Starting Trouble: The Case of Pune’s Bus Rapid Transport System

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By Ranjit Gadgil and Shweta Vernekar of Parisar, Pune and Avinash Madhale of Centre for Environment Education, Pune

The idea of the Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) was initiated in Pune in 2004, a year before the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) was announced. The fact that JnNURM presented itself as a convenient funding opportunity was a coincidence, intelligently sought by the then Municipal Commissioner, Nitin Kareer. He is said to be the mastermind behind Pune receiving an edge in funds under JnNURM. The entry of JnNURM in the city was a very non-ceremonial affair. No one knew about it, except certain politicians and the Commissioner. It was Kareer who sent one of the first Development Plan Regulations (DPR) to the Centre for funding. These proposals were assembled by him on the basis of various discussions he had with experts, civil society members and the select politicians who had an understanding of the issues of the city. It was only after money started pouring in that the corporators realised that such a scheme existed.

The BRTS in Pune (Hadapsar-Swargate-Katraj) was launched without proper DPR in place. At an escalated cost of 134 crores (previously 103 crores) for the pilot stretch of 12 kms, Pune became the first Indian city to introduce the rapid transport system. The political mileage of being the first Indian city with BRTS and the haste it brought with it led to haphazard implementation of the project. When work started, people had no inkling of what was being built and due to the lack of any awareness campaigns; a strong negative impression took hold in the people’s minds about the system. Exaggerated media reports about accidents in the BRTS lane caused more trouble. Moreover, the BRTS lacked many essential components failing to capture the public’s imagination. One of the major drawbacks has been the introduction of the idea of “mixed BRT”, i.e. the absence of dedicated bus lanes along some lengths of the corridors. Around 40% of the BRTS in Pune is of this “mixed” nature. This concept was however severely criticised by civil society organisations and experts.

Jairaj Phatak, the then Commissioner of BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation, approved of the haphazard BRTS, in spite of obvious shortcomings. Research showed a complete lack of evaluation of quality of outcome, if one is to go by the level of services provided in various projects. For instance, the MMRDA officials found themselves approaching PMC through a range of external pressure points such as strong political interference. It was only when Mr S K Lohia, Officer on Special Duty (Urban Transport) and Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Urban Transport of the Government of India, came to Pune that the actual situation was understood and reprimanded. As per the new Comprehensive Mobility Plan, there is a need to augment the planned BRTS network, by adding another 50 km to the already 100 km sanctioned under JNNURM. It also recommended that the BRTS network should be completed by 2010, a deadline already several years overdue. While paucity of funds is often cited as a reason for delays, an analysis of the annual budget of PMC in 2011-12 shows clearly how a re-allocation of funds could help achieve the goals mentioned in the Comprehensive Mobility Plan, including the BRTS network.

The perception that crores have been wasted in the so called BRTS is turning out to be true, with not even a single BRTS corridor operating with consistent dedicated lane for buses. The BRTS Corridor from Hadapsar to Katraj is now the site of multiple flyovers and subways, none of which have been planned in subordination of the existing BRTS. A recent safety audit report published by PMC on the BRTS corridor describes the route as being hazardous and recommends removal of cycle tracks to enable traffic movement among other things. The cycle tracks on these routes and across Pune suffer from poor planning and maintenance with little regard for usability and convenience of cyclists. As a result they have become dysfunctional spaces which get used for parking, hawking and walking.

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The BRTS case is a classic example of why most sources believe that JnNURM has not improved the city in any visible way, even though it has led to a marked improvement in passenger experience of bus travel. What looks like a complete lack of planning in projects, could also be a pattern of constructing and deconstructing and reconstructing endlessly to invite larger projects with more capital investment. Another notable observation is the absolute disinterest in involving people in any way in the implementation process. In case of the BRTS, in spite of repeated reminders and suggestions on how to reach out to the people, neither the corporation nor the politicians showed any interest to do so. Civil society representatives gave different proposals for better outreach. For example, it was proposed that a 500 meter stretch of BRTS with all its features likes a bus station showcasing level boarding, pre board ticketing, and a dedicated lane be constructed for people to see and use and give suggestions. However, these were never considered. A tendency to tick mark reforms and projects without understanding their intentions is noticed.

Another indicative example is that of the Citizen Volunteer Technical Committee, a committee to be formed for JnNURM projects where qualified citizens were invited to deliberate and give their opinion on various projects was formed in 2010. Not a single meeting of this committee was held. The nominated committee members themselves had no idea that they were part of such a committee. Such is the state of affairs of public participation in JNNURM projects. While municipal officials unanimously feel that the funds have helped their functioning and the city’s development immensely, this seems to be a more money-centric approach. There is a perception that even with such large amounts of money spent the impact is not visible. While the BRTS is a particularly challenging proposition to execute, and a hard parameter for judging the performance of JnNURM, other components of JNNURM haven’t lived up to their promise, even though, like in the sewage sector specific infrastructural projects have certainly brought some important benefits to the city.

The blog post is an excerpt from a research titled ‘Impact of JNNURM on Urban Governance in Pune City’ conducted by Ranjit Gadgil and Shweta Vernekar of Parisar, Pune and Avinash Madhale of Centre for Environment Education, Pune. The research focused on the impact of JNNURM on the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) through a study of three sectors – roads, transport and sewerage. It attempted to understand whether JNNURM has had the intended impact on the functioning of the ULB and examined the impact of the program on the urban poor in Pune. The research was a part of a larger ICSSR-funded project called ‘Impact of Infrastructure and Governance Transformations of JNNURM in Small, Medium & Large Cities’. All studies related to the project can be found freely on our open source website: http://urk.tiss.edu/research/india/19-impact-of-infrastructure-and-governance-transformations-of-jnnurm-in-small-medium-large-cities.html

 

 

 

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