Elevated or Underground Metro for Pune?

I am reopening a very controversial and current debate in the blog post today. In the past year or was it two (?), Puneites are really ridden (bed ridden?) with the issue of Metro vs No Metro, Elevated Vs Underground Metro and Metro Vs the Bus Rapid Transit.

Have citizens really thought about what we want for the city? or more importantly, have we been given a chance to think what we want in Pune? I, for example, have attended numerous meetings, discussions and even protests to campaign for some issue or the other regarding the Pune Metro. But I, as a citizen of Pune, have failed to understand the issue? And if citizens are to make a conscious choice, that can be made only if we are able to understand the pros and cons of the various options and underlying issues that will directly and indirectly affect us. Here is an attempt to demystify some of what I have understood regarding  the proposed Pune Metro. Readers are free to add to this using the Comments so that we can have a nice, long train (??) of thoughts and opinions on the Pune Metro.

For one, the Architects and Planners of Pune are vehemently opposing Elevated Metro. The reasons for the oppositions are as follows:

1. Elevated Metro in the congested and heritage part of the city will mean loss of cultural values and indirectly loss of quality of life for inner city residents
2. Elevated Metro demands space for stations on the surface, which, is being argued, is not available and not clearly mentioned in the available Detailed Report. Ar Shirish Kembhavi and Ar Hemant Sathye say that “the land parcels earmarked for the proposed stations of the Elevated Metro are found to be already controversial and will face delays in acquisition”.

3. Underground Metro is preferred as there will be flexibility in alignments, free choice of space for stations etc, thus making it far more efficient and less taxing even during construction.

Secondly,  groups in cities, including political parties like Pune Janhit Aghadi, are opposing the Metro for the following reasons:

1. The Detailed Project Report is shoddily done, without proper references and there are many anomalies that remain unaddressed. “When we are embarking on a multi crore rupee project, shouldn’t we get our planning right?”, is what Ujwal Keskar of PJA asks the government.
2. The government has not followed the prescribed legal process for planning and tendering and hence citizen groups demand transparency and accountability before the Metro is sanctioned.

Thirdly, I had a chance to speak to some citizens of Pune. They are arguing the following points:

1. Why is Pune suddenly looking at an expensive and ambitious project like a Metro, when all it needs is to fix its Bus service? 
2. People are really concerned about the way the BRTS was implemented in Pune and dread that a similar mismanagement may find its way into the Metro project.
3. Also, people tend to find favor with Elevated Metro, because most citizens feel that an elevated Metro is less ambitious and hence more feasible for Pune.

While these are the various opinions, perceptions and feedback of the citizens and organized groups, the government seems to be bulldozing its way through. According to some interactions it is clear that the government officials do not think that:

1. The Detailed Project Report is shoddy and find it completely reliable and trustworthy, despite much criticism.
2. Despite a massive professional body lobbying for an Underground Metro, the government is, for reasons best known to them, putting their foot down for an Elevated one.
3. To argue the point regarding the buses in Pune, the ruling Political party in Pune maintains that each transport media needs to be worked upon simultaneously and not one after the other. So basically, Pune cannot afford to wait for improving the Bus service to take a decision on the Metro.

So here we are, in the middle of 2012, awaiting a verdict on which way or turn the Pune Metro will take. Opposing groups are being viewed at those which hamper Pune’s progress, while Proposing Groups are being viewed as bull dozers who are going against the wishes of the citizenry.

While all this is happening, there is not a single attempt to demystify the technical components of the entire proposal. As prominent journalist Vinay Hardikar points out, “everyone’s bravado in either opposing or proposing the Pune Metro, is on borrowed numbers and estimates”.  Why can’t we citizens demand a fresh inquiry into the technical, economic and socio-cultural issues and derive project feasibility and estimates that are really applicable to Pune and not merely thumbrule calculations based on experiences of Delhi and Bangalore?

My parting request is to the Chief Minister. I would like to remind the Government that the decision of Metro Vs No Metro will only mean something to Pune if ‘what kind of Metro’ is defined and addressed by the State Government. Is it feasible, will it mean loss of Pune’s cultural resources, is it well integrated with other transport systems, is it economically viable, are the costs estimated for Pune’s unique case and many more yet remain unanswered. We, the citizens of Pune, will eagerly await these – much more than the ‘awaited’ decision on the Metro itself!

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