Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pune should learn from Ajanta & Ellora’s heritage conservation

The Government of Maharashtra is celebrating 2011 as the tourism year and has recently crowned Aurangabad as the tourism capital of the state. It plans to market the Aurangabad heritage corridor to the world especially to Buddhist countries.

The two world heritage places (as declared by UNESCO) – the Ajanta and Ellora Caves are spectacular sites wherein the fusion of art, architecture and civil engineering (of the middle ages) is at its creative and scientific best and continues to stun every visitor even in this technologically advanced age of the 21st century. You are wonderstruck by the paintings and frescos in Ajanta, many of which have retained their colours even after more than 2,000 years of their existence – even the white colour which has been used amply in the paintings is still stark white. You are over-awed by the Lord Shiva temple at Ellora, which is a single rock-cut cave, sculpted from top to bottom.

What’s admirable is the respect the state government has shown towards the preservation of these caves, while making it tourist-friendly as well. Thanks to copious Japanese funds, renovation and conservation of Ajanta and Ellora is going on since 2003. The 700 steps from Ajanta Point (4kms before Ajanta Caves) which take you down to the Ajanta Caves and were once kuccha have been made of cement now. Lakhs of tourists from all over the country and the world visit the caves every year but you will hardly find any litter or plastic around. That’s because, no food stall dots the area except vendors selling guaves, pineapples and piping hot bhuttas. Private vehicles are banned from entering Ajanta from a particular point. Instead, green-coloured shuttle buses take you to and fro for a mere Rs.10. Every cave has an information board and its insides have special lighting to enable the visitor to see the paintings and sculptures. Flash cameras are banned though mobile cameras are permitted.

While Ajanta and Ellora being world heritage sites are bound to receive all the attention from the powers-that-be, a little respect by the Pune Municipal Corporation towards heritage sites in Pune can make a world of difference. Even the iconic Shaniwar Wada is ill-maintained. Prime structures of Maratha architecture like Nana Wada lie in utter neglect. While the Pune Darshan bus takes visitors to 22 sites, none of them have proper boards that provide information to the tourist. The concept of consciously portraying Pune for tourism seems to be completely missing from the PMC’s or state government’s radar.  Considering that Pune is now home to thousands of people from all over the country and the world, it is important to have proper infrastructural development along with heritage and tourism development.  Interesting facets of Pune’s history, culture and heritage which are in abundance should be showcased as the city has much more beyond shopping malls and swanky restaurants – much of which is still unknown.

For more details on Ajanta and Ellora, explore the following links:

The 700 steps that take you down to Ajanta Caves from Ajanta Point (4 kms before Ajanta Caves)

The renovated bridge leading to Ajanta Caves

Ajanta: The most spectacular paintings (see ceiling) made of natural colours that have withstood weather of more than 2,000 years

A glimpse of Ellora Caves

The cluster of caves at Ellora are breathtaking

Another glimpse of Ellora Caves

Such intricate sculpting dot the Lord Shiva Temple at Ellora

Ajanta Caves as you see from the Ajanta Point

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shift ARAI, Save Vetal Hill

Can you believe that the State government has proposed to de-reserve 48 acres of forest land dotting the sylvan Vetal Hill and permit the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) to construct on a whopping 14 acres? The notification to this effect was published in the Economic Times on January 13 and now it is left to us citizens to file suggestions/objections within 30 days, which means the deadline is February 13.

And guess what? Probably as a fallout of mega scams like `Adarsh’ that have exposed how politicians and bureaucrats bungle in land allotments and bend backwards to appease the ministers, the public notification in the case of Vetal Hill is crystal clear.  T C Benjamin, urban development department’s secretary  has been oh so very honest about how the Vetal Hill is going to be ripped off its green glory – you will be surprised (read below).

