As the crow flies, Matheran is barely 20 miles across the creek from Mumbai. Until the early 80's, it was pristine and unspoilt, perhaps one of the last inhabited virgin forest areas in the state with a fascinating flora and fauna.
The ambitious plans of man then brought in unscrupulous developers and ugly constructions, most of them illegal. Hotels mushroomed everywhere, rampantly flouting lease laws in cohorts with the municipal authorities.
The tourist traffic increased, no one cared if the hill could handle the volume. Garbage and plastics were seen everywhere, toilets and public conveniences nowhere. The roads went into pathetic disrepair. The water supply diminished considerably. Trees began dwindling. Businesses boomed and the eco-system went bust.
A lobby of hoteliers and politicians began to campaign actively to allow motor vehicles and trucks into the hill. The local municipal authorities went so far as to de-reserve forest land for a new development plan that envisaged slums, amusement parks, discos, water parks, concrete roads etc. The colour went out of the hill station. The peace and serenity a distant past.
At this point, a group of concerned local citizens and bungalow owners formed the Matheran Bachao Samiti to fight back and stop this destruction in the name of progress. A long civil battle ensued. Threats flew up and down. Politicians lost their influence and money too, in the bargain. Finally, in 2002, the Supreme Court declared Matheran an eco-sensitive zone.
Plastics are now banned. There is a freeze on any new hotels or restaurants. Tree felling is strictly banned, road repairs have started, and absolutely no vehicles are allowed into the town limits except for a single ambulance in emergency cases. Public toilets have been installed, a new garbage collection system has been introduced. Any new development will have to adhere to very strict guidelines set down by a committee scheduled to be set up soon.
All in all, the way is now clear for Matheran to become probably the only place in the whole of India that will remain clean, green and pollution free in the foreseeable future.