The State of Pune’s Infrastructure, Part 2: Construction and Urban Planning

I have rarely seen the kind of construction boom that Pune is seeing – not even on the Ghodbunder road stretch in uptown Thane. Builder groups are probably smacking their lips when they see vast stretches of virgin land in front of them – Pune offers almost unlimited scope for expansion. You can afford to build horizontally (unlike in Mumbai and Thane, where the only direction now is Up). But land is not the only requirement for building a complete city. As Mumbai’s former municipal commissioner S. S. Tinaikar told NDTV shortly after the Mumbai floods – along with buildings, you also need water suppply, electricity, drainage, connecting roads, telephone cabling, and the things we don’t even think of usually – parks, schools, colleges, other open spaces – is the administration even thikning about that? And is there even a development plan for the city? Apparently not, if you look at the kind of expansion that’s taking place in areas like Aundh and Kondhwa. Every single open space is being bought and converted into every single kind of residential facility you can think up of – from low-cost housing to design-your-own-bungalows, from row-houses to twenty-storey behemoths. I’d like figures on how many new schools and junior colleges and public parks were constructed as compared to the number of residential complexes, in the past five years. And then reality will hit home.

Roads are now unable to bear the traffic that’s imposed upon them because of this expansion. NIBM road is very close to where I live. It’s a reasonably “posh” area, with restaurants, bakeries, the traditional “hangout” spots, and giant residential complexes adjoining the road. The road itself, however, has shrunk rather than expanded. People park cars, motorcycles, rickshaws on both sides of the road with impunity. The neighbourhood garbage dump accumulates waste day after day, until comeone from the municipality (or is it the cantonment?) is goaded into coming up and clearing it away. All added up, the road is choking. And NIBM road is representative of dozens of identical neighbourhoods.

Is the village prepared?
Something which isn’t obvious, but is a very serious problem. The areas where Pune is expanding – notably Aundh, Kothrud, Mundhwa and Kondhwa – were essentially villages (not even semi-urban areas) till very recently. And, like a tidal wave, Pune city has simply inundated them. I can see this in Kondhwa, where I live. There are huge buildings everywhere, malls, pool parlours, restaurants, every facet of a “with-it” suburb – but the shop-owner, the rickshaw-driver, the tea-stall owner, the occasional “tapri”, the roadside vegetable vendor – are all villagers – the real natives of Kondhwa – who have still to come to terms with the sudden inroads that the city has made. I can see, every single day, old men (and women) in the area at the local tea-stall, trying to cling on to the lifestyle that they lived for decades, until only two or three years ago. Perhaps I am sounding like a social activist, a la Medha Patkar, maybe? But this kind of thing could well have been avoided with proper planning. But the corporation is asleep at the wheel – or chooses to be asleep.

The State of Pune’s Infrastructure, Part 3: Public Transport

This is the backbone of every city. Every single major city has a well-entrenched public transport system. A good public transport system eases traffic congestion, reduces air and noise pollution, and moves large masses of people efficiently, regularly and cost-effectively from Home to Workplace and back, regularly. No city has grown beyond a certain point without a mass transport system. Mumbai has BEST and the local train network. Delhi has the DTC, private buses and now the metro. Abroad, Singapore has its MRT – the Mass Rapid Transport system. Pune has nothing. Nothing except for the Pune Municipal Transport Corporation buses. This fleet has run the same set of buses for as long as I can remember. The exact same buses that used to ply the roads of the city when I was a wee five-year-old on my occasional Pune visits, still ply the same roads. Belching smoke, tired twenty-year-old engines struggle to power dented, dusty, rutsy buses with broken seats, windows and panelling, across the city. Sometime this year, the corporation made a feeble, half-hearted effort to bring in a bunch of new buses and announced that it had “upgraded” the fleet. That is a downright lie. The vast, vast majority of buses on the streets are the old rickety ones. And it is a HUGE pain to travel by them. There are long lines for infrequent buses, the bus stops and bus depots are dirty nightmares. Pune needs double the fleet size, first-class buses, a three-fold increase in fares, and a complete route-remap. Pronto. The older this fleet gets, worse becomes the fuel-efficiency, more become the maintenance costs, pollution, driver and staff stress. Unless the PMT becomes something that the whole populace relies on and trusts, there’ll be far more people buying two- and four-wheelers, making traffic problems worse. There is also a thriving 6-seater and 8-seater rickshaw business, almost a parallel public transport system. I don’t know how far this is illegal, but the vehicles themselves are a complete menace.

In conclusion:
When none of the above – Roads, Electricity, Urban Planning, Public Transport – function at even a fraction of the minimum quality and reliability that is expected of a city of this size, how in the world does the administration intend to build it up into the “next Bangalore”? If things persist, forget progressing to compete with Bangalore, Pune might not even be able to be remain what it was a few years ago. Wake up!


Lotus Notes 7 is out!

Ok – Lotus Notes 7 has finally been released, and – I’m SO glad to be an IBMer – I’ve already got it installed on my ThinkPad! It’s SO thrilling to be able to try out all of the cool features I’ve been reading for so long on Alan Lepofsky’s blog! I’m exploring R7 all I can as I write this – just finished migrating all my local databases to the latest templates. Expect a few R7-related posts in the days to come!

It’s indicative of the kind of excitement surrounding Notes/Domino: everyone’s known of R7’s new features for quite a while now, and is already – within less than a week of the release – looking forward to Hannover! I don’t want to hear “Notes is dead” ONE more time now! ‘Nuff said!