A LOPSIDED TALE OF TWO CITIES
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.
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 &