Tuesday, February 22, 2011

File photo of Pandi Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. Did Nehru blunder in many ways?

You may wonder how does an opinion on Nehru fit into truecoloursofpune? Well, at the backdrop of the political turmoil in our country, I gathered the following opinion from old timers and put them together. The issue is relevant to all countrymen no matter where they live, hence this posting. Let  me know your thoughts on this.

Yes, Nehru was the father of Modern India. However, Nehru did commit many blunders and history will mark them against him
First and foremost, the Kashmir fiasco. Nehru unilaterally and needlessly declared cease fire when Indian military was about to cleanse the Pakistanis out of Kashmir.Our military brass pleaded with him to at least let them capture Haji Pir and Poonch passes. But Nehru went ahead with his decision. And he did so without consulting the Cabinet. Not even Dy P.M. Sardar Patel. To compound the folly, he referred it to UN where it became a toy in hands of great powers and a perennial source of embarassment for India. He had great faith in Sheikh Abdullah , who . however, betrayed him and had to be jailed. Nehru granted a special status to J & K and sowed the seeds of separatism in the minds of Kashmiris.
Second, China policy.When China attacked Tibet, Indian military was stronger than Chinesemilitary. Our armed forces had fought valiantly in II world war all over the world and were battle hardened.We had many  airfields in Northeast India whereas China had none in entire Tibet. Instead of resisting Chinese aggression into  Tibet, we simply evacuated our diplomats and military personnel from Lhasa. Chinese came to our doorstep from where they could mount an agression against us in 1962. Chinese incursion started in 1959 but Nehru decided to overlook it. We did not post a competent Lt Gen in charge of NE Command. And we changed  our Commander just 3 weeks before the Chinese attacked.Nehru had no inkling of the size of the forces  Chinese had amassed against us. He made a brave decleration while he was touring Ceylon that he had ordered our forces to "throw the Chinese out". What a bloody nose we got in return !
Third , the foreign policy. Nehru basked in the glory of being a leader of non-entities like Non-aligned nations,  jointly with leaders of  Ghana, Egypt, Indonesia and Yogoslavia. All that we gained was suspicion or dislike of America and allowed Pakistan to steal a March over us.Pakistan became a close ally of America. It was even made a member of SEATO ( South East Asian Treaty Organisation) whereas Pakistan is geographically situated in West Asia. Countries like Japan and Korea gained tremendously by being friendly with America.
Fourth, the Economic Policy. Nehru was enamoured of Russia and copied their central planning system with the resultant License Permit Raj. If Nehru was father of modern India, he was also father of License Permit Raj whose disastrous ill effects we have suffered for decades. Nehru's five year plans progressively reduced resource allocations to Agriculture, Rural uplift, health and education. Nehru's great grandson has now started talking of reversing this neglect
Fifth, Nehru emaciated Congress Party. Sardar Patel died in 1950. Rajaji was sent off to Madras,  Rajendra Prasad was made President, Jayprakash Narayan and Vinoba went off to Bhoodan / Sarvodaya movement, Achyutrao Patwardhan went into an oblivion, B.C. Roy and G.B.Pant were sent to States. Nehru beame the " whole and sole" of Congress Party. He sowed the seeds of "Nehru is Congress and Congress is Nehru " philosophy, later developed further by Indira, Rajiv and Sonia
Sixth, Nehru did not come down heavily on corruption. Jeep scandal of Krishna Menon, Mundhra scandal, Malviya episode were glossed over. Pratap Singh Kairon's and Biju Patnaik's misdeeds were ignored.We would not be in the corruption morass today if Nehru would have been strict about it.
In short all good things of post-independent India are due to Nehru and alas all our failures too

Monday, February 21, 2011

Letter to Chief Minister demanding govt-appointed committee for Pune Metro

(This photograph had appeared in Sakaal Times)

Activists and citizens led by Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan have appealed to Chief Minister Maharashtra to form a Government-appointed committee of independent experts and Public Hearing by the State Government Officials to study the haphazardly and disastrously planned Pune Metro Project; to direct the state government to obtain environmental clearance from the MoEF before going ahead with the proposed project; to carry out the Techno-Economic Merits and feasibility of Underground BG vs Elevated SG in terms of costs per unit carrying capacity and; as part of the process of environmental clearance, a public hearing should be held in all the 14 wards to ensure transparency of the project. Read on..

