Civic Sanskriti: Looking back, looking forward to best things that happened in Pune for sustainability
Through the most difficult months of illness and lockdowns, we realised that the wellbeing of society is dependent on the wellbeing of all segments. Will such learning stay with us? Will the aspirants in the upcoming local body elections make inclusive development their core promise? Let’s see
I asked a few people what they thought were the best things that happened in Pune for sustainability, looking back at the year gone by.
On the mobility front, Sujit Patwardhan, founder, Parisar, said that “street designs favouring walking and cycling are emerging in different neighbourhoods. But the good work happening is about 10%, while unsustainable works continue. Yet, there are nudges for change in thinking, which will hopefully become visible in the years to come. For example, the need for a structured approach to air quality improvement under the National Clean Air Programme, and recognition of pedestrian rights. But until a breakthrough happens, it can end in all talk and no action”.
Transport planner Pranjali Deshpande too appreciated the Pedestrians’ Day and Laxmi Road Pedestrian Plaza organised on December 11 by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and the collaboration with civil society groups to make it a success.
Mangesh Dighe, environment officer, PMC, noted that despite the challenges for environmental improvement, Pune recently achieved the landmark of 1.5 crore kilometres of electric bus operations. This is indeed a good beginning. In the coming years, the proportion of renewable energy used for public transport (and all energy use) should go up.
For Shailaja Deshpande, director, Jeevit Nadi, “the awareness and willingness towards protecting natural resources that have arisen among citizens is the most sustainable outcome as it is not driven by narrow political agenda. People are more concerned about health, hygiene and sustainable development, and not just development. People have voiced their opposition to amenity spaces privatisation, tree-felling, hill cutting, against straightening stream courses, lack of services and refusing to pay PMC taxes as a mark of protest. They have shown vigilance against illegal sand mining even at the risk of their lives.”
On the other hand, Vaishali Patkar of Aundh Vikas Mandal feels that “the members of the public who engage with issues are heroes. But only a handful of people speaking doesn’t show results at the scale and urgency needed. If municipal administrators could be more inclusive of citizens, NGOs, and experts, things could change”.
It was amazing that Pune Municipal Corporation showed an increase in tax collection as the financial year closed in March. Healthcare infrastructure, including municipal health facilities, became stronger. Yet, though businesses and work are slowly looking up (with the threat of Omicron hanging over us), the structural weaknesses, especially in social protection measures for informal workers and the urban poor, showed up starkly.
Through the most difficult months of illness and lockdowns, we realised that the wellbeing of society is dependent on the wellbeing of all segments. Will such learning stay with us? Will the aspirants in the upcoming local body elections make inclusive development their core promise? Let’s see.
On a crucial front, Avinash Madhale, programme coordinator of Community-Led Action Learning and Partnership (CLAP) says, “while there has been such a setback to school education, some teachers and institutions have made an extra effort to run bridge classes and bring children back to school.” Over the last several months, a few organisations involved in schooling for vulnerable groups have been running bridge classes and trying to maintain the connection to the school. Let’s hope that the reduction in enrolment, disruption in learning, and the support children need can be addressed in the coming months, though it is likely to need a large societal effort.
For Gurudas Nulkar, from Ecological Society, the most interesting to observe is that “for at least a very small population, there has been the shocking revelation that a microscopic predator can conquer us; that organic food matters, immunity matters, biodiversity matters.”
With that humbling thought and the hope for much great collaboration for sustainability between citizens and the government, best wishes to you dear readers, for the last week of 2021, and for a brighter new year.
Sanskriti Menon is senior programme director, Centre for Environment Education. She writes on urban sustainability and participatory governance. Views are personal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org