. We are planning to set up labs for engine testing, structural dynamics and safety-related development with an estimated investment of Rs 230 crore.”

Meanwhile, corporators across party lines have opposed the state urban development department’s (UDD) move to convert about 50 acres of land in Kothrud, which is marked as ‘hill top hill slope zone’ in the development plan of the city, to ‘public/semi-public zone’.

‘We will not concretise Vetal hill’

Officials of the Automotive Research Association of India said the ARAI had received a sanction from the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) for setting up a laboratory and a testing track on the Kothrud land, which falls on Vetal hill.

The officials also claimed that the proposed project will not lead to concretisation of the hill as development will be taking place on less than five per cent of the total land that is to be converted into a public/semi-public (PSP) zone.

Shrikant Marathe, director of ARAI, said it is a misconception that the ARAI was asking for more land from the government. The clarification from Marathe came in the wake of a notice issued by the state government allowing conversion of survey number 102 at Kothrud from HTHS zone to PSP zone and the subsequent objections raised by citizens.

“The fact is that the state government allotted the entire survey number 102 at Kothrud, measuring 260 acres, on a 90-year lease to the ARAI in 1970. Out of the 260 acres, ARAI surrendered 125 acres to the forest department and also paid Rs 11.5 crore to the government to develop the land into a green belt. The remaining land has been developed for garden and tree cover,” Marathe said.

“The land for the project was approved by the MoEF after an on-site assessment by chairman of forest advisory committee, constituted by the Supreme Court. Prior to approval, it had gone through various stages of scrutiny by the government departments concerned,” Marathe said.

A campain against

hill project

Social activists says projects will be harmful to environment In a move to stop the allotment of land to ARAI, now social activists and environmentalists have come together and started a campaign to oppose these projects at ARAI hills.

Explaining the drive, a social activist Rajesh Shende said, “Hill tops, hill slopes, green zones are the lungs of the city. They must be preserved on the background of increasing pollution level of the Pune. So, the claim of public interest stated in the notice is false and malafide.”

“Secondly, it is further submitted that the ARAI is not a Government of India or a State Government undertaking, and its location and function, both are an obnoxious non-conforming land use in the Development Plan of Pune. Any proposal for modification of the Development Plan to favour ARAI would be deemed to be a proposal for personal and individual benefit, and hence, detrimental to the larger public interest and a loss to Government,” said Shende.

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