Monday Musings: Another deadline missed: Rs1,000 crore BRTS sinkhole
If politicians and officials have scant concern for public money going down the drain, Pune’s Katraj-Swargate Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is a classic example.
It’s been 14 years and with an expenditure of over Rs1,000 crore on a stretch just 5.5km, the civic body in Pune has added very little to improve the lives of commuters using the road.
For the past four years, this stretch, dedicated for Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML) buses, has been out of use.
Neither is it being utilised fully by private vehicles.
This has resulted in an additional traffic load on the rest of the carriage way.
In 2016, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) decided to revamp it – by revamp, the civic body meant setting up big bus stops and a bit of other works, including realignment.
In four years, and even after spending Rs 100 crore, it has missed several deadlines to be ready in service; the latest being January 1 when the Pune Mayor boastfully announced its reopening.
However, within a day, Pune’s public transport body disposed of his plan and expressed its inability to run its buses on the stretch, citing safety concerns.
The BRT corridor was originally introduced here in December 2006, when no other Indian city had experienced it.
Jaipal Reddy, the then Union Urban Development Minister, said during the inauguration that the modern public transport will to beat traffic chaos on this busy road.
Instead, it added more chaos, as PMC struggled to keep it running without hitch.
This was due to hasty implementation, ill preparedness and indiscipline of commuters made the stretch risky, with accidents becoming regular phenomenon.
So, every time when there was mishap on this stretch, the civic body carried out some or other repair work.
On every occasion, crores of rupees were spent by PMC, that has early budget of Rs 6,000 crore for a city with population of 35 lakh, covering 331 square km (before the merger of 23 villages).
In over one-and-a-half-decade, the Katraj-Swargate route on Satara road has been a laboratory for the PMC to carry out various road experiments; each one failed to provide a positive result.
The splurge of public money has attracted the attention of activists and common citizens on multiple occasions, but in vain, as their anger could not convert PMC’s apathy into empathy, beyond the ordering of audits.
Involved in this great saga are bureaucracy and various political outfits, which governed the civic body at some point.
When the project was launched, the city’s politics was controlled by former Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi, with his party at the helm of affairs in PMC.
Post 2007 till 2017, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) under Ajit Pawar controlled the reins.
In 2017, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) snatched power from the NCP by electing 98 elected representatives in the 165-member civic body.
The blame, as corporators point out, lies mostly with officials for, a) their lackadaisical approach, and b) lack of coordination.
The Katraj-Swargate road, however, is not the only example of public money being splurged in Pune.
Some of the fancy beautification projects or flyovers – have been bigger problems than solutions.
The recently demolished flyover at SPPU junction is a classic example of how it added to traffic chaos rather than solving the problem, because of its faulty design.
Another flyover at Wakad, constructed on the Katraj-Dehu road, too, has failed to solve the traffic due to design flaws.
Yogesh Joshi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org