Lavasa is a private, planned city built near Pune. It is stylistically based on the Italian town Portofino, with a street and several buildings bearing the name of that town.
This onetime hilltop paradise is becoming for some a hell on earth.
The days of zero crime are over. Garbage collection is sporadic, so litter soils the man-made lake. Storefronts are vacant. Signs of neglect are everywhere: maintenance is late or nonexistent. And that’s for the construction already done. For the unfinished building works—i.e. most of it—there is little happening.
Two decades ago, then-billionaire Ajit Gulabchand envisioned something very different: a city called Lavasa, modeled on the cotton-candy harbor of Italy’s Portofinoa, a four-hour drive from the slums and pollution that pervade so much of India’s financial capital of Mumbai. To deliver that dream, he hired the architects at HOK, creators of LaGuardia’s Airport Central Terminal B in New York and the Barclays world headquarters in London. Design awards and global news coverage followed.
It would be India’s first privately built and managed city, one of five planned for 30,000 to 50,000 people each, soaking up settlers from the hinterlands looking for opportunities in urban areas. No more government bureaucracy. The cost would be billions of dollars. (The company declined to provide a full estimate.)
Today Lavasa is an incomplete shell housing some 10,000 people, a symbol of the excesses gripping the world’s second most-populous nation. Lavasa Corporation Ltd. faces what may be its final reckoning, as India’s central bank forces lenders to restructure debts quickly or take defaulters to bankruptcy court.
Arguably even worse off than current residents are the thousands of people who have put down their life savings or borrowed money to buy property here, only to fear it may never get built.