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HomeStateDraftNo longer a haven for retirees, Pune is growing into another Indian...

No longer a haven for retirees, Pune is growing into another Indian urban mess

Pune’s urban area and population have grown exponentially, outpacing planning and leaving the Maharashtra govt and the civic body playing catch-up.

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Mumbai: While Mumbai was battling the chaos caused by incessant rains and water-logging, there was another disaster that made the headlines and then disappeared swiftly—two separate incidents of walls collapsing, crushing 21 people to death in Pune.

The incidents have reignited the discussion on the rampant construction and overall haphazard growth in and around Pune.

Once known as a haven for retirees, the city has fast metamorphosed into a bustling centre for manufacturing, IT services and education, expanding in all directions and kindling aspirations for urbanisation in the villages dotting the city. Growth has outpaced planning, like most other cities in Maharashtra, and all the state government and local authorities have been able to do is struggle to play catch-up.

“The period since 1995 saw a growth spurt in the city, and planning severely lagged behind during those 15-20 years,” said Anagha Paranjape Purohit, a Pune-based architect and urban environment planner.

“In our systems, the pace of planning is through a longish route. By the time a government finalises a plan, the area for which it is planning is already half developed and haphazardly so. Then, it becomes all about regularising than planning green-field.”

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How Pune grew

Pune slowly expanded and urbanised during British colonial rule with the establishment of a civic body and army cantonments. However, the city’s growth, in size as well as population, was exponential in the post-independence period.

The population of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, a town in the Pune urban area, together rose to about 50 lakh in 2011 from 25 lakh in 1991.

As per documents maintained by the University of Pune, the Pune urban area grew 130 times from 5 square kilometres in 1817 to 669.30 square kilometres in 1997.

In 1997, the state government merged 38 villages on the fringes of Pune — such as Kothrud, Warje, Baner, Wadgaon, Bavdhan, Balewadi and so on — with the city. In 2001, 15 of these villages were dropped after severe opposition from locals, reducing the number of new villages included in the city to 23. In October 2017, 11 more villages were merged with the city.

Kondhwa and Ambegaon, where the two incidents of wall collapse occurred, are among the villages merged with Pune.

Villages became cities overnight

A paper titled ‘Gap Analysis of Pune City’s Urban Infrastructure’, compiled as part of the proceedings of the 19th International Symposium on Advancement of Construction Management and Real Estate, was critical of the merger of villages with Pune.

“It has been observed in the case of Pune that acquiring and merging fringe villages in the urban sprawl has not worked effectively. The demand and supply of urban services is grossly mismatched as the provision of urban services to the 23 villages of the sprawl is unequal and ad hoc,” it stated.

The Pune Municipal Corporation submitted a development plan for the 23 merged villages only in 2005, eight years after the decision, and the state government took seven more years to finally approve it in 2012. By then, most of these villages had already urbanised in an unplanned, dowdy manner, with rampant encroachments and illegal constructions.

For the 11 villages merged in 2017, the Pune civic body published maps only a year later, and then invited suggestions and objections from citizens.

Also read: India must shun Nehruvian metropolis bias & turn to small cities for urban economic growth

Region plans

Planners identified the need for having a Pune Metropolitan Region with organised development outside the demarcated city areas of Pune and the adjacent Pimpri Chinchwad, over 50 years ago, in the late 1960s.

As per a 1967 definition, the Pune Metropolitan Region included Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad, the cantonments of Pune, Khadki and Dehu Road, and about a hundred other census towns and villages on the fringes.

The first region plan for this area of 1,340 square kilometres, for the period between 1970 and 1991, came into force in May 1976.

A new region plan was drafted and put in place in 1997. This one was for the entire Pune district, and made several recommendations for transportation and housing, including 13 new inner-ring towns and 14 outer-ring towns, to ensure Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad are not overburdened as population surges.

No one to implement plans

The irony was that though the government identified the need for a region plan, which envisaged new planned industrial and residential townships on the fringes of the city, it did not pave the way for an authority to implement it.

The Maharashtra government first announced its plan of constituting a Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority (PMRDA) to administer the Pune urban agglomeration, on the lines of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), in 1997, during the Shiv Sena-BJP rule.

However, the plan never took off. Planners and politicians in Pune say the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which was part of Maharashtra’s ruling coalition from 1999 to 2014 and controlled the municipal corporations of Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad as well as neighbouring zilla parishads, did not want its influence in the region to wane, as it would’ve if there was an authority like the PMRDA directly under the state government.

Eventually, Devendra Fadnavis’ BJP-led government constituted the PMRDA in December 2015, covering an area of 6,616.79 square kilometres. It thus scored a political point over the Congress-NCP, saying its predecessors had ignored the development of Pune.

Ramchandra Gohad, former Pune-based town planner, said: “Both region plans made several recommendations for the longer-term planned growth of the Pune urban area, but not much was done. By 2017, the authorities should have worked on an updated region plan for the next 20 years. But the PMRDA itself was formed only in 2015.”

Paranjape Purohit added: “The Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act, which governs the development of cities, needs a severe overhaul to facilitate long-term planning going beyond preparing development plans and land use. Planning for an area should be with a long-term vision of its economic goals.”

Playing catch-up 

The state government and the Pune civic body are once again trying to play catch-up after the wall collapse incidents.

The government has ordered an in-depth inquiry, while the Pune civic body is strictly monitoring under-construction sites and rounding up developers for illegal construction.

The larger planning issues, however, remain.

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  1. Thanks to explosive population growth, the gaps between planning and implementation will always stay. Unless India starts planning at the basic family unit level, none of India’s cities can stay sustainable.

  2. When we first went to Poona in 1968, the high ceilinged Parsi owned bungalow had no provision for ceiling fans. We don’t need them, our landlady proudly said, So we had to get by with table fans. Air conditioning that house would have used up all of father’s salary. Bishop’s School for me, St Mary’s for my sisters were almost walking distance. Poona’s high growth phase had started, there were a lot of industrial units in Pimpri – Chinchwad. I have always felt with with better vision and planning, Poona could have developed into the IT hub that Bangalore became.

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