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The ur­ban mo­tor­way be­tween the coun­try’s sec­ond most pop­u­lous city of Mum­bai to its twin three hours away, Pune, is In­dia’s first. The six-lane road is 94 kilo­me­tres long and hit sweet 16 this year, since it was fully opened to the pub­lic in 2002. To­day, it han­dles about 1.5 lakh ve­hi­cles daily, and in about five years, it would hit sat­u­ra­tion point.

Its ex­ecu­tor, the Ma­ha­rash­tra State Road Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (MSRDC), says it would aug­ment the route on the nar­row hilly sec­tions and add more lanes in the bot­tle­necks to han­dle more traf­fic. Trans­port ex­perts say more peo­ple — from the up­per stra­tum — should be con­vinced to use pub­lic trans­port to cut the num­ber of ve­hi­cles.

Do what you will, but burst­ing pop­u­la­tions and mush­room­ing in­fras­truc­ture in and around the two cities call for more — way more — to help fa­cil­i­tate move­ment be­tween the two.

Lane plan

The ex­press­way runs par­al­lel to Na­tional High­way-48, which was ear­lier Na­tional High­way-4. In part it was ne­ces­si­tated by a spate of mishaps on the nar­row NH-4.

The ghat sec­tion of Khan­dalalon­avala is where the modern ex­press­way in­ter­sects with the old high­way, but only via three lanes, thanks to dearth of funds for lay­ing ad­di­tional lanes and hur­dles an­tic­i­pated in procur­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ances.

So, through the three lanes shut­tle tens of thou­sands in­clud­ing of­fice­go­ers be­tween Pune and Navi Mum­bai, week­end va­ca­tion­ers to Lon­avala or Khan­dala, and un­ac­counted trav­ellers. With their num­bers poised to surge, the state govern­ment has had to find the cash and the will for en­hanc­ing the seg­ment.

Its aug­men­ta­tion means build­ing 10-km-long twin tun­nels, two el­e­vated roads of 11 km each, and add a ‘miss­ing link’ on the road from Kha­la­pur be­fore Khan­dala to Kus­gaon near Pune. The cost is more than Rs 7,000 crore. If things fall in place, they will shave travel time by about half an hour, but won’t vastly im­prove ca­pac­ity, as the en­try and exit points would be the same.

While Au­rangabad-bound traf­fic on this ex­press­way is likely to flow through Mum­bai-nag­pur Ex­press­way once it is ready by 2023, it won’t make a sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ence, MSRDC of­fi­cials be­lieve.


Mum­bai-based trans­port ex­pert Sud­hir Badami rec­om­mends in­tro­duc­ing ded­i­cated bus lanes on the ex­press­way. “We should think of dou­bling the ca­pac­ity by mak­ing it con­ducive for buses to ply faster and more fre­quently. This will in­cen­tivise peo­ple to go for pub­lic trans­port rather than com­mute in their own cars. A chunk of the traf­fic to­day is due to small cars and heavy ve­hi­cles.”

He said aug­men­ta­tion in the ghat sec­tion will come at a cost, not just to the tax­payer but also to the en­vi­ron­ment.

But AV Shenoy, a mem­ber of civic devel­op­ment body Mum­bai Vikas Samiti, said aug­men­ta­tion would be nec­es­sary con­sid­er­ing “both the cities are de­pen­dent on each other” and their pop­u­lace floats be­tween the two. “The dynamic state cap­i­tal is a fi­nan­cial hub and Pune is an ed­u­ca­tion and IT hub. Peo­ple would al­ways need to go to and fro, say for le­gal mat­ters. Also, all head­quar­ters are here. Ex­press­way aug­men­ta­tion should be done at the ear­li­est.”

Pune devel­op­ment plateau The ex­press­way first opened in

the year 2000, par­tially. It was made fully op­er­a­tional in April 2002, with great ex­pec­ta­tions that it would ease travel be­tween the twin cities for at least a quar­ter cen­tury to fol­low, and even help a seg­ment of peo­ple in the me­gapo­lis frus­trated with the madding crowds to mi­grate to Pune.

