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‘Pune was a Smart City 30 years ago. We failed it’

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By: Lt Col Sachin Shinde, Pune has been rapidly growing. Today, I feel Pune was a Smart City 30 years ago.

Back then, everyone used bicycles. In fact, people on bikes even offered children lifts to school. I was one of the many beneficiaries of this friendly attitude. The city was also lush green with tree-lined roads, with no shortage of water. The crime rate was low and I hardly remember a traffic signal.

The weather was an absolute wonder too. We did not need fans in homes as the temperature in Pune never rose above 24°C — thousands settled down here to call this beautiful small town their home.

But today, this small town is on its way to become a Smart City.

Let’s be real. Rapid growth did not take place overnight. Problem is, our town planners never planned the city properly. They were not able to prepare for the future and worked only to meet “current” needs. We are still paying for this incompetence.

But all’s not lost — there is time for a rethink. Decisive steps need to be taken now to avoid mistakes of the past. Experts associated with the Smart City project must not rush; they must face core issues plaguing the city.

Construction of cycle tracks, a Metro or Wifi zones will not make Pune a smart city. Neither will decorative diyas at chowks. We need to immediately reduce population density and to achieve this, priority must be given to project approvals and infrastructure development on the outskirts. Also, planners must not sanction projects within core city unless they are self-sustaining.

Besides healthy buildings, availability of good healthcare services for humans is non-negotiable in a Smart City. Sassoon Hospital and other state-run hospitals must be modernised. These hospitals will then need to employ top doctors for treating the poor. Clean toilets can also ensure cities remain free of disease. Pune doesn’t need toilets with bio-digesters that cost Rs 10 lakh. These simply cannot be maintained at public locations. Instead, small, clean toilets built for Rs 2 lakh are a smarter choice.

We now come to Pune’s notorious traffic congestion. This chaos cannot be controlled by simply widening roads to accommodate BRTS lanes. The BRTS has failed us; it’s time to move on. Reusing the same template, again and again, reveals an irresponsible approach. Why not provide sufficient parking lots and open spaces by demolishing old, unsafe infrastructure? Also, adding flyovers, a Metro and BRTS at already congested zones will only add to the chaos. We need to explore new routes, bypasses and underground routes. A helping hand must also be lent to the traffic police. High-resolution CCTV cameras, mobile PCR vans, automated online challan systems, remotely-manned traffic control stations and additional manpower will go a long way. Authorities must decongest Pune and plan according to the population density so that necessary support systems such as road networks and power supply lines can be developed. A sufficient and efficient mass transport system is important — here’s to you dear PMPML.

But one of the most important factor to development is water use. We must find ways to recharge the groundwater table and also harvest rainwater. Water bodies in the city are also in a dire need of cleaning. Sewage treatment plants must be installed at various places and only treated water must be allowed to enter these water bodies.

Collectively, we must redefine the modernisation. Modernisation is not the unplanned development of infrastructure without planning for the future. The Smart City concept is to provide basic amenities and to improve satisfaction levels of citizens.

Source: The Times of India, Pune

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