Pune: Caught Between Political Neglect And Agenda-Driven Activism, The City’s Infrastructure Needs Reboot And Political Championing
Key infrastructure projects have been delayed due to agenda-driven activism and neglect.
However, strong political will can address the challenges and bring back some momentum to stalled projects.
The defeat of the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in the recent by-polls to the Kasba Peth assembly segment in Pune has sparked a debate on the city’s urbanisation and infrastructure challenges.
There is no doubt that Pune has suffered heavily under successive state governments when it comes to infrastructure and urban governance.
Even during the first tenure of the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government between 1995 and 2000, when the two parties first came to power ending the near stranglehold of Congress on Maharashtra’s politics, the focus was entirely on the Mumbai region given that Shiv Sena drew its political clout from the megapolis.
During the next 15 years of Congress-NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) government, nothing was done to address the systemic and structural woes plaguing Pune.
A minor respite was the efforts during Suresh Kalmadi’s time as the city’s member of Parliament when some efforts were made to provide a facelift for the Commonwealth Youth Games.
But that was focused mainly on the city roads, and that gains lasted only a few years.
When BJP formed the government in 2014 (this time with Shiv Sena as a post-poll partner), chief minister Devendra Fadnavis did kickstart several new projects.
Still, with almost every project in the state being challenged politically and judicially, the Pune projects also got the short end of the firefighting required to move things along.
Neglect Of Pune
While the Fadnavis-led government energetically focussed on several transformation projects for the capital, including Mumbai Coastal Road, Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, and multiple metro lines, the projects in Pune continued to move at a snail’s pace.
Between Mumbai and Nagpur (which benefited immensely from two BJP stalwarts, Nitin Gadkari and Fadnavis), Pune has been left unattended during the BJP time.
The MVA (Maha Vikas Aghadi) government was a disaster for the city, with no strong focus. Even NCP’s Ajit Pawar could not secure the required funding or the government attention.
The new Shinde-Fadnavis government has again attempted to bring back some momentum to stalled projects.
However, the execution of enabling actions (eg, dismantling the university flyover, Chandni Chowk flyover, rearranging university traffic) has been outright incompetent on the part of the local leaders and the municipal corporation.
Every Big Infrastructure Project In Pune Is Facing Delays
- Pune Metro launch dates have been repeatedly pushed back, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising expedited completion when he inaugurated the commercial operations on two sections of Phase 1 (totalling 12 km) in March 2023. Phase 1 (33 km) of the Pune metro rail comprises 29 stations and two lines — Vanaz to Ramwadi and Pimpri Chinchwad to Swargate. It is being developed at the cost of Rs 12,000 crore. Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Limited (Maha-Metro) is the implementing agency for the project. The Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority (PMRDA) is also developing a 23.3-km elevated line from Civil Court to Hinjawadi, comprising 23 stations.
- Pune Ring Road is yet to be resurrected, a project pending since the early 2000s.
- Pune International Airport first planned in mid 2000s, has not seen any progress. Even the new terminal of the current airport has been delayed.
- New railway lines to Nashik and Mumbai have been all but abandoned.
- The city, which used to be a set of two reasonably well-run municipal corporations, has long become unmanageably filthy in recent years.
- Areas where the city is primarily expanding fall under the Vadgaon Sheri, Chinchwad and Khadakwasla assembly constituencies — these areas hardly get any local political attention.
The absence of a towering political personality representing the city BJP starkly contrasts with the larger-than-life persona of Prime Minister Modi and popularity of Deputy Chief Minister Fadnavis. The city suffers from lack of political championing for key infrastructure projects.
Pune has had the feeling of the neglected ‘middle child’ between Mumbai and Nagpur, and this feeling has only deeply entrenched in the last decade.
Issue Of Activism
Compounding these issues has been a home-grown Pune issue of citizen activism.
While the activism started on a positive, contributory note in many localities years ago, it is now descended nothing more than an exhibitionist “Not In My Backyard” — NIMBYism.
Pune’s High-Capacity Mass Transit Road (HCMTR) has been inordinately delayed due to the nature of its alignment and protests over construction in areas it touches.
The Pune Metro was delayed due to litigation started by some Pune elites on potential damage to riverbanks.
A key road that would link two congested parts of the city on the western side, but will need either tunnelling under a city hill or a raised construction on the hill, has been opposed for years by the activists.
In many cases, the activists also denounce the problem (traffic) as well as the solutions (metro, new roads).
In general, the noise generated by activists drowns out voices expressing genuine concerns. Worse, their agendas tend to get highlighted more in the media/social media conversations than on the ground.
A related problem is the concentration of citizen voices too. Even those voices not into agenda-based activism are also concentrated in small pockets of the city (media and social media), which means that concerns of the newer parts of Pune are unusually under-represented in any discourse.
The Way Forward
Deputy Chief Minister Fadnavis must spend more time engaging citizen groups in Pune. He enjoys tremendous goodwill at a personal level.
“His reassurance in looking at Pune’s issues will be critical,” a Pune-based BJP activist told Swarajya.
“The BJP needs to create a mechanism for broader engagement and promotion of voices outside the core inner city.
“The representatives from Vadgaon Sheri, Pimpri, Chinchwad, Khadakvasala should become more prominent in the feedback mechanism.
“This will help rebalance the media and social media discourse as well as help politically in these “rurban” areas where the party traditionally underperforms,” he added.
Based on our discussion with a few city activists, the following broad suggestions emerged.
- Create accountable political oversight on the municipal corporation and local police to focus on two specific things: garbage management and traffic signal policing. These functions have worked well in the past but in patches.
- While the municipal corporation is not the worst relative to its peers in the country, there has not been sufficient political involvement in its work, with no elected body currently in place.
- The state government has to do the heavy lifting of getting the corporation to work diligently — this is neither without precedent nor difficult to achieve.
- Complete the two metro lines that have been under construction for over six years. The city has been through enough pain, which is not commensurate with the gains from these lines — especially when compared to metros in Bengaluru or Mumbai.
- Empower civic activism that aligns with the true needs of the city.
- Create a contrast of “completed projects” — say, two or three visible items — to demonstrate to the rest of the city that their issues can also be solved.
- Pune had a good start during the smart cities project — some ideas, like riverfront rejuvenation, a complete overhaul of city buses, better Vande Bharat connectivity, and solving airport access and traffic problems for the new terminal — can easily be implemented in two years.
- Create a specific positioning for the city — what is the vision for Pune beyond staying in the shadow of Mumbai (local politics) and Bengaluru (technology industry)?
- Envision plans to attract new industries to Pune and dovetail best practices in urbanisation into the planned expansion.
- Make Pune the national, if not global, hub for electric vehicles, solar panel manufacturing and foreign universities.
- Complete a new international airport, plan for metro connectivity to the airport from day one and build alongside the airport itself.
- Put a specific focus on developing Pune’s historical landmarks — forts, city-based key locations — as a history tourism circuit. This is the most significant opportunity on the table not being leveraged much, though initiatives like the Shiv Shrushti Museum are changing some of this already. This will enable India to create global platforms for discussing and shaping research in history, anthropology and other social sciences, where Pune can play a crucial role.