Lavasa - an ultimate getaway, a city that would offer the charms of European locales, with five star comforts in a scenic part of Maharashtra has now become an abandoned town.
The city, that was Ajit Gulabchand's dream has turned out to be an undesired misery for the residents trapped in the forlorn walls. “In 2013, after crossing Thirkungat and damn, my whole view of Lavasa changed. I thought this is the place I was looking and searching for my retirement”, said Mithila Chakravarty, a local resident at Ashiana in Lavasa.
It was supposed to be a stylishly planned private hub, inspired from the Italian town Portofino, as a dream destination for the rich and well-heeled. An idea conceived when bank finance was easily available for real estate and Infra firms, today's Lavasa is fast turning into a nightmare for residents and a looming bankruptcy for the developer, Ajit Gulabchand of HCC.
“For about a year or two, I think it was quite good. But then slowly I saw the deteriorating part of it, which pained me a lot. As I said, I have come down for good, I have settled down for good, so it pained me to see what I dreamt of, or Mr.Gulabchand has dreamt was slowly cracking up. I could see a little dirt here and there, the roads were not maintained. The staff was going away, security system failing,” she added.
Lavasa has now turned into a dysfunctional reality with an empty promenade, and shuttered shops. Dilapidated buildings, disintegrated sidewalks, heaps of garbage and closed restaurants add to the lost grandeur. The dream of Ajit Gilabchand's 'Happy Lavasa' started to unravel seven years ago, when in 2011, the first phase of Lavasa ran into issues involving environment clearances.
“I understand that these Lavasa people went to the court, and the argument was Environment clearance is a state subject and not central, and you know litigation in our country takes real long. That one year break is the major cause of Lavasa breaking and going down and unfortunately HCC is to be blamed. They have not managed their affairs properly,” said Colonel Kulbir Singh Dahiya, a resident of Ashiana since 2013.
The issues got sorted out but the delays, the company claims, set back the project and hit its finances hard. Hindustan Construction Ltd is struggling to repay nearly $610mn of debt and there is a serious risk of the defaulting company being taken to insolvency.
Ajit Gulabchand said that people need to understand that the project had been stalled for three to four years and after some of the lenders backed out, the funding came to a standstill. He added that as per the new Reserve Bank of India guidelines, few investors have showed interest and bankers are back on discussion table.
It has been five years now that work has been at a standstill in Lavasa. About 850 villas, and 1000 plus residential apartments were to be constructed, yet there are issues with occupancy. The residents are also facing issues like, poor management, theft, security, inadequate waste management, and co operation issues.
The Lavasa experience includes everything from beautiful lake sides to lush green landscapes and despite the problems, there is still a lot left in this graceful setting which some residents have started calling a “ghost-town”.
There is an air of confusion regarding the future of the city, but some residents also hold the opinion that it is just a bad phase, and Lavasa should be back soon.
“People love to spread bad news, but nobody knows the fact. Every project has its ups and downs and it is a down time for Lavasa. It will pick up soon,” said Fr Jossy from Christ University,Lavasa.
The management has large amounts of debt to repay but they claim a resolution process is on the cards and only time will tell what the future holds for Lavasa.