The hills of Pune represent a time when the citys
most famous son, Shivaji, made the marauding Mughal soldiers
to sweat. Now, the caretakers of the city have decided
to let heartless builders raze them down and build monstrous
concrete structures over the area, which would, generations
later, be looked upon as eyesores.
an age where open space is more valuable than gold, the
thought of losing the hills, which are omnipresent as
one drives around the city, is a horror which one will
have to accept unless something drastic is done immediately.
Tideman, a jazz artist from Pune, informed me one afternoon
that she was going to attend a protest to save the hills
in the city from destruction and asked me if I would be
interested in joining the group. I have spent most of
my life in the city and had spent much of my college days
trekking in the hills around Pune.
The very thought of a few buildings coming up in the place
of the verdant hills stoked enough fury for me to attend.
This was the first time that I was getting involved in
my capacity as a writer in a social cause and I was apprehensive.
This was put to rest by the atmosphere under the clear
blue canopy of the new born summer evening, the heady
feeling of creativity and music that reverberated from
the nearby hills.
Initiative Against Deforestation (CAID), formed to protect
the hills and slopes from de-reservation, has been actively
gaining support from the people of Pune who wish to have
the hills as a monument of the past. Shekhar Bhonagiri,
who heads CIAD, explains that the Pune Municipal Corporation
has chosen to absolve itself from protecting the hills
and has, instead, followed the logic of having concrete
buildings instead of the slums that might otherwise come
says instead of making efforts to conserve the hills and
keep them alive, the administration has chosen to take
the easy way out. He adds that if tomorrow the administration
feels that the Shaniwar Wada, the seat of the Peshwas,
is difficult to maintain they might consider razing it
to the ground and build a shopping complex in its place.
the fight to the citizens has proven to be a blessing.
In the first public outburst since the Development Plan
(DP) was made available, hundreds of children, elder citizens
and youngsters gathered on 2 February 2003 to register
their protest. Eminent artists like Murli Lahoti and Vaishali
Oak converted a bare canvas into a work of art tentatively
titled as How much is enough? Lahoti explained
that art is close to nature and this was his way of sending
a message to the people that they are concerned about
the city that they live in.
the midst of the mela-like atmosphere was a French
professor, Tristan Suvauchelle, who is visiting Pune.
He was filming the whole event on his own initiative.
He said he could identify with the sentiments since France
too has been facing the same problems with depleting forests
reserves falling prey to the bogey of development.
tooth and nail
Another corner had a group of musicians calling themselves
Cryptic Blues, who were playing protest songs much in
the tradition of the famous bands the world over who have
lent their support to causes like anti-war efforts. This
spontaneous support from all over is a result of an extensive
email chain that was started to inform the people of the
cause. The effort paid off when total strangers volunteered
to get signatures against the plan and stood in the midst
of the crowded Laxmi Road, coaxing old ladies and passing
rickshaws to stop and sign the form.
immediate effect of the protest on 2 February was that
the Congress Party climbed down from its earlier position
of no compromise to that of issuing a press release stating
that a final decision would be taken after consulting
veteran environmentalist Mohan Dharia. Earlier the Congress
had not only refused to identify that certain hills had
been thrown open for development in the new DP, but also
refused to agree to consider any plans for taking the
citizens into confidence.
protestors have claimed that all the measures that are
being taken by the politicians are merely to show the
people that they are concerned. A few have gone on to
say that there is anxiety in the minds of the politicians
after the success of the campaign on Sunday and hence
the attempt to pull wool over the eyes of the people.
There are also initiatives that are being taken to file
public interest litigations against the administration
in the Bombay High Court.
plans to have another protest on 16 February 2003 when
a human chain would be formed on one of the hills at Vetal
Tekdi. Shekhar is sure that the fire that he has initiated
would spread all over the city and people will step out
of their homes to protect the last remaining pieces of
heritage that truly belongs to the city.
the outcome of the protests, and the efforts of the people,
it is still early days as far as the hills are concerned.
These hills have stood for thousands of years and have
become landmarks in the conscience of the residents. As
an added measure, efforts should be made to declare the
hills as heritage sites so that they are spared the cancer
of urban development.
a Pune-based writer, is a regular contributor to The
Times of India and The Indian Express. He was
an active theatre person and has written several short
plays. His first book, Vignettes, a collection
of poetry, was published by Crystal Dreams Publishing,
US. Nairs first novel, Chatroom Blues, has
just been published. He can be contacted at