Pune And Its Problems - A Way Forward

by Aashish Chandorkar - Dec 9, 2014 12:13 AM +05:30 IST
Pune And Its Problems - A Way Forward

The Tyranny Of Distance: The Cultural capital of Maharashtra, Pune’s 150 km Separation From Mumbai, Continues To Cost the City Dear

Dale Earnhardt, Sr., the American race car driver and team owner, once said – “Second place is just the place loser”. The 5.8 million residents of Pune (including those living in Pimpri-Chinchwad) live with that thought every day and will continue to do so for ever. For Pune, otherwise the 8th largest city in the country will always be the 2nd largest city in Maharashtra, behind the glitter, gaze and glamour of Mumbai.

Pune is the largest non-capital city of India, contributing around 3% of India’s GDP. An important base for armed forces, defense, manufacturing, research and development, software exports and heritage and culture, the city however compares unfavorably with other capital cities on several infrastructure and planning matters. As per the McKinsey Global Institute’s April 2010 report: India’s Urban Awakening: Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth, by 2030, Pune will be the 6th largest city in India with a population of 10 million and a GDP base of $76 billion. McKinsey predicted that to meet the 2030 needs, Pune needed an investment of $1.5 billion every year between 2010 and 2015. We are already passed that window – while the capital investment has not kept pace, the growth projections seem to be moving quite accurately!

The tyranny of distance – a term which Indian media uses to hide its general fixation with Delhi’s “availability heuristics” – is so high for Pune with respect to the Central and State governments, even a 10/20 year Master Plan taking an international-standard view of key urban planning tenets – housing, transportation, waste management, efficient utilities, safety and open spaces doesn’t exist.

As the new NDA government at Centre and the new BJP government in the Maharashtra state works on its urban rejuvenation agenda, can Pune get the missing attention it so desperately needs to cope up with the expansion pangs? There are some areas which require immediate attention and focus.

A Metropolitan Planning and Coordination Body

The formation of Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority (PMRDA) was announced in 1997. The state assembly passed a resolution in its favor in 1999. It took 9 years to hold the first elections to the 30 member Metropolitan Planning Committee (PMC). But there was no office space for this body and largely the whole arrangement has been toothless.

In the last week of November, Chief Minister Mr. Devendra Fadnavis announced that the new government wants PMRDA to function along the lines of its Mumbai counterpart. This will give PMRDA not just planning responsibilities, but also execution responsibilities. This is a positive step, given that the complexities of urban planning in Pune are exacerbated due to multiple coordination and approval requirements across 5 civic bodies – Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), Pune Cantonment Board (PCB), Khadki Cantonment Board (KCB) and Dehu Road Cantonment Board (DRCB).

The PMRDA needs to be made operational immediately, along with clear jurisdictional definition vis-à-vis these civic bodies, and clear definition of funding lines and control over project implementation. This is a politically charged issue because the civic bodies will continue to clear and approve housing, utilities and related matters, besieged so deeply with vested lobbying interests, while the “market valuation” of these projects will be driven on PMRDA plans – infrastructure and accessibility support. So other than policy clarity, the Chief Minister will also have to dismantle influential lobbies to make PMRDA successful.

Satellite Townships

As Pune expands, there is a huge opportunity to mainstream the “incrementally smart” premise of urban planning. There can be new suburban areas, which can be modeled to international planning standards, and designed to meet the requirements of Pune 50-100 years from now rather than trying to solve historical issues.

Pune is a radial city – there are no clear pockets to be labeled as downtown any more. The commercial and residential areas widely overlap as well. This stresses the movement of people and goods every day on city’s small roads not designed to carry the current capacity.

Pune And Its Problems - A Way Forward


Because of geographical features and terrain, the expansion of Pune west of Sus / Bavdhan area and south of Khadakvasala / Ambegaon is not practical. The only options are North and East side push, based on land availability, possibility of addressing environment concerns and still creating scale.

Once PMRDA is operational, it should look at a North – South via East expansion corridor urgently. While Chakan to the North of Pune may already be on the list of smart cities plan, Pune needs more suburbs in this corridor, which are 5-10 kms away from the 2015 proposed city boundaries. If these smart suburbs are not earmarked right now, PMC will continue to organically and incrementally subsume villages in its ambit in both North and East directions and the situation will mimic the unhinged development of North – West – South arc of today.

The Bhosari – Dighi – Lohegaon – Wagholi arc in the North East and Kondhwa – Undri – Fursungi – Loni Kalbhor arc in the South East are very critical to Pune’s planned growth. If the state and civic bodies fail to claim and systemically develop them, the city will end up at a point of no return in the next decade.

Integrated Transport

Once the contours of the future expansion are drawn, the next question will be how the core of the city be connected to these growth regions. This is an area, where Pune already lags the requirements by a good 2 decades, if not more.