February 20, 2011

Mr Prithiviraj Chavan
Chief Minister, Maharashtra

Sub: Request for instituting a Government-appointed committee of independent experts and Public Hearing by the State Government Officialsto study the Pune Metro Project

Dear Sir,

We are proud to have you as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra as with your high educational background and vast experience at the PM office, your vision for Maharashtra is bound to be sound and practical-oriented.

We wish to bring to your notice the issue of the Pune Metro proposal which you have given a green signal to, early last week during your meeting with the elected representatives of Pune. No doubt that Pune needs a good public transport system so a metro fits into this futuristic vision. However, Sir, the metro in its present form is haphazard and disastrous for the public good, as has been pointed out by experts, backed by thousands of citizens.

Despite bringing the flaws of the present proposal to the notice of the administration and the corporators of the Pune Municipal Corporation, the proposal has been hurriedly passed. In fact, none of the 144 corporators had even seen the Detailed Project Report (DPR) (as per their confession) when the proposal was passed within a short time at the General Body early last year.

 Following are the shortcomings of the Pune Metro Project proposal:

1. The DPR made by the DMRC does not adhere to the Terms of Reference set by the PMC as well as the central government guidelines for mass urban transport system. Thus, it contains technical inadequacies and is too superficial to be termed as a detailed report. 
Technical & Environmental objections raised by  Pune Citizens, railway engineering experts, association of architects and urban planners and MCCIA’s s NGO Janwani, led by Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan, Pune Technical Committee have fallen on deaf ears.

2. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and the local political parties have been misguided on technical Issues, concerning adoption of Standard Gauge (SG) with Imported Narrow Width (2.9m) Low Capacity Coaches, at an abnormally high cost to the tax payer. The decision of the Group of Ministers taken in the year 2006, under the leadership of The Hon’ble Shri Sharad Pawar leads to a question of their authority to issue such a policy directives to adopt SG system by the State Govt., contrary to the provisions in the Constitution under articles 366 / 20 and 246 VIIth schedule list-I, and further leads to a technology scam, resulting in the loss of Rs 1,50,000 crore in planning of 1500kms of metros all over the country.      

3. The 15 km Pune Metro corridor between Vanaz and Ramwadi (Phase-1) which would cost Rs.3,000 odd crore as per the present estimate, is the least priority corridor as per the DPR.  Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad (or rather the entire Pune Metropolitan Region) ought to have a composite traffic and transportation plan because the two neighbouring cities are very closely interlinked and thus have a bearing on each other.  PCMC has already backtracked and wants to have its own separate Metro. So the metro plan for Pune alone or for PCMC alone may either prove ineffective or problematic.

4. The DPR states that citizens will be burdened with additional civic taxes after the construction of Pune Metro but no details have been provided. We urged the PMC to make it very clear what the additional financial burden on citizens would be, the period for which we will have to pay it etc before decision about the project is taken, but there have been no answers.
5. The Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) has not been taken into consideration at all while making the DPR. The Metro has also not been included into the present DP (of 1987) which is mandatory. The DP for the old boundaries has lapsed in its time frame and still is under planning stage. We have a great chance to combine the two and also the adjoining areas for better development of the city. A one-time solution like the elevated metro just because it is less costly, is not going to resolve all civic issues/ problems.Thus, the present form of Pune Metro is a stand alone white elephant and not a part of an integrated traffic plan as has been recommended by the CMP.

6. The present form of Pune Metro will be an elevated corridor running on congested arterial roads. E Sreedharan, the DMRC Chief and Ratnakar Gaikwad, former MD of MMRDA who was in charge of the Mumbai Metro project have gone record to say that no elevated corridor should come up on congested roads.  Worse. as per the DMRC report, no vehicle parking place can be provided at the Metro stations as these are located in congested areas.  

