Pune’s New Hope For Urban Rejuvenation

Pune’s New Hope For Urban Rejuvenation

by Aashish Chandorkar - Thursday, March 31, 2016 03:56 PM IST
Pune’s New Hope For Urban RejuvenationShaniwarwada, Pune (Wikimedia Commons)
  • As part of Swarajya’s Smart City Series, here’s a look at a city ranked 2nd in the list top 20 cities of the city challenge competition: Pune and its plan for urban transformation.

    Citizens in their interactions listed Green Pune, improved transportation and better water management as their top priorities.

    Pune is grappling with the scourge of narrow roads and is also facing unprecedented water shortage after two successive monsoon failures.

Pune, the second largest city in Maharashtra with a rich historical and cultural past, finds itself in a difficult place in contemporary politics and therefore gets little developmental support from the Union and State governments. Keeping aside the technicality of Gandhinagar being a separate city from Ahmadabad, Pune is the largest non-capital city in India. With 6 million residents between the Pune and the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporations, Pune is a manufacturing, technological and educational hub. But with a lot of government funding focused on the megapolis of Mumbai and the long neglected distant Nagpur, Pune never gets preferential resource allocation.

With this backdrop, when the Union Minister for Urban Development M Venkaiah Naidu announced the result of the first phase of the Smart Cities contest on 28 January this year, it was a pleasant surprise to see Pune ranked second on the list. This list was drawn based on pre-decided criteria across City Level, Area Based, and Pan City proposals. The picture below depicts how the 98 cities in the fray for the Smart Cities funding were evaluated:

(Source: Smart Cities Website, Pune Plan)
(Source: Smart Cities Website, Pune Plan)

The process of selection wasn’t easy for Pune. The elected representatives of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) were miffed with the implementation design, whereby a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) will be formed to manage the program. The funds will go to this SPV directly and there will be minimal political interference and almost no party specific discretion. While this design obviates the local government autonomy, the Union government has sought to improve the chance of programs actually being implemented than dealing with political barriers.

The PMC is controlled by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) being the principal opposition. PMC is the only large municipal body in the left half of India without a significant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) presence. This complicated the approval process further. The plan for the contest was submitted right on the last day in December after the Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis intervened and supported the tireless efforts of Kunal Kumar.

City Level Criteria And Citizen Engagement

The Pune Smart Cities project ran a three-month long Citizen Engagement Plan between September and December last year. This was at two levels – firstly to get ideas and suggestions and involve the citizens in the overall plan, and secondly to select the Area in which the specific initiatives will be implemented to tie in with the second pillar of assessment.

For the first pillar, citizens were asked to provide inputs on 12 sectors relating to urban management, and multiple channels were created to capture these inputs. With more than 1.2 million interactions, Green Pune, improved transportation and better water management emerged as the top priorities in the initial phase. Post this first level of funneling, citizens voted to develop specific goals for these priority areas, which generated a further 1.3 million inputs. A dedicated website and a Smart Pune mobile app were used as prominent channels for this engagement apart from the traditional meetings and post based suggestions.

These goals were then taken through a Maza Swapna Pune (My Dream Pune) contest and other innovative techniques like a hackathon to translate them into real solutions which can be part of the Smart Cities plan. The best part of this humungous engagement effort which resulted in almost 3.5 million citizen inputs was the coordination between Pune Municipal Corporation, industry bodies, local corporate entities and citizen groups.

After all the engagement activities, which lasted three months, the Pan City proposal was made for two areas - transportation and water management.

For the Area Based initiatives, citizens were engaged to identify the most suitable area within Pune for the plan. 11 areas were in fray with 1.4 lakh inputs on what local initiatives can be undertaken. Based on these, the Aundh-Baner-Balewadi (ABB) area was chosen to implement the Smart Cities improvements.

Industry bodies like Mahratte Chambers of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture (MCCIA), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), The National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), citizen groups like Delivering Change Foundation and Pune City Connect, Pune-based technology firms like Persistent Systems, Zensar Technologies, and KPIT, and start ups like Aikon Labs and Limo represented the wide range of partners in building this proposal and supporting the engagement process.

As per the Smart Cities contest condition, the Union government will fund Rs 200 crore corpus each year for five years for Pune. 

Pan City Proposal

Transportation was identified as the single biggest problem by Pune citizens. Only 20 percent of the Pune citizens take public transport and the city has long been identified with undisciplined armies of two-wheelers zipping through narrow roads with scant regard for traffic rules. The Smart Cities proposal makes a case for better management of the current bus fleet which the Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML) operates. The buses will be equipped with GPS and monitored in real time with smart bus stops displaying bus availability and locations.

More than 300 traffic signals in Pune will be fitted with adaptive controls for better traffic flow, and provided with backup power via solar. The traffic police will also invest in CCTV cameras and more productive deployment of traffic controllers via real time traffic pattern monitoring. Rs 393 crore has been projected as the capital and operational expenditure for this area.

Water and Sewage Management is the second big concern for Pune citizens. The PMC proposes to supply water on tap literally speaking, with better metering and usage based charging slabs. The water supply pipelines will be monitored and repaired using technology to prevent wastage. Water subsidies will be reduced with social campaigns imploring well off citizens to give up these subsidies, on the lines of the LPG “Give It Up” campaign. Rs 278 crore is the capital and operational expenditure outlay for this area.

