Monday Musings: A dismal year for India, but even worse for Pune
The year-ender is a period when people normally take a review of things planned during the year. The last week of the year is the first instalment of this weekly column that also takes a review of how 2020 has been for Pune.
For the city and citizens, the year brought disease and death that many had never seen before.
But, it also brought disaster and dearth – on a scale Pune had not seen for decades.
The limitations of Pune’s health capacity were exposed by the pandemic, that claimed over 4,400 lives and affected around 1.90 lakh people.
Early September, Pune district earned the distinction of reporting the highest number of progressive positive and active Covid-19 cases nationally, surpassing India’s national capital, which has blocked the slot for long.
The shortage of beds, unavailability of ambulances, fleecing by hospitals through overcharging of bills, and an overall absence of coordination among government machinery, were some of the highlights patients and their relatives, helplessly watched.
The woes of Punekars were not just limited to health.
In the penultimate week of 2020, the Pune Metro project completed four years of its foundation laying event that saw the Prime Minister in attendance.
The hope offered by leaders was to start the operations by 2021.
In reality, only 50 per cent of the work has been completed as the year ends.
If operations on the priority stretch –Sant Tukaram nagar to Phugewadi -have been deferred twice due to the incomplete work; the mass exodus of migrant labours during May-June, has only delayed the project that promises to be a panacea for Pune city in absence of robust mass transport.
For a city with a population of 50 lakh (including that of Pimpri-Chinchwad) commuting through daily traffic jams, inferior air quality and poor roads, are daily woes no less than a punishment.
All this is aggravated when the city streets flood every now and then, even with a few centimetres of rain; something Puneites meekly watch – and move on.
Moving a little further – in the first week of December – the long cherished dream of Puneites suffered another setback as the government reconsidered it decision and explored another site for proposed airport at Purandar.
When it all looked certain that the project is coming up at Purandar amid notification of land acquisition also issued by the government, the resistance of farmers led by local MLA Sanjay Jagtap forced the powers-that-be to look for alternate land in the same tehsil.
This is now the fourth site the government is exploring for the project, which many believe, may not be a reality in their lifetime.
The joke now is – for a generation which first heard of the proposed international airport in Pune two decades ago - it will always remain “proposed”.
Initially, it was in the Chakan industrial belt, that the government had zeroed-in on land to develop the airport. Opposition of local farmers and entry of politicians, forced the state conduct a feasibility survey at two other sites, including the Khed Special Economic Zone.
However, this option also failed to take off, because 74 per cent of this land is under the ownership of the Kalyani Group, which refused to give it up. Fed up of hurdles, the then Devendra Fadnavis government shifted the site to Purandar and obtained clearance from key authorities like Defence, Civil Aviation and Environment.
When the project looked to take off, a bunch of farmers protested, putting the proposal in cold storage once again, till the current Maha Vikas Aghadi explored yet another site.
This wasn’t the last woe of the year for Pune.
The three ring roads, including two passing from the outer parts of the city and one inner elevated road known as the High Capacity Mass Transport (HCMTR), are only on papers. There’s no sign they will kick start even in 2021.
2021 also offers a glimmer of optimism – that a vaccine is just days away and Pune can be an early beneficiary given that it is being manufactured in the city itself.