While the issue of Bio-Diversity Park (BDP) reservation for hills (pertaining to the DP of merged villages) is mired in controversy with the powers-that-be hell bent on allowing 4 per cent construction and on scrapping BDP, an equally serious proposed de-reservation by the state government in the pristine Vetal Hill (Pune tallest point) and along the Bhamburda Forest ridge has come to light. 

The state government in its notification published in the Economic Times of February 13 has proposed to de-reserve 48 acres of Forest land (which is in the hill top/hill slope zone) owned by the Forest department and allow the Automative Research Association of India (ARAI) which has its headquarters on the Vetal Hill, to build a laboratory and a vehicle testing track. Which means, this hilly area would be flattened due to such colossal construction and worse, pollute the environment of the hills – the lungs of our city.

Details of the notification:

*As per the Maharashtra Regional & Town Planning Act 1966, the Development Plan Land bearing S.No.102 (part), Kothrud has been shown as Hill Top/Hill Slope Zone
* This land, owned by the Forest Department has now been granted to the Automative Research Association of India (ARAI) for construction of laboratory building and vehicle testing track
* After consulting the Director of Town Planning, Maharashtra State, Pune and after making necessary equiries the Government is of the opinion that for granting permission to ARAI for laboratory building and vehicle testing tract it is necessary to delete the said land approximately 20 hectares (to allow existing built up areas 24265 sqm + proposed built up area 35435 sqm) from Hill Top/Hill Slope and include it in Public/Semi-Public Zone
* The government is also of the opinion that the said modification is in the public interest and hence, it is necessary to issue notice under Section 37 (IAA) of the said Act by the government to incorporate the above changes in the sanctioned Development Plan

  • Hence the proposed modification: ``The land bearing S No. 102 (part) of Kothrud approximately 20 hectares (to allow existing built up area 24265 sqm + proposed build up area 35345 sqm) is proposed to be deleted from Hill Top/Hill Slope and include the said land public/semi-public zone for ARAI with the condition that only ground floor plus two floors and maximum 59700 sqm built up area is permissible

Note: The aforesaid part plan is kept open for inspection by the general public in the offices of the following officers on all working days during working hours:
1)      The Deputy Director of Town Planning Pune Division, Pune S.No.74/2 Saharkarnagar, above Bank of Maharashtra, Pune-411009
2)      The Commissioner, Pune Municipal Corporation, Pune
3)      This notice is also available on the government website
It is signed by P L Gohil



To:                                                                               From: 
Deputy Director of Town Planning,          
Directorate of Town Planning,           
Maharashtra State,                                                         
74/2 Sahakar Nagar .                                                                  
PUNE 411 009 .
                                                                                    Tel.No.- ....................  Date :  01 /02/2011.

SUBJECT :    OBJECTION  to proposed  Zone Conversion for ARAI on Vetal Tekdi, Pune .

REF :   Your Notice for Zoning Modification No.TPS-1809/3737/CR-2252/10/UD-13, dated 20-12-2010
published in local newspapers on 12 January, 2011  u/s 37(1-AA) of the MR & TP Act,1966.


            In response to your invitation vide your Notice under reference above, I am hereby registering my strong  OBJECTION  to the proposal of the Government of Maharashtra  to convert the Zoning of land in S.No.102 of Kothrud from Hill-Tops and Hill Slopes Zone to Public Semi-Public Zone for the proposed building construction of the Automotive Research Association of India ( ARAI )

             As a citizen of Pune City, I request you to please note and register my Objection, and record my say in the matter. I also demand  an official hearing in the matter to personally lodge my protest under provisions of Section 37(1-AA)(c)  of the MR & TP Act,1966.  I also hereby serve Notice, that IF    I am not given a personal hearing  in the matter, I shall be at liberty to move the Hon.Court of Law to seek redress in respect of my Objections & Suggestions, as stated below :


1.         The Hill-Tops and Hill-Slopes Zones, Green Zones, Green Belts, and all statutory open spaces in the Development Plan of Pune City are a part of the MANDATORY Open spaces as per Planning Norms and standards for the city’s growing population, and the only remaining breathing ‘LUNGS’ for the Citizen in view of the highly increased air pollution levels in Pune City. Any Government, Local Authority or Individual proposal to reduce this open area, and destroy the Green vegetation cover, whether in part or whole, CANNOT be in the ‘Public Interest’ as claimed in your Notice. Please note, therefore, that the claim of “public interest” stated in your Notice is primarily FALSE and malafide.

