The city of Pune, which was known as a pensioner’s paradise and the cultural capital of Maharashtra, is today one of the country’s foremost Information Technology (IT) hubs, which has, in its wake, brought in plenty of development and has sharply seen a rise in the population of the city. However, just like other cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore, the existing infrastructure in Pune is just not sufficient to cater to this growth. In particular, the transport system has struggled to cope with the increased load of vehicles.
A number of solutions have been proposed to alleviate this problem and the Pune Metro, which is the focus of this article, is one of them. In this article, we look at the history of this project, which has seen more than its fair share of obstacles and is still far from becoming a reality and a panacea to the issue of a convenient and comfortable commute in the city.
Pune’s traffic – The issues and the proposed solutions
The traffic in Pune can best be summed up in a single word – chaotic. Pune has more registered vehicles than even Mumbai! It has the largest number of two wheeler riders in India, fighting for road space with cars, buses and trucks. Unfortunately, most roads are narrow and cannot handle such traffic loads. There are plenty of traffic bottlenecks, which cause long jams in peak hours. The road quality too leaves a lot to be desired, with most roads developing huge potholes soon after construction, which along with encroachments, further reduces usable road width.
Adding to this, there are jurisdictional issues in the Pune Metropolitan area, which has 2 corporations (PMC and PCMC), 3 cantonment boards (Pune, Khadaki and Dehu Road) and a number of Gram Panchayats for the surrounding villages. Hence, it’s hard to fix accountability for road works particularly at the intersection of these entities. While the Pune Municipal Transport (PMT) bus service connects most parts of the city, the frequency and reliability of the buses, particularly in the outer areas of the city, is not good enough.
Pune has not lacked in ideas to tackle the traffic problem but poor planning, political squabbles and vested interests have proved to be the undoing of most such proposals. The sky bus project, which involved running coaches suspended from an overhead concrete beam, was a non-starter and never made it past a tragic trial run. The ring road project has seen plenty of twists and turns and numerous alignment changes, but still exists only on paper. Experiments of making certain roads as one-ways caused confusion and congestion on other roads and were soon discontinued.
The BRTS (bus rapid transit system) was forced down Puneites’ throats, without proper planning, in spite of its failure in Delhi, which has far broader roads. As a result of BRTS, the already less carriage width has sharply reduced, road safety has suffered for both vehicles and pedestrians and massive traffic congestion at peak hours is common, which defeats the purpose of the exercise. In fact, one can probably say that in Pune, proper workable public transport solutions have been as unsuccessful (or jinxed) as the city’s various sports franchises!
Pune Metro – The Plans
The plans for the Pune Metro project were prepared by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. The first phase of this project comprises of two metro corridors. The first one will be 16.5 km long and connect Pimpri-Chinchwad in the northwest to the major transport hub of Swargate in the southeast of Pune. This line will be partly elevated (from Pimpri-Chinchwad to Range Hills) and partly underground (from Shivajinagar to Swargate) and had a projected ridership of 3,82,000 people daily. This line is planned to be extended to Nigdi (from Pimpri-Chinchwad) and to Katraj (from Swargate) in due course.
The second line too follows a diagonal alignment, similar to the first line. This 15 km long line will connect Vanaz in the southwest to Ramwadi (near Kalyani Nagar) in the northeast of the city. This line will be completely elevated, crossing the first line at ASI. It is projected to have a daily ridership of 1,89,000 people daily. This line will be extended to the residential areas of Kharadi and Viman Nagar beyond Ramwadi later on.
By connecting the residential areas to major commercial and transportation hubs, the Pune Metro is expected to greatly benefit lakhs of residents and visitors daily, providing them a traffic free, timely commute, while also reducing the congestion on the roads. Follow on benefits such as a proposed increased FSI of 4 on either side of the metro corridors will provide a boost to greater vertical residential and commercial developments, unlike the current largely horizontal mode of development due to lower FSI being permitted in Pune. This, in turn, will increase built-up area and push up property prices in the vicinity of the Metro line.
