Wednesday, December 23, 2015

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: SMART Pune Plan: Khoda pahad, nikla chooha!


"Khoda Pahad, nikla chooha" was my first reaction when I read the description of the Pune corporation's much awaited SMART City plan. 

Why do I feel disappointed? 

Firstly, the plan is not about development - SMART or otherwise - of Pune city at all, but just of a small part on the outskirts of the city! It was all the more disappointing that the area chosen to be this model of SMARTness is a newly developing area, increasingly populated mostly by people working in IT and other high tech industries, who have sufficient money of their own to equip their neighbourhoods (including the local low income community that provides them with maids, gardeners, and other odd jobbers, as well as small businesses providing various necessary services) with the most fantastic IT enabled services, if they so desire. 

Of course the supporters of the plan will point to the two citywide initiatives that are included. In fact, with a wild hope of finding something worthwhile, I too turned to this part of the plan with great anticipation. 

The two citywide initiatives that have been included are improving mobility, and giving a certain minimum assured water supply 24/7. Both of these are to be achieved with the help of IT enabling. 

Nobody can deny that increasing traffic congestion is becoming a critical issue for Pune city. So, with a lot of hope and curiosity I read the section about improving mobility. Two main action points are talked about - 

1. Increasing the number of people using public transport from the current 15% to 30%: I believe that this can be achieved even now just with improvements in the human management of existing municipal bus service. The IT enabling proposed in the plan will add value, only if first proper management is in place. However, the SMART city plan implies that its going to take IT enabling of buses, and BRT, AND Metro, to achieve this increase. To my mind that is a bit too much effort and expense for too little outcome! 

2. Increase in non-motorised transport by prioritising walking and bicycling: This is a commendable objective. But I did not find any mention of this in the 'key ideas' - apart from providing pedestrian buttons on traffic lights. I remember using a button like this at a traffic signal in front of Popular Book House on Deccan Gymkhana nearly 30 years ago. Why do we need a Special Purpose Vehicle to make this happen now??

What about the water supply plan? The rationale for selecting this as one of the high priority actions for the entire city is (I quote) "Capitalising on Pune’s water abundance..." Really? And there will continue to be abundant water available, even as the population keeps rising, just because we are going to increase the water reservoir storage capacity by 10%?

So yes, I am feeling hugely let down by this plan as a citizen of Pune. In the meanwhile, my colleagues and I continue with our study project on Sustainably SMART Pune 2030... 

Priyadarshini Karve
Director
Samuchit Enviro Tech



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