Noble in­ten­tion, half-hearted ex­e­cu­tion.

While twin-town con­nec­tiv­ity got an up­grade with the mo­tor­way, the city of Pune was left out of the in­fras­truc­tural up­grade meant for the pur­ported mi­grants and com­muters. Ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cials say Pune was not ready for the big shift — still isn’t. No thought was spared for the city’s over­all devel­op­ment, in tan­dem with the state’s idea of de­con­gest­ing Mum­bai and the roads stream­ing out of it. The civic au­thor­i­ties failed to cre­ate res­i­den­tial and in­dus­trial hubs to ac­com­mo­date peo­ple from Mum­bai, and the state failed to put to­gether the big

pic­ture. As a re­sult, tthe metropoli­tan re­gion re­mains stuffy.

Noted town plan­ner Ram­chan­dra Go­had said the state govern­ment con­sti­tuted a devel­op­ment au­thor­ity for the Mum­bai Metropoli­tan Re­gion — MMRDA — back in 1975, but it wasn’t un­til two years ago that a sim­i­lar body was set up for Pune, which is the sec­ond fastest grow­ing city in Ma­ha­rash­tra.

“The ex­press­way, ap­pended with a 25-year devel­op­ment plan of the re­gions it linked, was com­pleted in 2002. But the Pune Metropoli­tan Re­gion Devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity came up only in 2016.

This shows that the govern­ment had no vi­sion for the re­gion’s devel­op­ment,” Go­had said.

While the ex­press­way was be­ing built, plans were afoot to de­velop 40 town­ships in dif­fer­ent parts of Pune to ab­sorb the in­flux of peo­ple, but they were never re­alised.

“The ex­press­way was go­ing to make travel be­tween two vi­tal cities short and sim­ple. It was ex­pected that many peo­ple would mi­grate to Pune. It was with this in mind that the plan of 40 town­ships with hous­ing and com­mer­cial hubs was pre­pared. But the govern­ment didn’t care for im­ple­ment­ing that plan. Which is why we are see­ing such un­planned growth in Pune,” Go­had said.

At present, PMRDA con­sists of two mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions, three can­ton­ments, seven mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils and 842 vil­lages. The mul­ti­plic­ity of au­thor­i­ties hasn’t meant sym­met­ric devel­op­ment for the re­gions’s 70 lakh-odd peo­ple.

In­dus­tries rose in the western part of Pune, which is in Mum­bai’s prox­im­ity. As an IT hub came up in Hin­je­w­adi, real es­tate ac­tiv­ity picked up in sur­round­ing ar­eas of Wakad, Aundh, Baner, Bale­wadi and Pashan. Sim­i­larly, the area of Chakan grew as au­to­mo­bile gi­ants set up plants there.

But be­sides these patches and state-backed in­dus­trial cor­ri­dors, devel­op­ment has been sparse. The east­ern re­gion of the city has been tra­di­tion­ally snubbed.

Vi­jay Kumb­har, founder of Su­ra­jya Samiti said, “Au­thor­i­ties didn’t take a bal­anced ap­proach to devel­op­ment, partly due to the vested in­ter­ests. And even in ar­eas like Hin­je­w­adi and Chakan which are of full of busi­ness nad com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity, there isn’t the nec­es­sary in­fras­truc­ture to pro­vide the work­ing pop­u­la­tion a whole­some life.”

PMRDA is now view­ing the re­gion as an or­ganic whole and tak­ing up devel­op­ment projects ac­cord­ingly. It is push­ing for long­pend­ing trans­port projects such as Metro rail and ring road. It is also fo­cussing on the east­ern re­gion, with an in­ter­na­tional air­port pro­posed at Pu­ran­dar. It has pre­pared a mas­ter plan for 14 new town­ships with hous­ing and com­mer­cial projects to come up in the area.

PMRDA com­mis­sioner Ki­ran Gitte said the au­thor­ity would con­nect a pro­posed ring road with the new air­port to make trans­porta­tion easy. “Once the air­port comes up, there will be ho­tels and in­dus­tries. The town­ships will help east­ern Pune grow com­mer­cially and in­dus­tri­ally,” Gitte said.

