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Lavasa: Bringing back on track

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Ever since its inception, Lavasa township has been at the centre of controversy — not least because of alleged environmental violations. After being denied permission by the Ministry of Forest and Environment (MoFE), work on India’s first hill city since independence had been held up for almost 13 months.
The first phase of this mega-project, which is spread over 24,000 acre of land, finally received MoEF clearance in November last year, albeit with certain pre-conditions attached. But for a project of such scale, it is a significant challenge to bring it back on track — not least when it comes to manpower and contractors.
“Since 50 per cent of the villas are almost complete, we don’t have the option to go for new technology or innovation to expedite delivery. The real challenge is to remobilise the contractors and bring them back onto the site. After the project was stalled for over a year, most of the contractors had demobilised, so bringing them back is itself a huge challenge,” says Jayant Bhalerao, senior vice-president for projects at Lavasa.
So how did they manage to get the contractors back to work in such a short time? “Basically, most of them have been associated with HCC [Lavasa’s parent company] for the last five or six years, so that’s a long association. They are assured that this is not a one-time job; Lavasa has many phases. So that’s how we convinced them,” he says.
Second, the villas and apartments had been closed for almost 13 months, so it had become necessary to tackle some reworking.
“The third challenge is the monsoon, which is expected to hit soon, so we have to complete certain OSBL infrastructure works, which are associated with handing over these villas and apartments. If infrastructure such as roads, drains, street light, cabling and utilities are not completed, the physical hand-over of houses is of no use,” says Bhalerao.

NEW METHODOLOGY
Since its first town, Dasve, is almost complete, HCC is now looking at introducing new methods for its future towns. “For the Mugaon project, we are implementing some new technology to expedite work. We are in negotiation with a couple of overseas companies for this, which should reduce construction time by 20 to 25 per cent. The process will be clean and environmentally friendly. There is huge potential to save energy and increase quality,” says Ravindra Dalal, Lavasa’s senior vice-president for projects.
He says they are looking towards industrialisation, which means bringing uniformity to their products. “We are standardising windows, doors and other stuff, and making them on site; we are trying to become fully self-sufficient. That’s why we are making almost everything, such as brick, crusher and RMC plant, here. Lavasa is not depending on Pune or other neighbouring cities, contractor and vendors for materials,” explains Dalal.
In terms of introducing technology, the company has made many changes, moving from conventional construction to pre-engineered building across some of its buildings. For new buildings, Dalal says, they are evaluating new formwork technologies, such as Mivan, to build faster: “Currently, we are doing SWOT analyses for all these technologies. We will select whatever the best technology is available; the purpose of bringing in new technology is to reduce dependency on labour. Labour is the biggest challenge.”
Mugaon will start construction in September this year, with plans for more than 105 buildings and hotels. A 600-bed Apollo hospital is also planned, as is a NASA theme park and six new hotels. For sports, there will be golf club academy and football academy at Mugaon.

ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVITIES
The terms of MoEF’s pre-conditions are mainly related to preserving the environment, and maintaining soil, water and air quality.
“We had an environment management plan based on the environmental impact assessment right from the beginning, and we have been following whatever was agreed on to be implemented. Now we have a new environment management plan based on clearances that we have received from the MoEF. Obviously, the earlier plan was a few years old,” says Krunal Negandhi, Lavasa’s assistant vice-president for environment.
“Our focus is to find out where we can conserve more energy as we have a stiff target now. MoEF conditions have targeted around 28-per cent energy conservation — quite a substantial figure. We are putting all our efforts from design to construction methodology into achieving that particular target,” he says.
Negandhi says there is a big difference the earlier and government-mandated targets. “We didn’t start with any specific conditions — we had set our own target to conserve between 10 and 15 per cent energy but now we are targeting more. So our basic focus at the site is to ensure that we are maintaining the quality of the environment as we work on the development.”
Dasve already has the LEED-certified Fortune hotel, and Lavasa is currently looking at applying for LEED-rated green township certification from Indian Green Building Council. It has planted six lakh plants and has a target of planting another two to three million trees. “Every year we plant 50,000 to one lakh trees. We are also adopting integrated water management, hydro seeding, soil conservation and a whole lot of other such activities. We are approaching at the environment holistically, and looking forward to creating new benchmarks in the area of urban city development. We hope our results will speak for itself over the long-term,” Negandhi concludes.

CSR ACTIVITIES
As per MoEF preconditions, Lavasa is expected spend at least five per cent of the total project cost on CSR activities, most of which are taking place at the site, as well as the neighbouring 18 villages, where more than 3,000 people leave. The company’s philosophy is to make local villagers self-reliant through self-help, rather than dependant on Lavasa forever. It is focusing on five key areas: employment for locals, rehabilitation and resettlement, health, education and crèches.
Lavasa has directly hired 327 locals, who have been inducted into offices, watersports activities, hotels and facility management, and an additional 119 people have gained work through site contractors. Lavasa has also encouraged villagers to open shops for essential commodities to cater to a large number of laborers living at the site. In its first phase, Lavasa constructed 33 houses measuring 600 sq-ft for residents of Dasve at lower and upper Gaothan.
Lavasa also runs Christel House International school, where 210 students currently study. The school has a total capacity for 900 children to provide a mainstream education across all age groups, from kindergarten up to Grade XII. The children also enjoy the privileges of their financially better-off counterparts, like pick-ups and drops, uniforms, nutrition, health care and community involvement.

CURRENT STATUS
The first phase, which is called Dasve, is spread over 1,700 acres of land and has residential, hospitality, commercial and educational facilities. With around 85 per cent of the residential segment already complete, the project is currently in its final stages; out of around 600 villas, over 300 are almost finished and ready for handover, while 500 out of 900 apartments are complete. The balance of villas and apartments will be ready either by the end of this year or beginning of next year.
In the hospitality segment, Dasve already has the ITC Fortune and Mercure up and running. Two more — Pullman and Novotel — are currently under construction and are expected to be complete by the end of 2013. A number of commercial projects are expected to be finished by March 2013.
For the educational sector, aside from Christel House School, Christ University is in progress with part of it due for completion by end of this year. A hospitality education institute, Ecole Hotelière Lavasa, will expected to be ready by March 2013.
Lavasa recently launched its second town, Mugaon, which is spread over 2,200 acres of land. Construction work will begin in September and completion is expected by 2015.

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