7. 4 FSI has been proposed for 500 mtr stretch on both sides of metro corridor to raise funds for metro. This densification will distort the fabric of the city and affect quality of life.

8. There is duplication between the Metro rail routes and other modes of transport such as BRTS, existing railway corridors and other networks. We must use all available transport resources optimally integrating Metro, BRTS, Railway, Bus, Cars, Autorickshaw, Cycles, and Pedestrians, to create a comprehensive network that covers most of the work and dormitory areas of Pune. This has not been considered at all.

9. The choice of the elevated option rather than underground option seems short sighted and will destroy the quality of built environment and urban aesthetics and hence image of city of Pune. The Metro should be underground rather than elevated as proposed for which financial feasibility details have been provided by railway engineering experts.
10. Metro is a very costly project and decision will impact the city for 100 years and more. Ajit Pawar, who holds the portfolio of finance in the state cabinet, assured to make budgetary provision for the Rs.2,600 crore project, as per media reports. The state and Union governments will share 20% each, while the PMC will have to shoulder 10% of the cost. The remaining would have to be raised through loans. This means that Govt. of Maharashtra will have to foot the bill to the tune of 520 crores. Given that the current delicate financial state of Maharashtra, it should seriously consider cheaper alternatives which are do-able in Pune.  Also we should know as citizens, what happens in case there is cost escalation? Will State and Centre each give 20% of escalated cost or will all that have to be borne by PMC? 

Hasty decision if proved wrong later would be disastrous for the city. Ultimately it is we the citizens who will suffer.

Hence, we demand the following:

  1. Formation of a Government-appointed committee of independent experts and Public Hearing by the State Government Officials to study the haphazardly and disastrously planned Pune Metro Project
  2. The State Government should obtain environmental clearance from the MoEF before going ahead with the proposed project
  3. Techno-Economic Merits and feasibility of Underground BG vs Elevated SG in terms of costs per unit carrying capacity, should be addressed by the committee
  4. As a part of the process of environmental clearance, a public hearing should be held in all the 14 wards to ensure transparency of the project

We also seek an appointment with you at the earliest so that we can explain the issue through a power point presentation.

Thanking you in anticipation

Yours Sincerely

 Vinita Deshmukh, Convenor
Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan

Shirish Kembhavi, Convenor
Pune Technical Committee

Kishori Gadre, Direcotr

Vijay Rane, Secretary
Railway Technical Experts Group

DVR Rao, General Secretary
Professional Party of India (PPI)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan keen on saving Pune's hills

Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan keen on saving Pune's hills
Peacocks like these are a plenty in the hills of Pune - this one is in the Taljai hill

CM Prithiviraj Chavan gave a patient hearing to Pune's citizens, corporates and NGOs to save Pune's hills for BDP

Green Pune Movement comprising thousands of activists and citizens are fighting tooth and nail to save Pune's hills from construction since the last decade

Pune's hills which are under threat of becoming concrete jungles despite a mandate to save them for Bio-Diversity Park (BDP) by the citizens as well as elected representatives, received a boost with Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan lending a patient ear to Green Pune Movement activists, NGOs and Corporates. The meeting took place at YASHADA on Saturday, February 19.

*Chief minister Prithiviraj Chavan announces state level group comprising government officers and citizens and gives eight days to come out with a solution to garner Rs.1,000 odd crore for acquisition of private land on hills reserved for Bio=Diversity Park (BDP)
* CM suggests JNNURM Model for procuring funds - Centre - 50 %, State - 30 %, PMC - 20 %
* For this he sets up a State level group with the divisional commissioner, municipal commissioner and collector as nodal officers along with Green Pune Movement activists and Corporates
* Time frame: 15 days

Other details below:
Meeting with Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan at YASHADA on Feb 19, 2010

At the beginning Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan was quite skeptical about reserving the hills of Pune for bio-diversity parks. He felt that it was an unpractical solution not to allot 4 percent construction on hills.

