Sense prevails and NGT rules in favor of Pune Metro

Pune Metro is already a delayed project for the city. A project that should have come right after the four metro cities of India, is now finally getting implemented after smaller cities like Kochi and Nagpur have also moved ahead.

One worrisome aspect that had the potential to further delay Pune Metro was a petition filed by few environmental activists from Pune in the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The petition sought to stop work for the stretch of the Pune Metro alignment that follows the river’s edge. The Metro, in this stretch will be an elevated one with its pylons standing along the edge of the river. It is important to note that a few years ago, NGT had ruled that one of the roads that was proposed in the river bed will be allowed, if the road can be proposed as an elevated one. So NGT’s approach to development in the city was clear and it is categorically proved that the NGT will take a realist and a practical stand in its ruling for both the road and the Metro.

That Pune needs a good public transport system is an understatement! Every report on the city, for the past twenty years, starts and ends with this statement. The most damaging environmental impact due to non existence of a good public transport system is city’s air pollution. Secondary environmental impacts include high consumption of fossil fuels like diesel and petrol for use of private vehicles and the ensuing Carbon footprint. Apart from this, the city’s youngsters face tremendous health problems and risk of accidental deaths for having to traverse the city on two-wheelers.

Despite this, it is quite surprising that the discussions on Pune Metro amongst prominent environmental activists were negative. While, debates could happen on Metro’s alignment, the stand of activists that we don’t need a Metro, is not just confusing, but also conflicting to the overall agenda of environmental conservation.

I have time and again reiterated my personal stand on Pune Metro. Metro is a system for the future. Most cities across the world, that sport such a mass transit system like a Metro, will show that investments in such systems were made when the city didn’t actually need it. It was done with a view that 25 years from now, it will provide a mobility solution. In fact, with a good 10 year delay, Pune is already at a position that we need a high capacity rapid transport system in the city, and Metro is no longer a need for the future only. Further, the argument that we need one system but not the other is quite futile. We need all and every mobility solution that can be developed, including proper roads (probably some flyovers to resolve multidirectional traffic), buses, taxis (& rickshaws), shuttle services and the Metro! No one system can replace the other!

We, as a society, also needs to accept the fact that there are always gives and takes when it comes to measuring environmental impacts. Any and every activity and action that we undertake impacts the environment, not just in one way, but in multiple ways. So, when it comes to public infrastructure, its about understanding what is the net gain achieved by so many number of people and the positive impact of it versus the potential environmental damage, vis-a-vis the potential damage that gets caused due to no action or the current prevailing situation.

NGT, has shown that it is capable of assessing this very practical approach of environmental impact assessment. Pune, its citizens and its future citizens, will be eternally grateful for this judgment.

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