India — Alarmed to see a forest fire on the restricted Belapur Hill on Sunday night, a local activist immediately called up the civic body as well as the City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco).
But when neither agencies responded with the expected swiftness, Aditi Lahiri, the activist, was forced to send text messages to the top Cidco officers, as Belapur Hill is technically a Cidco green-zone property.
“Such forest fires are deliberately started by encroachers who want to grab land. Last year too, there were several such fires on this ravaged green zone, which already has slums and illegal structures cropping up,” she said.
Two senior Cidco officers immediately responded to Lahiri’s text messages and fire brigade personnel were rushed to the site to douse the flames.
The flames rose from sector 7 and spread to a slum in sector 8, said officers.
“It was a big forest fire that was brought under control in about two hours. We are inquiring about the cause of fire,” said a fireman who was at the spot. He added that currently, he could not convincingly claim if the fire was started deliberately. Fire officials said if it was a case of arson, the culprits will be punished.
Activists are, however, not happy with the promises. “While I thank senior Cidco officers for responding to the fire, a lot of greenery is fast vanishing from these hills due to mysterious fires, tree-cuttings, and earth excavations,” said Lahiri.
Last year, Navi Mumbai-based members of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had rallied outside the Cidco office in order to submit their petition to protect the hill from such indiscriminate encroachers.
Based on replies to RTI queries, local activists had learnt that the ownership and maintenance of the hill is Cidco and Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation’s (MIDC) responsibility.
“Just as Cidco is planning to develop a nature park on the Kharghar Hill range, a similar green plan is being considered for Belapur as well. However, the land mafia is encroaching and destroying the green cover, which must be stopped by the authorities,” added Lahiri.
Around 10 years ago, there were just two temples atop the Belapur Hill, which was verdant. However, locals point out that today the hill is in a bad state, with increasing slums and illegal structures.
“The town planning authority must assume the responsibility of protecting its own property by putting up boards, fencing off the area and stationing guards. Most hills have disappeared and ugly scars remain in the form of quarries, illegal structures and slums. Whatever is left needs to be protected,” said Lahiri.