Dasve is the first town
of these 4-5 villages and
planned to be completed
Lavasa is a group of five ‘town centers’ built around the shores of Warasgaon Lake, outside of Pune. The area has been developed as a pedestrian-friendly, upper- and middle-class alternative to Pune’s bustling urbanism. Mediterranean facades and lake-front cafes give the development a resort-like atmosphere, causing many critics to question the project’s social inclusiveness. Others argue that Lavasa is simply meeting a market demand. There is no doubt that India is in need of new cities, but is Lavasa a viable model for future Indian urbanization?
In a country with no structured urban planning at the national scale, it is purely market demand that drives the construction of New Towns and cities in India. Over the last eight years, the national government has become weaker while the state governments have taken on more regulatory power. This shift has caused much confusion (not to mention legal problems) for large-scale developers trying to get approval for various projects. Because there are basically no clear planning regulations in place, almost all of the urban growth now happening is the result of private developers. Despite India’s obvious need for new cities and townships, the difficulties involved in building legally make any new development extremely ambitious. Much of the new urbanization is taking place along the major industrial corridors (Mumbai-Pune Corridor, Mumbai-Delhi Corridor and the Bangalore-Chennai Corridor). While this does answer to a very urgent need for housing, the main problem with this unregulated expansion is that many of the new townships are being built on agricultural land. Reducing the nation’s cultivatable land will have dire consequences for a nation already facing a serious food crisis.
Lavasa also springs from India’s exploding demand for new housing and work environments. Unlike these booming corridors, however, Lavasa is the brainchild of a single man: City Corporation Ltd.’s managing director Aniruddha Deshpande. In 1999, the verdant site on the shores of Warasgaon lake was originally suggested to Deshpande by Union Cabinet Minister of Agriculture and Nationalist Congress Party president, Sharad Pawar. Since then, Pawar has maintained an interest in the groundbreaking project, calling it a shared vision with Deshpande.1
In 2000, Lavasa Corporation Ltd. (originally called the Pearly Blue Lake Resort Private Limited Company) launched their plan for a business hotel to be developed on the picturesque site 65km outside of Pune. When the company turned public in 2003, Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) Chairman and Managing Director Ajit Gulabchand joined the project, becoming the main investor with a 65% stake through his subsidiary HCC Realty. HCC is India’s largest heavy civil engineering construction company and the largest tunneling contractor in Asia. According to Gulabchand, the massive private development is an outgrowth of their previous infrastructural work, and an answer to experts’ claims that India will need to build at least 500 new cities to accommodate the country’s mass internal migration from rural to urban centers.2
From this humble start, the project has snowballed into a sprawling city for 300,000 residents and an estimated 2 million tourists per annum. Lavasa is now under construction as a complete new hill city containing five town centers. The first two are already completed: Dasve (2010) and Mugaon (2012). In total, the five town centers (Dasve, Mugaon, Sakhri & Wadavli and Dhamanohol) are planned across the lush, green hills snaking around 60km of lakefront property. Together, these centers make up one of the largest urban developments in India.
Dasve, the first town center (completed in 2010), acts as the development’s prime residential space, with mixed housing from studio apartments to luxury villas. The colorful lakefront architecture is finished in reds, yellows and oranges, with a 2km promenade stretching along the shore. Cafés, restaurants, boutiques and galleries line the walkway, giving the area a Mediterranean atmosphere. The smooth, undecorated facades and wrought iron balcony railings are almost Italianate. Further up the hills, a country club, water sports, museum, art center, hotels and resorts cater to a growing tourism sector. A commercial business park, convention center and Town Hall, act as the operations heart of the town center, with schools and universities placed in the valley between two hills.
Mugaon, the second, recently-opened town center, lies about 8km from Dasve. In addition to residential and commercial space, Mugaon is more focused on employment. This town center has an IT park, R&D facilities, biotechnology centers, light industries, film production and animation studios, management institutes and various sports academies. Mugaon opened in late March, 2012 with a long waiting list of interested buyers.
The third town center to be developed, Dhamanohol, will be the most luxurious area, with a string of villas running along the hillfront and an 18-hole golf course designed by Sir Nick Faldo. The other town centers will follow the lead of Dasve and Mugaon, with mixed housing, working and recreational spaces. One of the most common criticisms leveled at the project has been the claim that Maharashtra political bigwigs have bought property in Lavasa and that the development caters only to the wealthy. Ajit Gulabchand responded directly to this, saying, “No, I don’t think [local politicians have bought property there]. We have a very clean and open system of Customer Relationship Management. You apply, you buy it and you move forward. Politicians tomorrow may have a place there—why not? But if you think they’ve been given (properties) for any favours, no.”3 In fact, the apartments in Mugaon alone range in price from Rs 3550 ($63) to Rs 3950 ($70) per square foot (depending on location and size), and range in size from 550ft2 (51m2) to 2000ft2 (185m2).4 These prices are comparable to similar apartments for sale in downtown Pune. Still, even the studio apartments are by no means attainable for the average chauffeur earning 2000Rs/month.
