Barely a month since the Malin landslide that claimed more than 150 lives, experts are concerned about the possibility of similar accidents in the adjoining hilly areas in Junnar, Maval, Mulshi and Bhor in Pune district.
Representatives of some local NGOs are still angry over the blame being put on villagers for the tragedy. "It seems convenient for government agencies like the Geological Survey of India (GSI) to blame the terrace farming practiced by communities. Why were they quiet when entire topography-altering townships like Lavasa were built," asked Parineeta Dandekar of the South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People.
The experts and representatives of organisations discussed these aspects at a meeting at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune on Saturday.
There were members from Shashwat and Chaitanya, two community NGOs which enjoy a good rapport with villagers and the administration in the region.
The organisations represented were IIT Mumbai, Karve Institute (Pune), the Centre for Disaster Management, Maharashtra Arogya Mandal and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), which is working with the district administration in relief and rehabilitation work in Malin.
"Photographs and visuals of Malin show that the theory of terrace farming being responsible for the tragedy is bunkum. Terracing on either side of the debris was intact even after the landslide," said Anand Kapoor of Shashwat.
Pune collector Saurav Rao told dna that the district administration was concerned over the landslide risk in the entire hilly belt in the district. "I have given orders to start a survey of the entire region at the village level. Once the initial findings are available mid-September, we will get the GSI to finalise the report and submit it by the end of the month. It will help us to take preventive steps," Rao said.
He, however, would not comment on the fear over Lavasa. "Let us wait for the survey results. Once they are in, irrespective of the area mentioned, we will take action," the collector said. When asked to elaborate, he said, "We will ask them to stop any activity that may amplify the danger. We will even shift entire villages and rehabilitate the villagers if it is needed."
Authorities at Lavasa, the private hill township being developed near Pune, declined an official statement. But an official, speaking on condition of anonymity, brushed off the criticism as "baseless and mischievous accusations".
He said the township was developed following the highest standards of eco-conservation. "We submit an environmental report to the union ministry of environment every six months about the activity undertaken."
Dr S Parasuraman, director, TISS, told dna, "We'll help the administration to design the rehabilitation programme. We can ensure that it is done in a participatory manner."
He mentioned providing psycho-social care and support like finance and legal aid, not just for survivors of the tragedy but also for vulnerable groups in the villages nearby.
"We can train local activists to work with the people. Chaitanya has started counseling and we need to strategise how to work with them," he said.
The TISS director pointed out that deforestation and the lack of proper implementation of environment conservation rules would be the critical focus of the intervention plan.
"We will develop protocol for such intervention with the help of the local community and self-government officials, identify possibilities and areas to use funds for rehabilitation plan and build disaster resilience," he explained.