Monday, December 13, 2010

"Ancient Wisdom : Future Scenarios Some Thoughts on Pune" by Christopher Charles Benninger, Architect.

Pune City evolved from a riverside village; to a market town; to the capital of the Maratha Empire; to a colonial cantonment town; and gradually over the late Twentieth Century into a thriving industrial metropolis and intellectual centre.

Like all cities, Pune’s urban physical form has expressed the socio-economic transformation. Each period of history used public policy to reflect the dominate political economy, and also to mould the city within it! While it is believed that the original settlement containing a bazaar near the present Kasba Peth developed its lanes around footpaths leading to temples on the river, later patterns were planned and directed! During the rule of the Marathas a rationale for urban planning and urban development evolved, which is unequaled since. Subsequently, British land use planning visualized the city in terms of exclusive functional components and drew a line between the alien life styles of various cantonments and the “native city.” Town planning measures toward the end of the colonial period promoted land pooling and redistribution through public-private partnerships, but the statutory mechanisms ensured that each Town Planning Scheme ended in the courts with the average scheme taking seventeen years from inception to realization. It has been many decades since any new scheme has been ventured.

Present Scenario

What is now called a “Development Plan” is no plan at all. It is merely an abstract land use plan, sprinkled with rather arbitrary reservations on private land where public amenities and open areas are to mysteriously emerge. The chances are for an average citizen buying land, using the services of so called real estate agents that they will end up buying a parcel without adequate land records to prove the vendor’s ownership! Often it is impossible to obtain a public demarcation of the property, because the original “layout” was surveyed from a larger area, whose individual plot owners are unknown or unwilling, to cooperate by paying their share of the demarcation costs. The so called Gunthewadi Act, working like some kind of “loan mela,” attempted to regularize all the illegal plotting, inept road layouts and bogus schemes, through a sweeping statutory mechanism, which throws on the innocent land buyers the costs of poor public management and daring cheating! In such plots roads may be widened into the owners’ land with no compensation at any time. The ill-conceived layouts having no open spaces, public amenities or adequate roads compensate the public by having their allowable built-up areas reduced to 0.75 percent, as if that will make the future city work! The colonial and post-Independence statutory mechanisms and administrative modalities have proven incapable of addressing the challenge of the modern city. Whatever mechanisms do work, such as getting demarcation, being enrolled into the city tax records, clearing plans and obtaining utilities connections involve open bribing of public officials. Citizens have become victims of their public servants!

A Well Tempered and Articulated Policy Tool

While the system appears to be one of chaos, it is in fact one very suitable to the builders, unscrupulous land developers, unqualified real estate touts and public officials who all realize unearned increments from plying this system to their personal advantage. I say this is a conceived public policy evolved through design to benefit the few at the cost of the many! I say this is a well considered and tempered system of management designed to meet the needs of land developers and cooperative public servants. This is an articulated policy tool which has served the needs of a few who have worked it to their own aggrandizement and wealth!

City Engineers and City Commissioners like to cite the scarcity of water, the paucity of revenue and the shortage of electricity, when in fact the real scarcity is of true leadership and vision; the only paucity is in sound urban management and the only scarcity is of good practices. While Pune’s leading politicians have spent much of the past two decades amassing personal wealth and fighting over fiefdoms, the administration has been dilly-dallying over one plan after the other; one riverfront scheme and then another; and get headlines reviewing various high level proposals for urban transport and water supply. The Development Plan of Pune has been a mere two decades behind schedule! During that same period Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Thane and Surat, to name a few, have transformed into viable urban settings and efficient economic engines!

This is a city where elected policy makers dabble in the administration’s job of implementation; and the administrators are completely absorbed in policy formulation, which is the job of elected city fathers (and mothers)! The city, its citizens and the physical environment are all left to grow like septic cultures in a refuge heap! Meanwhile this great city’s potential is dragged down by power cuts, faulty phone lines, internet speeds as slow as 17.2 kbps and cell phone systems which are overloaded. Thus, the public sector in Pune has no monopoly over the incompetent planning and management of economic infrastructure. Unlike nearby growth centers, Puneites are inured to a life of harassment, congestion, pollution and faulty infrastructure.

There are numerous sovereign and spatially distinct local authorities operating within the Pune Metropolitan Region. These include the Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporations; the towns of towns of Dehu, Alandi and Talegaon; fringe settlements like Khadakwasala and Hadapsar; and the cantonments of Kirkee, Pune, Dehu Road and Lohegaon. While some of the fringe villages have been amalgamated into the city, they continue to share the dual phenomena of rapid, patchy growth with tremendous infrastructure gaps! With multiple urban administrations co-inhabiting the same urban economic space, there is a myriad of planning, development planning, proposal clearing and implementation employed by the many local authorities. There is no cohesive agreement amongst the local administrators even on where to put the refuse generated within the urban region and how to recycle it! The Pune City Engineer announced at one point that five hundred cleared plans would be withdrawn! The Standing Committee wants to appoint new urban designers to redesign the river area development plan that the Municipal Corporation awarded to the River Group of architects a few years ago. The so called “Development Plan” was on display for at least the third time since it was due in 1987, and once again the citizens of the city are asked to make fools of themselves by attending endless hearings, where their voices go unheard! There are cases in the new plan where open markets are proposed on an amenities plot where a sanctioned retreat for the elderly already is built! We hear that a private expert’s Group has made a presentation to the City Commissioner for a proposed Transport Plan for the city! We hear that a New York City Management firm will transform itself into the garb of professional urban planners and prepare the future vision for the blind! There is no coherent urban transport plan; no traffic management plan; and no mass transport strategy! Meanwhile, the local authorities of the urban region continue to dump sewerage and refuge into the rivers, polluting the natural aquifer system. Yes, there is a shortage of water!

