Monday Musings: The many challenges facing Pune city's Metro project

Monday Musings: The many challenges facing Pune city’s Metro project
© Provided by Hindustan Times There have been inordinate delays in bringing the Metro project to Pune. While the major share of the blame does go to the Congress-NCP for failing to initiate the project earlier, local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians and environmentalists are also to be blamed for the deferrals. (HT FILE)

On December 24, 2016, three months before the Pune civic elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said: “Had the (Pune Metro) project been sanctioned earlier by the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) regime, the citizens of Pune wouldn’t have had to endure traffic snarls.” He was speaking at the Pune Metro Rail’s foundation stone laying ceremony, and was right, but only partially.

Five years have passed and citizens are now asking: Why is the project still not complete, even in parts?

There have already been inordinate delays in bringing the Metro project to Pune. While the major share of the blame does go to the Congress-NCP for failing to initiate the project much earlier, local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians and environmentalists are also to be blamed for the deferrals.

And now, there are some groups stalling the project because they are not happy with the height of the viaduct at Chhatrapati Sambhaji bridge, also known as Lakdi Pul, which is a crucial location in the entire project.

Why?

These groups, mostly Ganpati mandals feel the viaduct height poses a hindrance to immersion procession, something the project executing agency Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Limited (Maha-Metro) has denied. There have been meetings between PMC corporators, mayor, Maha-Metro officials and Ganesh mandal workers but stand-off continues.

For politicians, upsetting Ganesh mandals mean inviting the wrath of people who are also political activists when civic elections are just three to four months away. More so when these mandals are power centres, enjoying the power to sway voters from old city areas, largely the bastion of BJP.

A good 20 years ago when the Metro rail project proposal first came up, the then Congress MP, Suresh Kalmadi, first spoke about the Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) in 2001. For the next few years, nothing happened till everyone woke up to the fact that Pune’s traffic situation had deteriorated abysmally.

Well aware of the traffic problems, Kalmadi and senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar once again revived the Metro proposal in 2007, and again in 2012 when Pune was preparing for the civic polls. In the hope that promises made by the ruling parties would turn to reality, citizens once again elected the Congress-NCP to power in the civic body. On the ground, however, not much happened for the next five years till the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014.

Just when things were looking up for the Metro in 2012, the entire issue was stalled over the question of whether it should be underground or elevated. While a section of politicians wanted it to be elevated, another section led by former MP, Anil Shirole and some environmentalists pushed for the underground route.

Over the last decade, the Metro has been presented as a panacea to the acute traffic problems of Pune. Traffic experts and citizen activists are cagey about the claim. While metro rail is certainly an affordable and speedy mode of urban mass transportation, experts say it can be successful only if the network is widespread, covering the most populous parts of the city. Currently work is underway only for three lines, two of which have reached an advanced stage and third – Hinjewadi to Shivajinagar still to gather momentum.

The two or three lines of the Metro may not be enough for a city like Pune where the population is over 50 lakhs. Also, the Metro and bus networks have to be well-synchronized to make them successful.

Lawless, chaotic traffic in the absence of a strong public transport system has been the bane of Pune and the guardians of the city have neglected this issue over the past decades. The citizens no longer trust the promises made by the politicians and therefore ask, “Will the Metro ever see the light of the day?”

As per the plan, two corridors are being developed by Maha-Metro, the state government company which will oversee Pune’s metro rail project. The rail network will cover a total distance of 31 kilometres (a 16-km stretch from Pimpri to Swargate and another from Vanaz to Ramwadi at an estimated cost of 11,420 crore. Recently, the Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (PMRDA) proposed another route on the Metro map from Hinjewadi to Shivajinagar, which will be 23 kilometres in length, estimated to cost 7,947 crore.

Originally, all three lines were projected to become operational by 2021. However, as of now, only two priority stretches on two lines (each around 3km long) may start before elections. The current delay is not just increasing the cost of the project but also prolonging current woes being faced by citizens.

The conscientious citizens of Pune will now need to keep watch targets set by Maha-Metro for the completion of the various stages of the Pune Metro project. From here on, the citizenry needs to know whether the project is moving on time or will suffer more delays, as has happened in the past.

Those enjoying power, be it in the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), state or Centre, need to be put under the watchful eyes of Punekars.

Yogesh Joshi can be contacted at yogesh.joshi@htlive.com

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