2.         It is further submitted that the Automotive Research Association of India ( 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.

3.         Your Notice under Section 37(1AA) seeks to sanction the 24,265 Sq.M of existing UNAUTHORISED construction of ARAI under Section 47, and to allow additional construction of 35,435 Sq.M under Section 58 of the MR &TP Act, 1966. I hereby OBJECT to both reasons being forwarded in the Notice under subject. The present Un-authorised and illegal construction by ARAI should NOT be condoned as it falls in a NON-BUILDABLE  Hill-Top Zone of the Development Plan, and does NOT fall in the purview of Section 58 as permissible ‘Operational’ constructions of Government listed under DC Rule 5.1.1. The illegal construction by ARAI is a Non-Conforming land use by a NON-Governmental Association which clearly violates the provisions of prevailing DC Rule 14.4.2 and 14.5.1. Appropriate action must, therefore, be taken under provisions of the Law, and NO further construction may be permitted in the Hill-top and Hill Slopes Zone as per prevailing Rules.

4.         The function of ARAI is INDUSTRIAL in nature and character, and highly polluting in operation and its location on the Hill-Top between developed residential areas is highly undesirable and harmful for residents around the hills. Both constructions, existing and proposed, are more than 20000 Sq.M  is built-up area, and will require a formal  Environmental Clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India (MoEF). I suggest that NO further action may be taken in this matter until formal clearance of MoEF is obtained and publicly declared by ARAI.   

5.         I further object to the proposed Modification on the grounds that a statutory REVISION of the Development Plan of Pune City has already commenced and Notification under Section 38 has already been issued by the Government on behalf of the Pune Municipal Corporation. There is NO apparent reason or urgency to invoke Section 37(1-AA) to favour ARAI. Any modification proposed DURING the process of Revision of the Development Plan is suspicious and NOT justified.
6.         Pune City has been listed as the Sixth Most Polluted City in India.  Is it the intention of Govt. to achieve the MOST Polluted City status by promoting more pollution in the only remaining low-pollution open spaces ?  I object to the expansion and the industrial pollution by ARAI in the Hill-tops zone. 
The Hill Tops, Hill Slopes and Green Zones in Pune City NEED to be preserved and maintained as Open Spaces for the FUTURE generations. If this precious land resource is NOT preserved in its NATURAL state now, the damage would be permanent and irreversible and completely detrimental to the future of Pune City. I must strongly register my protest against this UN-SUSTAINABLE proposal.

7.         As the proposed construction of ARAI is MORE than the present existing unauthorised construction, It is strongly suggested, that instead of regularising the illegal construction and favouring ARAI at the cost of Public Health and Welfare, and instead of permitting MORE harmful industrial construction and further pollution of the Vetal Tekdi, the ARAI setup be discontinued and ARAI be shifted closer to the Automobile industries in a conforming Industrial Zone like Chakan or Talegaon. This proposal may be incorporated in the ongoing Revision of the Development Plan of Pune, and your present Notice under Section 37(1-AA) be immediately withdrawn.  

            I request you to please acknowledge receipt of this letter, and communicate the date and time for a personal hearing in the matter and kindly oblige.
ARAI proposed expansion superimposed alongside the present structure


Date :      January, 2011                                                                      (  Name :                                      )     

Sr. No.         Name                      Address                        Phone No.                   Signature.

