Former Municipal Commissioner of Pune and Former Principal Secretary, Maharashtra, Mahesh Zagade believes that Vetal Tekdi should be saved at all costs but a road should be carved through its bosom!
Firstly, I congratulate the citizens who are spearheading an impressive campaign without any public figure at the helm. I also congratulate the media which is supporting their cause to save the environment and the ecosystem of the Vetal Tekdi hill, particularly Pune Mirror with its innovative and heart-warming series titled `Hariyali Aur Rasta.’ I am very proud to see that youngsters in large numbers are supporting this noble movement.
This particular road alignment is as old as nearly four decades, having begun in the late 1980s. In 1987 it was included in the Development Plan (DP). People did not come out against it, then. One must understand that, as per law, objection to the alignment should be raised at the proposal stage in the DP itself. A statutory objection is far more powerful than a subsequent objection. Since the proposal was not deleted and it was never implemented but languished in the DP, the proposal again raised its head in 2017. Had it been objected to at that time, the political leadership and bureaucratic fraternity would have perhaps thought about it.
Unarguably, the lungs of the cities are shrinking all around the world. It is not possible to make a forest cover after brutalising forest cover. Hence, we must retain what nature has given, in abundance, in various areas. One must remember that the very objective of the DP is to identify and guard open spaces like playgrounds but they are instead being struck down, so the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has failed on this count.
However, one can’t object to roads, particularly in a city like Pune. I have tracked my time of travel and I take one hour for commuting 12-18 kms depending on the time of the day. So, Pune needs more roads to minimise travel time so that one can spend more hours with family and for one’s health. Instead, we spend more time on roads leading to a waste of energy and suffer from various ailments, that are often stress related.
What was not questioned at the time of formation of DP was how more FSI has been unlocked and TDR generated and what is the potential of that newly unlocked FSI/TDR that would attract additional population in the city. Therein lies the true reason for the city’s congestion. Due to hectic building construction, we are going to have a very large population residing in the city in the future. Thus, it would become imperative to have more and more roads and creation of public transport system.
My suggestion is to make both ends meet we should have an underground tunnel instead of a road through Vetal Tekdi Hill. I know there is opposition to tunnel roads too for reasons of the hill having a large amount of water recharging. The water table in such a vast geographical area would not be detrimentally affected as, all over the world, tunnel roads, metro links etc are established underground as an alternative to surface routes. The underground tunnel roads being currently constructed as a part of Coastal Road project of Mumbai and Pine-Mumbai Expressway viz Malabar Hill and Khanadal Ghat tunnels are the examples of such necessities. In addition the recharge potential and its relevance due to basaltic strata of the locality would not be significant to affect region in terms of water table depletion. In any case, if you look at the mega picture of the water table in the city, the Runoff Co-Efficient has already exceeded 0.74 due to faulty city planning. The citizens of Pune, therefore , must insist that City planners should work out design modalities to for reduction of the Runoff Co-Efficient throughout the city and consider it as a macro problem rather than engaging citizens with such agitations. This would help in balancing water table of the city.
The traffic congestion also leads to more of carbon emissions, increased probability of generation of PM 2.5, in loss on man-hours etc and, therefore , roads at every opportunity should be ingrained in the mobility plan of the city. The people should keep on questioning the efforts undertaken by the PMC for reduction of carbon footprint through various developmental tools available and the same should be integral part of the annual statutory Environment Status Reports(ESR) . During the preparation of 2011 ESR, one expert had commented that to sequester carbon emissions of 50,000 cars a forest cover equivalent to the area of Pune city would be required!
Hence, for minimising pollutants, an underground tunnel is a safe option. It would save Vetal Tekdi from any damage. Of course , underground road would require more funds than the surface road. I suggest that the State Government should make available such additional funds because the city makes substantial contributions to the Central and State exchequers and small fraction of it can definitely be made available for such essential and environmentally important projects. The City is represented by eight MLAs and it would not be difficult for them convince the Government of Maharashtra. I
I also agree that there should be an effective public transport system which will then discourage the use of private vehicles. Also e-buses should replace conventional fuel buses. One should not be so myopic as not to want roads at all. There should be a balance of sustainability and development.
(The author is former municipal commissioner of Pune and former principal secretary of Maharashtra and a noted newspaper columnist).