Pune hills deteriorating, need preservation: Experts

Anvita Srivastava
Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Pune has many hills like Parvati, Taljai, Vetal, Baner, Warje and others, which are popular for their rich biodiversity and also popular among the fitness freaks. 

The recent heatwave in the city has underlined the importance of green cover. Pune is known for its cool climate owing to the greenery on its hills and flowing river. However, in recent times, excessive concretisation and plantation of non-native plants have affected the city’s weather.

Pune has many hills like Parvati, Taljai, Vetal, Baner, Warje and others, which are popular for their rich biodiversity and also popular among the fitness freaks. 

Nevertheless, city environmentalists feel that the hills, which were once the lungs of Pune, are now under a threat due to excessive concretisation and unscientific plantation drives that take place on these hills. It has not only endangered the bio-diversity but is also affecting the weather in the city.

Member of Deccan Gymkhana Parisar Samiti Sushma Date feels that more than tree cutting, it was the rapid concretisation under the guise of beautification of hills that was causing damage to these natural heritage sites. 

She said, “A lot of construction activity like tiled pathways, Gazebos, statues, etc., are being constructed on these hills under the guise of beautification which is posing a severe threat to these hills. Similarly, the construction of roads has given access to vehicles that have endangered the ecosystem. Taljai is one such glaring example. The hill has an ozone park and a gym following which, a lot of food-stalls have come up. We need to understand that the hills should remain in their natural pristine condition.”

She also mentioned that the unscientific plantation drive conducted on these hills is another reason for the shrinking of the hills. She said, “Many times, people plant exotic trees instead of native one on the hills due to lack of awareness. This has led to the shrinking population of migratory birds coming here which is damaging the ecosystem further.”

Regular hill climber and environment enthusiast Dr Uday Kulkarni feels that hills are under attack. He said, “I am living in Pune since 1995 and have been a regular hill walker. Hills have been the natural heritage of this city but in the last few years, they are under attack. Hills were shrinking and the urban forests have become endangered due to increasing concretisation on the hills.” 

Ecologist Saili Palande Datar said, “Hills have been the lungs of Pune city but in last few years, their condition has been deteriorating due to rampant concretisation. Earlier, when we used to go on hills at around 4-5 pm, it was breezy but now even if you go at 6 pm, you can feel the warm conditions.”

Datar mentioned the importance of hills in moderating the local temperature of the city.

“These hills play a very important role in moderating the temperature as they act as heat sinker. They also act in recharging the river as well as groundwater. Damage to these hills has played a great role in the changing weather pattern of the city,” she added.

“It is very important to take collective ownership among the residents and the administration. It was important to sensitise the residents about the importance of the hills. The city needs planned policies for their conservation but unfortunately, it is missing and no one is really serious about it,” added Datar.

Deputy Conservator of Forest Maharashtra Forest Department Sri Lakshmi also echoes the same sentiment of collective responsibility. “All hills and greenery on the hills do not belong entirely to the Forest Department. It belongs to different parties and we are responsible for the areas under the Forest Department. We are doing our best to ensure that hills are conserved as we are removing Gliricidia which used to be exotic trees and replacing it with indigenous trees and also planning to develop bio-diversity parks. We can’t stop people from going to these hills but we deploy squads to check the garbage on these hills. We have to understand that it is a collective responsibility of the citizens and the administration to conserve the forests and each of us should do our bit,’’ she said.

“Due to over urbanisation, the green cover is under threat. Construction of highways and various roads has broken the cord between the Western Ghats and hills in and around Pune. Due to this lack of connection, the hills have become islands and there is no movement of bio-diversity which is endangering their ecosystem,” said Sachin Punekar, an environmentalist and Founder-President of Biospheres.

“The wrong kind of plantation like the presence of exotic trees like Gliricidia has further damaged the ecosystem. These hills were acting as coolants but due to their deteriorating conditions, the weather of the city is being affected,” he added.

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