In a bid to check the spree of illegal encroachments on the hill slopes of the district’s eco-sensitive Pavana dam area, the Western Bench of the National Green Tribunal has issued notices to the State Environment Department, and 53 other people, including many celebrities.A Bench comprising Justices S.P. Wangdi and Dr. Nagin Nanda was acting on an environment interest litigation (EIL) filed by Sanjay Vishwanath ‘Bala’ Bhegade, a Bharatiya Janata Party legislator from Maval, around 18 km from the city.“The area [in Maval Taluk] under the water catchments of the Pavana Dam, surrounded by hills, has been declared as an ‘eco-sensitive zone’ by the committee formed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2000 under the Chairmanship of Dr. Pronab Sen,” reads Mr. Bhegade’s petition.However, recently, a number of diamond merchants, cricketers, industrialists and Bollywood personalities have built luxurious villas and farm-houses on the hills, said advocate Asim Sarode, counsel for the petitioner.“The illicit constructions are shearing away the natural contours on the hilltops and hill-slopes, and the rampant felling of trees was causing permanent damage to the environment,” said Mr. Bhegade.Mr. Bhegade also alleged that the constructions had already disrupted water channels, forcing streams and rivers to alter their natural flowing path, posing a serious risk of landslides. “Earlier, some villagers had approached government authorities to apprise them of the situation. But other than sending notices to the owners of the illegal constructions, no action was taken. Hence, I have filed this EIL,” Mr. Bhegade said. Despite the ecological damage and a significant reduction of forest and green cover area, the taluk still retains its importance as a forest area rich in biodiversity, as is noted by the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturirangan panels on the ecological preservation of the Western Ghats, Mr. Sarode said.The tribunal also reprimanded the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority (PMRDA) and the Maharashtra State Biodiversity Board for the rise in encroachments in the area. The next hearing is set for August 6.