Simanti Bandyopadhyay of National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in a paper titled Performance Evaluation of Urban Local Governments: A Case for Indian Cities has mentioned that the ideal road density for a metro city should be at least 12.5 km. per sq km. Pune scores much lower – estimates vary from 4 km. per sq km. to 9 km. per sq km. Just as a comparison, Delhi has a road density of 22 km. per sq km. Pune has no ring road and as indicated above, there won’t be much space for one unless there is an immediate intervention. True, there exists a North-West – South NH4 bypass between Dehu Road and Katraj, but that road is now very much a city artery rather than a ring road.

Pune And Its Problems - A Way Forward

Despite the fact that a lot of railway experimentation and advancement happened between Mumbai and Pune during British era, the subsequent upgrade and modernization has been non-existent. By not rationalizing the Lonavala – Karjat section and by not increasing the average rail speeds between Pune – Lonavala and Karjat – Vikroli sections, the Pune – Mumbai commute now nears 3.5 hours. While this makes the Pune – Mumbai Expressway more relevant, this railway status quo misses a big opportunity to maximize the medium’s utility.

When it comes to air connectivity, Pune is hampered by the Air Force control of the local airfield. It restricts the number of flights into Pune, as well as the daily hours of operation. And most importantly, the runway expansion is not allowed, preventing wide body planes from making Pune a destination. The talks of Chakan airport are sometimes on, but mostly off.

When it comes to traffic movement inside the city, the BRTS favored by both PMC and PCMC has been a big disappointment. The Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Ltd. (PMPML) has not been able to provide a quality bus service commensurate with the city’s requirements, and it can be said without any doubt that Pune’s city transport is the least equipped amongst all big cities in India – behind even those cities, which are smaller than Pune.

The Pune Metro is a source of constant jokes on Indian social media. The studies, which were first commenced in 2007-08, have still not been completed. Specifically, the mode of the Metro is under debate. The initial recommendation from Delhi Metro, which was contracted for studies, was to go with an over-ground Metro. This was immediately ratified by the local bodies with an FSI release of 4 for the builders – seen as a real estate bonanza, rather than the right Metro solution. The BJP, then in opposition in local bodies and in the city, had favored an underground Metro. Now that the city has an MP and all 8 MLAs from BJP with a BJP state government, it remains to be seen if the underground Metro plans can be expedited.

Pune faces the triangulation of three huge transport problems: rapidly growing demand overwhelming the current options, no forward looking policies stunting any future oriented planning, and fund allocation skewed towards road building (and nothing else) in a perennial catch up mode.

Water Management

Compared to other metros in India, Pune has had a relatively better water management and utilization process. This is partly thanks to the stable four dam system of Khadakwasala, Panshet, Temghar and Varasgaon, which dates back to the British times. The dams collectively hold 29 TMC of water against the city’s annual requirement of about 15 TMC, so theoretically a good year of monsoon should support the city for two years of sustenance.

In reality, that never happens. Every year starting February, the city starts seeing water cuts and rationing, mainly because the 29 TMC is never fully available for the city. The water gets released for other purposes, including irrigation, where the water guzzling sugarcane crops are the chief consumers. This is not as much as an urban – rural divide, as it is a political situation. Almost every government in Maharashtra has some level of connect with the all powerful sugar lobby in the state. And this means water management of Pune becomes a political decision, not an urban planning one.

Pune And Its Problems - A Way Forward

If Pune does go on to house 10 million people in just 15 years from now as forecasted, the water requirements will roughly double. While there has been an addition of 5 TMC recently at Bhama-Askhed to the north of Pune, only 1.3 TMC of this capacity has been allotted to PMC. So basically, the best planning scenario right now is that in 15 years, Pune will not have water for all its residents for more than 9-10 months a year.

With changing political alignments in the state, this is another area of pressing reform.

There are several other areas of urban management where Pune needs a leg up. Local fiscal situation, Waste management, Energy consumption and availability – the list is long. Pune is blessed with a very engaged set of local lobbying bodies, NGOs and interest groups, which can work effectively with the state and the central government to remediate some of these challenges or at least force the right level of debate on these matters. What has been missing for many years has been the top down will of the state and the central government to recognize the specific requirements of Pune, and accord the city its rightful place in the growth and development of the state and the region.

Pune citizenry knows the city will always be the bridesmaid, never the bride when it comes to Maharashtra. But the expectation that the bride tosses the right size, right shape bouquet is surely not unreasonable.

The author wishes to thank Amit Paranjape for his inputs to this article. Amit is a technology entrepreneur by profession and very passionate about all things Pune, having grown up and lived substantial part of life in the city. He blogs at http://aparanjape.wordpress.com and tweets at @aparanjape.

All images courtesy Flickr via Thomas Renken, Deadly Tedley

Aashish Chandorkar is Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He took up this role in September 2021. He writes on public policy in his personal capacity.
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