Both these Pan City initiatives will be backed by proper measurements and data driven decision making. There will Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) designed for both areas to bring about tangible improvement and attain a known target state.

The following picture depicts the proposed KPI measurements:

(Source: Smart Cities website, Pune Plan)
(Source: Smart Cities website, Pune Plan)

Area Based Proposal

The Aundh-Baner-Balewadi (ABB) area was chosen for development given that it is likely to be the fastest growing region in the PMC limits for the next 15 years. This area is exposed to rampant construction in the last decade, with people working in the IT industry favouring it. There are also traces of the old villages which existed on the sites of modern day buildings and upcoming skyscrapers. The ABB area also contains a significant waterfront on the River Mula.

Transportation (Rs 1086 crore) and water management (Rs 292 crore) will take precedence as the two areas of focus for the ABB region as well. Additionally, waste and sanitation (Rs 39 crore), smart grid and solar (Rs 420 crore), riverfront development (Rs 148 crore), slum redevelopment (Rs 60 crore), e-Governance (Rs 151 crore) and Start Up Hub will be the area specific initiatives.

Financing The Pune Smart Cities Dream

The total outlay on the proposed Pune Smart Cities plan will be Rs 2932 crore including capital and operational expenditure. Rs 1000 crore will come from the Union and state governments over the next 5 years. The plan envisages tapping into other central schemes on power, housing, and water to get additional grants of Rs 700 crore. PMC will monetize its land assets in the ABB region to generate Rs 1000 crore. An additional Rs 408 crore is proposed to be raised via better taxation, revenue management and corporate donations, split almost equally. If these numbers hold, the Pune Smart Cities SPV will generate a total of Rs 3108 crore as sources of funds over the next five years, in line with the funding requirements of the plan.

Implementing The Plan

Pune has taken the first step towards starting the plan implementation. The SPV which will run the program was formed and incorporated on 23 March 2016. This SPV is a 50-50 joint venture between the State of Maharashtra and the PMC, and has 15 members. 6 of these members are nominated from the PMC, 4 by the state government, and 1 by the Union government. Of the other 4 slots, 2 will be political representatives and 2 will be independent directors. The SPV named Pune Smart Cities Development Corporation (PSCDC) will be headed by Kunal Kumar.

Given the wide ranging use of technology and transparency of operations in constructing the Pune Smart Cities plan thus far, it is expected that the actual implementation schedule and prioritization of the various initiatives will be made public as we enter the financial year 2016-17. The plan will be closely watched, with the SPV expected to be agile in decision making and fund raising to kick-start changes on the ground.

The PMC has made some right moves already to supplement the proposed work for the SPV. A new waste management solution is being tried which involves a private party running a mobile van for recycling or crushing the waste produced in residential building societies. The initial reports for these mobile vans by vendor Mobitrash have been positive in the Aundh area. The PMC has also launched multi-channel (phone, email, web portal, app, Twitter, WhatsApp) citizen grievance redressal system, which provides tracking for the complaints and makes ward officers responsible for turnaround times. This initiative has seen partial success with the lower bureaucracy still grappling with service delivery as a key result area.

High Stakes

As the Smart Cities implementation unfolds starting next financial year, the progress and the success will be closely watched. The timing could not be better – or worse – depending on how one looks at it. Pune is grappling with narrow roads partitioned for Bus Rapid Transport Systems (BRTS), which have not taken off on a prominent corridor on Nagar Road and have been a disaster on the first corridor on Solapur Road. Although the newer implementation in Vishrantwadi, Nasik Road-Wakad, and Sanghvi-Ravet segments have seen improved ridership, the BRTS is yet to win hearts in Pune.

The Pune Metro and the new airport are now butts of regular jokes on social media. The talks for both have been going on since 2007 and the arguments have moved one step forward and two steps back each year. Neither of the two projects is even at the project report approval stage, and as things stand, neither project will see the light of the day in the next decade! This, even as Metro is being implemented or talked about for about 25 cities nationally and the Union government is talking about new airports in Tier 3 cities.

Pune is also facing an unprecedented water shortage after two successive monsoon failures. The local administration deserves plaudits for how the situation has been managed thus far. There has been minimal divergence of Pune designated water for water guzzling sugarcane crops downstream, but the hardship is for real. People tend to put a problem on a higher pedestal than the efforts to limit its severity – there may not be a perceived marginal difference between severity of 100 percent and severity of 60 percent – and this overshadows the administrative efforts.

The PSCDC will have its work cut out from the word ‘go’.

A Smart Pune By March 2021?

When it comes to urban development, Pune hasn’t seen a lot of happy news in a long while. With the way the Pune airport, the Metro, BRTS and riverfront works have been treated over the last few years, it is only natural that Pune citizens are skeptical of the Smart Cities plan.

Yet, the unmatched zeal of the PMC officials and the contribution of the Pune corporate bodies and citizen groups in the making of the Smart Cities plan provide hope. For Pune’s sake, one hopes that this commitment to make the city a better one to live in, trumps the deeply entrenched cynicism.

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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