Warm tribute to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi

Some are born, never to die

 Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, a legend in his own lifetime leaves behind an ocean of scintillating and heart-tugging epics of Hindustani Classical Music that will last for innumerable lifetimes to come. A warm-hearted tribute
Like God, he hardly ever said anything to strangers. He simply rendered in bounty, the seemingly perennial stream of soulful ragas to whoever sat to listen in front of him or to whoever put on the audio gadgets at their homes and cars to hear his mesmerizing voice. And there were millions and millions of them crossing boundaries of caste, creed, religion and countries, asking for more. This insatiable hunger to hear him endlessly was created by the Creator himself – the immortal maestro Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. He could innovate one raga to give it a 1,000 expressions and stun the audience with this magical ability never ever heard before and perhaps never again.

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi who passed away on January 24 due to old age related illness was a personification of dedication to Hindustani Classical Music, to the extent that he was dissolved in its vast body and soul and was unmindful of his own existence. While he was and will continue to be the stalwart guru to generations and generations of singers, he himself was the ardent disciple of Sawai Gandharva (who taught him Classical music of the Kirana Gharana) till the very end. While he stormed into limelight when he performed on public stage in Pune to celebrate his guru’s 60th birthday, the annual Sawai Gandharva Festival which he hosted since 1953 was the ultimate and the most prestigious platform for budding classical singers and dancers as well as for the veterans.

While to him goes the credit of the magnanimous contribution of bringing classical music closest to the common man through the Sawai Gandharva festival, he is also instrumental in bringing humility to live performances. The Sawai Gandharva Festival is a classical example wherein an artist, no matter of what stature, sits around like you and me and takes stage with a bowed head, as if in obeisance to the great tradition of Classical Music. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi himself, particularly in the last years of his life when he was unable to perform would sit on a plastic chair carelessly kept on the side. One would understand his presence because you would see a fleet of maestros and admirers going towards him to touch his feet.

For a journalist, it was extremely difficult to interview Pandit Bhimsen Joshi unless he was aware that the journalist was proficient in the knowledge of Classical Music. Otherwise, his answers used to be in mono syllables and you would have to find answers from those who were close to him. His greatness was such that any adornment with the Padma awards (he was the recipient of all three of them) or even the Bharat Ratna seemed like a drop in the ocean of the glorious music that he rendered. It’s like - what can you give God? Flowers? Leaves? Gold? Anything seems too inconsequential for an existence that was larger-than-life.

From being a radio artist to the most sought after stage artist, he rode on an incessant wave of success and admiration till the very end. For six decades of his career he was almost constantly traveling all over the country and the world. Earlier, he would drive around the country in his car – he had a Mercedes – but with increasing invitations, he had no choice but to fly and was sometimes called the Flying Guruji. His acumen in driving and knowing the mechanics of the car that he drove astounded his near and dear friends. Once noted compere Sudhir Gadgli sat in the front seat while Panditji was driving to Nashik. Known for high speed driving, his car almost collided with an oncoming truck. Panditji swerved the car and was saved by a whisker. Naturally Gadgil gasped as a sigh of relief. Panditji said to him, ``don’t worry, dhotrala lagel pun mandila lagnar nahi (meaning, it will touch the dhoti but not the skin of my thigh). He wanted to express his perfection in car driving.

Besides his Classical Music that was par excellence, his rich repertoire of abhangs (Marathi devotional songs) captured the heart of entire Maharashtra. He can be given the credit of familiarising abhangs to all and sundry. `Indrayani kathi’ and `Tujhe Mahera Pandhari’ are a couple of evergreen numbers. For those who do not have a yearning for classical music, he hit national headlines and won millions of more admirers with national song of unity - `Mile Sur mera tumhara, toh sur bane hamara…’

It’s almost as if Pune has lost the most precious jewel from its treasure chest. Though of course, some are born, never to die. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is one of those rare ones. We salute him.

Pune gave a fond and tearful farewell to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Hundreds thronged to his house in Navi Peth where is body was kept. Intelligent Pune spoke to some noted Puneites who were close to Panditji and narrated a few incidents which reflects the greatness of Panditji.

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