Dashing environmentalist and politician, Vandana Chavan, explained the entire sequence of events regarding the hills of the 23 villages that were merged with the PMC in 1997 and which have become the bone of contention between the PMC administration, corporators and citizens. She rightfully mentioned that never before in the country have citizens of a city come together so unitedly to protect the hills from construction. 90,000 citizens filed their objections in 2003 which compelled the Genreal Body of the PMC to vote for the `Green DP' wherein hills have been reserved for bio-diversity parks. She said since this is a public mandate as well as the mandate of the elected representatives, it should not be tampered with. Instead, now the issue to be taken up is how to acquire the land which would cost the PMC Rs.1,000 crore as the owners need to be paid as per the market rate. She told the CM that the PMC has been lethargic about acquisition, as there is no will. 

Mohan Dharia mentioned that since the decision has been made, it is now time for the PMC/state govt to quickly act towards acquisition. Hills are a matter of great public sentiment here and this should be respected. The environment of Pune too is at stake.

Urban planner and member of the planning committee of the DP, Aneeta Benninger informed the CM that she along with Vandana Chavan and Satish Khot have been continuously interacting with Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and today itself he has promised that he would allocate a substantial amount from the MOeF as he would like to make Pune an international example of urban forest conservation through peoples' participation. It is easy to work out possibilities of garnering Rs.1,000 crore towards acquisition, she said.

Atul Kirloskar mentioned that corporates could pitch in towards greening of the hill tops and hill slopes.

Prithiviraj Chavan stated that if Rs.1,000 crore can be garnered in a short time, then hills could certainly be preserved for bio-diversity. He suggested the JNNURM pattern of funding - out of Rs.1,000 crore which is required - 50% to be given by the central govt, 30% by the state govt and 20 % by the PMC.  He announced  a State Level Group with Divisional Commissioner Dilip Bund, Municipal Commissioner Mahesh Zagade and Collector Chandrakant Dalvi to be the nodal officers to co-ordinate with members of the Green Pune Movement and corporates. The Group would find out ways and means by which PMC can collect the Rs.200 crore (20%). 

Chavan, who should be congratulated for giving a good ear to all of us, also volunteered to procure some funds from NAPCC (PM's mission to curtail global warming). He would get these funds under NAPCC's Greening India and Sustainable Habitat Mission, he said. 

Acquisition by way of TDR or giving FSI was also discussed and will be explored.

The next meeting is on Tuesday.

The main reason pointed out by the CM for allowing construction on hills was that slums would encroach on them - a case of bad governance being condoned. Under the BPMC Act, the ward officer and the elected representative of that ward has the authority to take action against any such encroachment along with a police personnel.

Friday, February 18, 2011

For the near and dear ones, German Bakery blast is a permanent scar

Pune based freelance photographer Nitin Lawate clicks these touching moments on the ocassion of the first anniversary of the German Bakery bomb blast which killed talented youngsters of our nation. Where are the culprits? As usual, still finding them!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Parisar analyses Pune Metro Rail System

Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan began its protest rally from under the flyover of Garware Pul in Deccan Gymkhana. This was to be the beginning of a long, sustained campaign against a disastrous metro envisaged by our elected representatives

Despite protests by citizens led by the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan based on study of experts which brought out flaws in the haphazard Detailed Project Report (DPR) made by the DMRC (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation), the disastrously planned Pune Metro was passed by the General Body of the Pune Municipal Corporation in June 2010. Ever since, it is lying with the state government for approval. Parisar, a leading environmental and traffic related NGO, analyses the proposed metro in a set of two reports. I have provided links to both the reports. Please do read and comment, vinita