Ancient Wisdom

Perhaps the seeds of the distant future lie in components from the ancient past? During the Maratha era, as the role of Pune expanded, new peths were added. These were clearly demarcated neighborhoods assigned to caretakers, or Shet Mahajans, in the form of conditional land grants. Each Shet Mahajan was required, through a covenant, to develop his trusteeship within a specific time-frame and with specific public amenities. There were roads laid out on rectilinear grids, storm water drains, public baths, plots for temples and public gardens. There were areas for artisans and for commerce. All of this was supported by an underground water supply system coming in from Katraj! The Shet Mahajan could pool land, readjust land and redistribute land through a system of pricing and he could charge development fees from the users. He could settle claims and collect taxes on commerce within his jurisdiction. He knew all of his stake holders by name and the peth’s development was a self-financing, joint venture. In 1637 Pune included the four peths of Kasba, Shaniwar, Raviwar and Somwar. In 1663 Mangalwar Peth was added and Budwar Peth was added in 1703. By the time Shukrawar Peth was added in 1734, the population of the seven peths was about 25,000 persons. Some of the peths had water tanks, gymnasia and shrines for which they are well-known even today. During the early Maratha period the availability of dry, flat land along the north-south trade route, and access to Kasba Peth encouraged the establishment of further settlements to accommodate military agencies. Barracks, stables and storage facilities for the army were located in Shukrawar Peth. The new areas of Ganesh Peth, Ganj Peth and Guruwar Peth accommodated traders and craftsmen. Nyahal Peth was the only new ward to develop in the eastern area. These peths, which developed through public-private partnerships, provide a viable and logical urban pattern, enabling access to urban services, amenities and public movement even now. Though Pune was ransacked by the Nizams, in 1771, by 1776 it has gained a population of about 75,000 people. Philadelphia in America that year had the same population and Philadelphia was then the second largest city in the British Empire, next to London.

The so called innovation by the British of “town planning schemes,” is in many aspects a weaker version of the Shet Mahajan system. While the Town Planning Scheme Act of 1937 provided a statutory framework, it lacked the innovation and leadership inherent in the Shet Mahajan. Nevertheless, there is wisdom in the Town Planning Schemes also and states like Gujarat have taken the lead in reforming the potential mechanism, such that it abets land owners to transform their raw land into well planned neighborhoods. Since the Town Planning Scheme of Bhamburda many decades ago, our public officials have virtually slept on this urban development mechanism, which engages the land owners to restructure their land, without any of them becoming the victims of land reservations that is an inherent and unfair aspect of the Development Plans. Magapatha, in eastern Pune, proves that the private sector can employ good urban planning, through the professional assistance of qualified architects and urban designers. Here is an excellent example of urban planning with modern sanitation, well laid out roads, open spaces, amenities and services. Surely this is a model for Pune’s future, employing the aspects of the Shet Mahajan’s private sector wisdom for economic viability, along with the clear understanding that good planning is good business! Just as the Marathas provided reservoirs and aqueducts, Pune city has a long standing, unrealized plan prepared by the Kirloskar Consultants over a decade ago, which if fully implemented would transform the urban region.

Do our city fathers need to go to Ahmedabad to learn what private electric supply can do? Do they need to go to Hyderabad to learn what a road is and what sidewalks are? Need they travel to New York and Tokyo to learn what clean, fast and comfortable mass transit is when it is there to see in Kolkata and now in New Delhi?

Future Scenarios

What is clearly needed in the Pune Metropolitan Region is a professional urban development authority. This entity would remove the responsibility for urban planning, urban design, and traffic management from the local urban authorities. It would take up mass transport planning, land pooling schemes, river management, major water and sewerage management schemes, road and refuse infrastructure planning. It would take the city’s future out of the inept hands of overburdened local authorities. It would create “authority,” with limited political interference and dabbling. It would bring together a group of professional urban planners, urban designers, transport and infrastructure planners, along with the local architectural profession, to look after the growth and the health of this fair city. The local authorities would be relieved of development activities and left to focus on the honest and competent management of urban infrastructure and services.

Thus using a professionally managed regional urban development authority, the Pune Metropolitan Region can build on private-public partnership models that have been successfully implemented within our context, rather than seek “foreign visions,” more management consultant’s reports, and more revised development plans! We have underutilized young urban planners and designers from Pune, who have returned to the city waiting in vain to make a contribution. Let us use them!

What is now lacking is leadership from the top; vision from the top; and a voting public that puts practical problem solving above irrelevant, emotional controversies!

Such a vision must include a systems way of seeing urban infrastructure; “inclusive planning”, which caters to the urban poor who make our system work and to the middle class managers who guide it; environmental management that protects the eco-system, including the supply of potable water and the treatment of wastes and sewerage; economic infrastructure such as electricity, roads, airport, industrial water sources and special economic zones in the urban region to promote new starts in Greenfield sectors.

Most important to this great city is the people who inhabit it. If they are not assured comfortable and safe neighborhoods with sidewalks, cycle paths, public gardens and pedestrian ways, they will look elsewhere for their dream on this earth. Within these neighborhoods a variety of housing needs accommodating various “abilities-to-pay” must be catered to. These would all be parts of the brief we would hand over to our new Pune Metropolitan Development Authority.


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