Since its conception more than a decade ago, Lavasa has attracted both accolades and critique. The project has garnered international awards for implementing the principles of New Urbanism and bio-mimicry, but Lavasa has also been the target of a sustained media attack. Much of this controversy stems from Lavasa’s unstable relationship with state and national governments. At the beginning, the Maharashtra government supported the project and granted environmental clearance for the project within two months of the company’s application. The national government intervened in 2005, claiming Lavasa was in violation of 1986 Environmental Protection Act. Charges of illegal land acquisition were also investigated, but both were later dropped.5
Between 2010 and 2011, the project’s entanglement with the Ministry of Environment and Forests stalled work on Lavasa, costing HCC Rs 2 crore ($360,000) per day while work was halted. Lavasa Corporation Ltd. has consistently denied claims of illegal operations. In a public statement released in April 2012, they indicated that Lavasa was being singled out by a blood-thirsty media: “Time and again, allegations have been leveled against Lavasa. These are based on misconceptions. Whilst we suspect lack of clarity and understanding of the facts, we also at times, sense an element of malafide intent amongst some detractors.”6
Despite Lavasa’s headline-grabbing history, the project is very popular with would-be residents: Phase I is completely sold out and Phase II properties are being snapped up almost as soon as they are available. The Mediterranean waterfront architecture style, pedestrian walkways, galleries, courtyards and cafés suggest a very different lifestyle from the density of neighboring Pune or Mumbai, and this style has been extremely well-received by buyers.
Attention to the specialized social requirements of creating a “city from scratch” is also evident in Lavasa’s Code of Citizenship. This document, given to all new residents, helps raise awareness of expectations and responsibilities. Among the regulations spelled out in the document are a proviso against flowerpots on external ledges and a warning that “over-confidence [in servants] may lead to pilferages.”7
The Lavasa project meets a very real market demand. Middle class families are attracted to many aspects: safety, a picturesque setting, clean streets and a coherent architectural character give Lavasa an almost resort-like atmosphere. And much like a resort, the squalid homes of the urban poor are nowhere to be seen. While in Pune and Mumbai rich and poor live cheek by jowl, in Lavasa, it’s easy to forget your less-successful countrymen. The unreality of this sheltered community pricks our Western planning preoccupation with social democracy and mixed-income housing, but in India, Lavasa is meeting a market need.
1 Pawar’s involvement has been the root of much of the controversy surrounding the project. When the company was originally looking for investors they approached Sadanand Sule (Pawar’s son-in-law), among others. Sule and his wife (NCP MP Supriya Sule) owned 20% of the company between 2002-2004. According to Deshpande, “We did not realise the implications of Sule’s investments and the controversies that would follow.” See: “The Lavasa project is a vision shared with Sharad Pawar: Aniruddha Deshpande.” Daily News and Analysis, Dec. 26, 2010.
2 Prof. C.K. Prahalad, author of Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, has claimed that India will need a minimum of 500 new cities to house growing urban populations. In 2010, McKinsey Global Institute published the report India's urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth, in which they claimed that “India’s urban population [will soar] from 340 million in 2008 to 590 million in 2030… To meet urban demand, the economy will have to build between 700 million and 900 million square meters of residential and commercial space a year.” Download the pdf here: http://www.mckinsey.com/Insights/MGI/Research/Urbanization/Urban_awakening_in_India
3 Vaidyanathan Iyer, P. “The Environment Ministry does not have measurable standards. So how do you know what and whom to deal with?” The Indian Express. Jan. 9, 2011
4 See: Lavasa Press Release, “Lavasa launches Mugaon – its second town”, Saturday, March 24, 20125 In September 2002, Lavasa Corporation Ltd. (then called the Lake City Corporation) signed a 30-year lease agreement with the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation (MKVDC), the irrigation department of the Maharashtra government. MKVDC was then under the direction of Sharad Pawar’s nephew, Ajit Pawar, causing a media firestorm about nepotism and conflicts of interest. The water rights given to the company under this agreement became a matter of litigation in 2011.
6 The statement was released to the public and posted on the Lavasa website. See: http://www.lavasa.com/high/facts.aspx
7 Lavasa Corporation Ltd. (2011). Lavasa Citizen Handbook [Brochure]. Pp. 6-7
source: Rachel Keeton