Analysis of the proposed metro rail system in Pune

Parisar has recently completed two detailed studies on the metro rail proposal for Pune. The first was a preliminary analysis of whether Pune needs a metro rail system and the second analyzed in detail the decision making processes in approving Pune's metro rail proposal as well as the detailed project report (DPR) of the metro rail proposal.
The preliminary analysis of whether Pune needs a metro rail system was based on secondary data from three reports: the DPR prepared by DMRC, the city's Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) and the traffic demand analysis for Pune's DPR prepared by Mott McDonald. It looked only at traffic volume data from these reports to see whether a metro rail was justified on any corridor based on a simple metric of peak hour traffic demand exceeding 20,000 in one direction (though this alone may not be enough to justify a metro). Its conclusions were as follows:
  1. Though data from these reports suggest that a metro rail may be justified for Pune, the data itself was questionable (e.g. one report states that Ganeshkhind road already carries more than 40,000 people per direction  in the peak hour which is plainly not possible).
  2. Therefore, it is necessary to first conduct a detailed review of the data in the three reports and improve it before any conclusion can be reached whether Pune needs a metro rail.
  3. Even if Pune does require a metro rail, many other things must be done before implementing the metro rail such as strengthening modes such as walking, cycling and the bus system and integrating all the modes into a common transport system rather than them being stand alone systems.
The second study (also published in the Economic and Political Weekly of 5th February 2011) was focused on the current metro rail proposal, and carefully analysed the decision process leading to the approval of this proposal as well as the socio-economic benefits claimed in the proposal such as the time and fuel saved etc.  The study found serious shortcomings in both the decision process as well as the claimed socio-economic benefits. For example, it found that:
  1. Some rather ad hoc decisions have been made such as granting a conditional extension to the Vanaz-Ramwadi corridor to Kharadi and the airport without any studies to back it up.
  2. PMC has made some misleading statements in this regard, such as claiming that the metro was justified by the CMP, though the metro DPR was commissioned before the CMP.
  3. The likely benefits of the metro rail system are only about 40% of what are claimed in the DPR even based on the numbers given in the DPR itself and therefore, the socio-economic benefit of the proposed metro is likely to be negative, i.e. the system is likely to be harmful to Pune's citizens.
In short, available evidence only presents a weak case for a metro in Pune and the current proposal accepted by the PMC has many serious shortcomings. Hence, Parisar believes that the current proposal must be rejected, and any proposal for a system such as a metro (or monorail) must only be approved after a thorough analysis of its benefits and costs. Until then, PMC must focus on faster, cheaper solutions with much greater potential for social benefit such as  improving PMPML, and conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hey, What Was This German Bakery All About?

A file photo of the tattered German Bakery soon after the bomb blast on the night of Feb 13, 2010. It is being restored now.

Vinita Deshmukh
(The following article was published in Intelligent Pune weekly tabloid last February soon after the German Bakery Blast on February 13, 2010)
The 400-sq feet something German Bakery which had caught the fascination of Pune’s
young modern crowd in the last few years was an enigma, ever since it came into
existence in 1987. An insight

The ‘Kambhucha’ drink – a special herbal tea that undergoes a process of fermentation -
was a German Bakery exclusive – and its best-selling item. The ABC juice comprising
apple, beetroot and carrot was also a much sought after health drink. The omlettes were a
hot favourite, especially for breakfast, and the Marble Cake was a lip-smacking delight,
followed by an array of pastries and brown bread. That apart, German Bakery had turned
into a hot and happening spot for college students and young IT professionals who spent
their leisurely moments here, particularly late evenings that stretched up to 11 pm.

It was also a favourite with backpacking westerners who had begun to patronise it ever
since its inception in the late 1980s, as also for the junkie crowd trying to find their
nirvana. German Bakery’s global familiarity can be attributed to its mention in the widely
read and referred to travel book ‘Lonely Planet’ – a bible for travellers the world over.
All said and done, German Bakery was not a clean name – it was always tarnished with
a ‘shady’ complexion. As a young blogger put it after the bomb blast, “There were a
variety of opinions I was exposed to. During my first year of college, one aunt actually
said to my mother: She is a good girl. She is in college and still does not know where the
German Bakery is.”

Another blogger confesses, “I learnt there, while trying out their sinful pastries, how to
distinguish the sweet smell of weed mixed with tobacco from normal nicotine cigarettes.
The first time I realised I was among weed-smoking foreigners and students, I wondered
if that was crime enough to have me arrested. Little guilt pangs of a straitjacketed life, I
tell you! But then the crazy student life that Pune offers gives you a masters degree in life
too along with the subject you landed up in the city to pursue.’’

