Despite Rs 72 cr already having been spent on several arterial city roads, the new national mission seeks to make the same ones 'ideal' with new funds
The beginning of the ambitious Smart City Mission here may finally have started taking small steps in the right direction, with the civic administration on Monday announcing its plan to redesign and make 'ideal' around 100 kilometres of main roads across the city in the first phase of the national programme, while having identified major areas for this step as well.
However, a not-so-tiny detail being conveniently glossed over in these proceedings is the fact that the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has already pumped in crores of rupees into quite literally doing the same thing, under the header of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), over the last several decades. On Monday, municipal commissioner Kunal Kumar announced a massive initiative to redesign main roads under the Urban Street Design Guidelines of the Smart City Mission. Of the total 437 kilometres of main roads in the city, PMC has decided to make 100 kilometres 'ideal' in the first phase. This will include installing components such as carriageways, footpaths, cycle tracks, service roads, parking, stormwater systems, utility belts, and more.
There are a total of 2,065 kms of roads across the city — 59 per cent are local streets, 26 per cent are sub-arterial and the remaining are main roads. Kumar said, "We have initially divided 100 kms of main roads into four PMC zones of 25 kms length. In total, we have to tackle 437 kms of main roads. Work is set to start within three months."
Rajendra Raut, superintendent of the PMC road department, said, "We announced this road restructuring initiative under the Urban Street Design Guidelines. A panel of experts was deputed in 2013 to make suggestions to us on the redesigning process of existing roads, but they had failed to submit a plan on time. Now, each road will have different characteristics, but the components will remain the same, such as footpaths, cycle track, service roads, parking, carriageways, and more."
The four zones finalised by PMC are all in the heart of the city and include major thoroughfares like Laxmi Road, Kumthekar Road, Bajirao Road, Shivaji Road, Sinhagad Road, Ganeshkhind Road, Jangli Maharaj Road, Fergusson College Road and Satara Road.
Ironically, these very roads were part of the improvement programmes constituted under JNNURM, too.
In fact, almost Rs 72 crore were spent on making roads user-friendly in Pune under this mission, with the same components that are now part of Urban Street Design Guidelines. Funds were spent on footpaths, cycle tracks, a separate facility for utility services to avoid digging to lay down pipelines and cables, and more. What the city has been left with at the end of it all, however, is cycle tracks in a dilapidated condition, footpaths encroached by vendors and roads regularly dug up for laying utility services.
Asked about the very pertinent difference between JNNURM and the smart city road project, Raut only said, "The major part of redesigning roads will be to make them pedestrianfriendly. The components will be the same but redesigning will take into consideration the available road width. After submitting a plan, we will figure out the costs and designs needed."
Activists are more than cynical about this latest move. Major general (retired) and civil engineer S C N Jatar, a member of the PMC development plan (DP) steering committee, besides being the founder of city-based NGO Nagrik Chetna Manch, said, "We have heard the same old story for so many years now. It is the duty of the civic body to make city roads pedestrian-friendly as per the Indian Road Congress (IRC) guidelines. For this, crores of funds were used under JNNURM. Now, they are pitching the same thing under the Smart City mission. All it means is that the PMC simply 'wasted' JNNURM funds. Should there be no accountability? The lack of it is making PMC blow up taxpayers' money in the name of a different scheme every time."