First mooted in 2002, the Pune Metro is finally ready for launch in 2020. Being built by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, the inauguration of Pune metro’s first line from Tukaram Nagar to Phugewadi is scheduled for April. This stretch, part of the Pimpri-Chinchwad to Swargate Line-1 is set to be functional by March 2020, according to union minister Prakash Javadekar. Javadekar also claimed that all three lines of the metro are likely to be functional by 2022.
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These claims, however, were refuted by the MahaMetro, the special purpose vehicle set up to build and run the Pune metro. “The first line may or may not be functional by April, as it depends on various factors,” said Dr Hemant R Sonawane, general manager, Public Relations of MahaMetro. “The two-lines of the project will be fully completed within two and a half years”. The three-phase construction, Phase-I of which was approved by the union cabinet in 2016, envisages three lines: Line-I covering 16.65 kilometers between Pimpri Chinchwad to Swargate, Line-II covering 14.66 kilometres between Vanaz to Ramwadi and Line-III connecting Hinjewadi to Shivaji Nagar. The last — Line III — is 23.3 km and has been approved on a public-private partnership basis, to be executed by the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority and likely to be completed by 2023.
According to Dr Hemant Sonawane the routes of Line 1 and II have been chosen based on various factors which have been listed in the DPR. “Factors like decongestion of traffic, connections between the centre of the city and other areas, catering to the needs of students, businessperson, leisure activities, the communities living along the routes, to name a few,” said Nitin Joshi, Joint GM, Public Relations. The Hinjewadi metro line has been chosen primarily to link the IT hub to the city and the other metro routes.
Green metro ?
The Pune Metro is also being touted as being the greenest metro in the country. According to MahaMetro Managing Director Dr Brijesh Dixit, 65% of the energy consumed will come from solar panels fitted atop metro stations. The metro also has biodigesters that take care of human waste disposal at metro stations. “The metro aims to use the organic waste and recycled water for its vertical gardens, washrooms, and other metro maintenance requirements,” said Hemant. The green initiatives also include rainwater harvesting along the routes and transplantation of trees cut down during metro construction.
While officials of the MahaMetro emphasise its green initiatives, environmental activists have been accusing it of endangering Pune’s natural resources. City activist Sarang Yadwadkar had filed a court case against MahaMetro for polluting the Mula-Mutha river. The river, an important source of water for the city, is also an eco-habitat attracting migratory birds.
In July 2019, the NGT ordered that there must be no dumping of construction waste and debris in the river. But even in December 2019, MahaMetro was still dumping waste in the river obstructing its flow. “The width of the river has been reduced by 25 percent,” said Yadwadkar. “ This was one of the causes of flooding in 2019. Soil and biodiversity too has been destroyed”.
Environmentalists wonder whether the developmental gains from the metro is really worth the cost to the environment. For instance, a 2019 report republished by Citizen Matters had elaborated on how the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary was endangered by the metro construction. While the MahaMetro has now made clear that its line will not pass through the sanctuary, a lot of damage had been done initially when its trees were cut.
“The bird species seen in the sanctuary has gone down,” said Meghana Baphna, one of the core members of the citizens group that is involved in fighting to save the sanctuary. “One reason is flooding and the other is the metro project and the cutting of trees. With the MahaMetro changing the alignment in Kalyani Nagar, there will be more pressure on the sanctuary area. Only builders will benefit from this. The residents of Kalyani Nagar won’t benefit.”
The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has not taken any steps yet to protect the sanctuary, especially towards containing the sewage flowing into the area. The initial plan was to cut an estimated 685 trees and transplant them elsewhere, besides planting an additional 7000 trees in different areas of the city. According to some media reports, the Pune Municipal Corporation had given permission for cutting down the trees.
The Environment Status Report put out by the PMC admits that the felling of trees to build the MahaMetro corridors has led to rise in pollution. Officials put the number of trees felled at 700 but unofficial figures show over 1200 trees likely to be cut, seriously threatening the city’s green cover. Between March and June 2019, 32 fully grown trees were cut down and no transplanting was done, raising questions over MahaMetro’s promises of transplanting cut trees and its promise of planting 7000 new trees.
Rehabilitation of people displaced by the metro project has also been controversial. MahaMetro officials claim it has built 700 housing units in Lohegaon to rehabilitate the 1000 families displaced from some areas. But activists have protested against the rehabilitation process and the planned metro route. The displaced families too have been protesting against the rehabilitation plan, demanding that their rehabilitation happen in situ. It is also argued that if the displaced persons, mostly poor slum dwellers, are not rehabilitated in close proximity of the metro lines, they will not benefit from the project.
Currently, only 25% of Pune’s population (out of 31.2 lakhs) live within accessible distance of the Rapid Transit Networks (BRTS and Metro). As it is, the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) has failed to fulfil its promises in terms of frequency, convenience and usage even though 77 per cent of the city’s poor are totally dependent on the city’s buses for their transport needs.
Last mile connectivity
The Pune metro does have plans to provide end-to-end connectivity through bus feeder services, e-rickshaws, e-cycles, and e-vans and making metro stations disabled friendly. According to the detailed project report (DPR), metro stations will need to have trained staff to ensure safety of disabled passengers, there will be Braille maps at stations, there will be both visual and audio inputs, ramps and lifts for accessibility, approach routes have to have tactile marking and ramps, and at least one unisex accessible toilet.
As for last mile connectivity, the registration of e-rickshaws has been very low with only 129 e-rickshaws registered so far. The bike-sharing system of the PMC has been practically shut down with most bicycles not even getting one ride per-day. Three companies have pulled out of the programme due to lack of customer interest. The lack of cycling infrastructure is one of the major reasons for the lack of interest in bike-sharing.
Buses as an option also do not raise hope, as Pune’s bus fleet is inadequate. The current public transport system is not equipped to complement the metro system. The ridership estimates for Pune metro stand at 7 lakhs per day by 2031. The bus system currently carries between 10-12 lakh people per day.
Footpaths are in sorry state too. Currently, footpaths near some metro stops are being reduced in width to ensure free flow of traffic during construction. Whether or not the width of these footpaths will be increased again at a later date is unknown.
As MahaMetro prepares for the inauguration of its first line, the hope is that the above-mentioned issues will be addressed and it will make good on the promise of being environmentally friendly, publicly accessible, and economically efficient.