The first phase of the Pune Metro is expected to cost ~Rs. 12,500 crore. The central government and Maharashtra state government are expected to contribute 20% each towards the metro. The PMC and PCMC will together contribute another 10%, with the balance 50% coming as a loan from various international developmental financing bodies such as the World Bank and AIIB. This project is expected to be completed by 2021-22.
Hurtling from one controversy to another
The saying “there’s many a slip between cup and lip” holds true for the Pune Metro project as well. It has seen as many, if not more, issues as the other transportation options mentioned earlier. This project was proposed 10 years ago in 2007. Not only are the plans still only on paper, the city’s population and traffic has boomed and other cities such as Jaipur and Nagpur, which were nowhere in the picture at the time, are now far ahead on their own metro rail projects. The project has faced obstructions and delays at every stage and sought to be stymied over a variety of reasons, which we have mentioned below:
Due to the sharply divided political system in Maharashtra, this project was held up for many years in red tape, with a section of politicians seeking to cash in by introducing the project and the other section determined to deny them the same by holding up legislative approval. It’s only recently that the project has been able to receive most clearances to begin work (some are still pending).
The Elevated vs Underground Conundrum
Another vexing issue was whether the metro should be elevated, similar to other cities in India, or underground. A number of citizen groups wanted it to be completely underground, to reduce congestion during the construction period and due to the narrow Pune roads, which they felt, could not support the pillars for an elevated metro.
The plans were changed frequently, before finally, it was decided to have the metro largely elevated with only the inner city sections being underground. The fully underground option was not feasible technically or on a cost basis.
Litigation due to metro alignment
The metro’s alignment lead to its own share of issues. Initially, the metro corridor was planned over the busy JM Road, which was later shifted to the banks of the Mutha River. This lead to protests from environmental groups, fearing damage to the river ecosystem. The ensuing litigations held up the project.
No sooner had environmental objections ceased that another group of NGOs filed a case, claiming the metro would cause damage to historical sites such as Shaniwar Wada and Aga Khan Palace, which it will pass near to. This case was finally dismissed by the Bombay High Court in May 2016, clearing the decks for implementation of the project.
Raising funds for the Pune Metro have, and continue to remain, a major source of delay. Budgetary allocations for this project made by various governments have been woefully inadequate. Efforts to secure finances from World Bank etc. too have been tardy, largely due to absence of political will.
The proposal to raise funds for the metro by increasing FSI along the metro corridor have also met with plenty of opposition, with opponents claiming that plots along the corridors are too small to support the increased FSI and also, by allowing more high rise structures, the rule of leaving aside space for common amenities will be violated.
Tug of war between various bodies
The Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority (PMRDA) wanted to take charge of the project, but was rebuffed by the PMC and PCMC. However, the possibility of future conflicts between these agencies cannot be ruled out, particularly as some of the corridor extensions pass through PMRDA area.
The Pune Metro project took a major step towards becoming a reality when the Public Investment Board (PIB) of the Union Finance Ministry approved it on 15th October, 2016. The Union Cabinet gave its final approval in December 2016, followed by the laying of its foundation stone by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24th December 2016. This has paved the way for construction work can begin.
Most litigation related to the project has also been resolved, with the exception of the Metro’s alignment over the Mutha riverbed. However, considering the roadblocks this project has faced in the last decade, one must be cautiously optimistic. Also, once construction work is given the go ahead, issues such as land acquisition and cost overruns too are likely to raise their head.
The Pune Metro has been a long standing dream and demand of Puneites. Its need to residents of the city is even greater now than when it was conceived, due to the city’s rapid growth. In fact, the metro may well be insufficient to handle the city’s commuting needs, even if it meets the revised target of 2021-22, as the city is expected to grow more rapidly in this period.
Nevertheless, with most hurdles out of the way, one can hope that the metro will achieve part of its aim of providing residents a hassle free and affordable commute across the city. Unlike the famous movie in this article’s title, which ended tragically, Puneites are entitled to expect a happy ending to this long overdue saga.