Go­had said that while Pim­pri Chinch­wad, one of the two cor­po­ra­tions in Pune district, came up with a new town devel­op­ment au­thor­ity (PCNTDA), Pune Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion didn’t. “One can eas­ily see the dif­fer­ence be­tween how these two cor­po­ra­tions have grown,” he said. “Also, pub­lic trans­port is a big worry in Pune. Bit cor­po­ra­tions have their own trans­port sys­tems. In­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity is an is­sue. And the fringes are out of the loop. It is now that PMRDA is work­ing on the Metro and other trans­port sys­tems.”

An­other glar­ing con­se­quence of the patch­work devel­op­ment has been in the real es­tate sec­tor. Hous­ing rates in Pune have gone down, but not in all its pock­ets.

Right to In­for­ma­tion ac­tivist Vi­jay Kumb­har said the ef­fects of the slow­down in the real es­tate mar­ket were be­ing seen only in ar­eas de­nied devel­op­ment.

The outer ar­eas with­out any IT or busi­ness hubs have seen realty rates dip, but those like Hin­je­w­adi and Chakan have been far­ing well.

Yet, e-way did more for

Pune than Mum­bai Dis­gruntle­ment lingers among de­vel­op­ers that the Mum­bai-pune Ex­press­way didn’t ben­e­fit the metropoli­tan of Mum­bai in­clud­ing Navi Mum­bai the way it did Pune. Hous­ing ex­perts con­cede that the route did open up cer­tain parcels of re­mote land, but ar­gue that more exit points towards Mum­bai could al­ter the realty land­scape more.

Arvind Goel, the chair­man of Navi Mum­bai unit of CREADIMCHI, says the satel­lite city didn’t see growth be­cause of the ex­press way but be­cause of its af­ford­abil­ity when com­pared to Mum­bai. Many Mum­baikars sold their onebed­room apart­ments and buy big­ger homes in Navi Mum­bai, and still have some pocket change. “This is why Navi Mum­bai grew till Pan­vel. But be­yond that, there’s hardly been any growth. Most of it was fo­cussed pri­mar­ily on res­i­den­tial sec­tor,” he said.

Hous­ing ex­pert San­jay Chaturvedi con­curred. “It was the pop­u­la­tion growth be­cause of which Navi Mum­bai saw a swell in the res­i­den­tial sec­tor. It’s a myth that hous­ing will grow if an ex­press­way or an air­port comes up. Had that been the case then Saki Naka, which is the clos­est to Mum­bai air­port, would have seen a ma­jor realty boost. But that hasn’t hap­pened. Prices in sub­urbs like Bori­vali and Dahisar have shot up more than in Saki Naka,” he said.

Goel, says that if more ex­its are in­tro­duced on the ex­press­way one towards the in­dus­trial area and the other at the Chowk, this will con­nect the Kar­jat side, and will open a bet­ter con­nec­tiv­ity for this side, which cur­rently is a longer route.

But many de­vel­op­ers and ur­ban plan­ning ex­perts think this is un­der­min­ing the ex­press­way’s role. “There are peo­ple who stay in Kalam­boli and work in Pune, mak­ing the one-and-a-half-hour to twohour com­mute al­most daily. Sim­i­larly we have peo­ple who come and work in Navi Mum­bai from Lon­avala. The con­nec­tiv­ity has made this pos­si­ble,” said Haresh Chedda, pres­i­dent of CREDAI-BUILDER As­so­ci­a­tion of Navi Mum­bai.

He also claims that now places like Khopoli are also see­ing surge in res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion, which ear­lier was a dull place. “Peo­ple from Pune travel to Navi Mum­bai for ed­u­ca­tion and even they come to see matches at the sta­dium. “Be­cause of NAINA, we are reach­ing Khopoli, where con­struc­tion is tak­ing place now, the con­nec­tiv­ity if im­proved will ben­e­fit this stretch too,” said Chedda.

(In­puts by Anurag Bende, Me­hul R Thakkar &

Varun Singh)

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