Pune took the lead, but lost steam in Metro race

PUNE: The planning for a metro began around the same time in Pune and Kochi. Leaders, including Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar and others, sparked a metro for Pune debate in 2006, at the same time Kochi was discussing the possibilities of a mass transport project.

Today, while Pune is debating and discussing the project and the state government is still to send the plan to the central government, Kochi has moved on the fast track to get its mass transit project up and started. It is no surprise then that Kochi is the first Tier-II city in the country to be granted a metro under the central government’s scheme.

Last September, the foundation stone of the Kochi Metro was laid by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Kochi Metro Rail Project from Alwaye to Petta (Tripunithura) running for 25.3 km will be fully elevated and has a total completion cost of Rs 5,181 crore. The project will be implemented through joint ownership Special Purpose Vehicle of the Indian government and government of Kerala and is slated for completion in four years. Metro projects are already under implementation across the country including Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Jaipur.

In Pune, the metro is certainly on the slow track. There is a cost revision and as per the revised schedule the city must complete the first phase of the project in the next four years. Last June, while approving the project proposal, the state government had scheduled the project to be completed in five years, of which a year has already lapsed.

Common citizens who are completely dependent on public transport are agitated with the delay in metro project. “I am born and brought up in Pune and currently working in Kochi in a private firm. When the metro discussions started in Pune, I was college student. I completed my education and shifted to Kochi three years ago. My parents are in Pune and whenever I come to meet them, I hear a new controversy surrounding the metro,” said P K Raju.

What leveraged Kochi’s mass transit project was that the state and the local politicians were determined to start the metro project and joined hands, he added. Many citizens echoed Raju’s feelings.

“In Pune, we have stalwarts playing big roles in the state and national politics. But I am convinced that these leaders are least interested in the city. They have not even bothered to improve the public transport,” said Ravikant Ghorpade, a self-employed citizen. He added that the apathy of leaders is responsible for the metro being a non-starter.

Homemaker Vaishali Kadam said it was about attitude. “All these years we have been reading and hearing about the metro. But some people in this city oppose everything that is proposed.”

BJP city unit chief Anil Shirole said it was high time the city improved its public transport. “The city is in a mess and people are suffering with a public transport that is in a pathetic condition. The leaders are not interested in mass transit projects,” he said.

The ruling NCP and Congress continue to lock horns over the credit for the project, which still remains on paper. While the NCP wants to keep the Congress away from any decision regarding the metro, the Congress wants chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to keep his deputy Ajit Pawar at a bay while deciding on any project related to Pune, experts said.

With politicians mired in a political credit game, industries are worried. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) has cautioned that infrastructure in Pune would be inadequate to bear the growing population.

“Rapid urbanisation has fuelled the need for an effective and sustainable public transportation system in Pune following the Delhi Metro model – a perfect example of synergy between public and private sectors,” the association said in its study ‘Urbanising India and Mega Metro Network: Vision for the Emerging Cities of India 2030’.

Growth explosion in Pune has pushed the city towards a transport crisis. Frequent traffic snarls due to narrow and choked road network is proving to be a growth bottleneck, adding to increased costs of goods and services, the study said.

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