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.