The 400 odd sq feet bakery, which was more of a restaurant, provided a casual, chatty
ambience, with its bamboo decor and humble wooden benches and tables. In fact, such
was its rather nondescript avtaar that you could easily miss it if you were not a regular
on the North Main Road of Koregaon Park. However, for those residing in Camp and
surrounding areas, it was an ‘out-of-the-box’ eatery. Since the last few years it had come
to occupy a fashionable icon in a youngster’s lifestyle and had become quite a buzz word
in college campuses across the city.

Old time Osho sanyasins recall its erstwhile name as `Chit Chat’, serving Indian food.
Then a German disciple helped a local in concocting breads, cakes and pastries to cater to
the western sanyasins that were swarming in hundreds after Bhagwan Rajneesh (as Osho
was known then) returned from the US in 1987. They were on the lookout for their kind
of cuisine and more importantly, at an affordable price. Like they say, necessity is the
mother of invention.

German Bakery went beyond just serving food for Osho’s sanyasins - it soon became
the one-stop shop for westerners who mostly visited Pune for the Osho Commune.
Where could I rent a flat? Where could I hire a scooter? What’s going on in the Osho
Commune? And yes, where could I get that intoxicating puff? All these questions were
answered here. The Commune though has always looked at German Bakery with utter
disdain as all kinds of gossip floated there.

German Bakery earned notoriety particularly in the mid 1990s when it attracted the
maximum number of junkies – the ‘flower power’ kind of people who raised many an
eyebrow. The trigger for them to arrive here was the stern action taken by the Goa Police
to banish beach parties. It raided one such party on the infamous Anjuna beach, which
sent the junkies scouting for cover. Sure enough they found Koregaon Park as the next
haven. They realised that they could easily camouflage themselves in this neighbourhood
that had become home to hundreds of western sanyasins.

All they needed to do was to become sanyasins by procuring a Commune card. So,
suddenly Koregaon Park was flooded with these ‘weirdoes’ who flip-flopped in their
sandals and loose robes with their hair running down to their shoulders. Quite naturally,
with German Bakery being a mere 100 yards away from the Osho Commune, it became
a hotspot for this new crowd. For this new lot of fly-by-night visitors of the Osho
Commune, there was more to German Bakery than a mere affordable eating out joint. A
blotch in Pune’s socio-cultural history came in the form of mass drug orgies held in the
backyards of Koregaon Park – the first one in the open arena of River View Restaurant
which is now called Pyramids.

Before that, Pune made its entry as a host of such drug affairs on a farm at Dehu
Road, where on a full moon night around 3,000 western junkies and so-called Osho
sanyasins gathered for a trance dance party that lasted for three consecutive nights. This
emboldened them enough to hold one at Koregaon Park. What became a common view
then was to find these guys in robes on old Java bikes who seemed to have taken over
the entire neighbourhood. Organisers of such parties would put up posters in and around
German Bakery and word-of-mouth invitations spread the fastest from this eatery. The
pass to such parties was the Osho Commune card (which the management was not aware
of, or if it did ignored it for the sake of the sudden flood of sanyasins that flowed in,
never mind who they were and what they indulged in).

Those days, few Indian youngsters would have even dared to make their way through
this ‘hippie’ crowd and make German Bakery their hangout. Like in other restaurants
in Koregaon Park during the Osho heydays, Indians were not quite welcome in German
Bakery. However, the attitude changed after the junkie crowd receded. Thanks to the
media campaign against the frenzied drug orgies in the backyards of this neighbourhood
and a sustained campaign by citizen activists, the Osho Commune was compelled to
implement stringent rules while providing the card. Steadily, finding that they would be
exposed as their shelter had been lifted, the junkie crowd dissipated from the city.

German Bakery received a fresh lease of life when the IT industry started to boom
in Pune from early 2000. Pune became home to thousands of young IT and BPO
professionals. College students too began patronising German Bakery as most of them
now had ample pocket money to blow up, unlike a couple of decades ago when hostelites
lived on rather frugal means. German Bakery was also the hub of sanyasins who were
banned from the Commune for reasons that were often stated as ‘flimsy’. Stories of the
high-handedness and eccentricities of the Osho Commune management used to be heard
between these bamboo walls.

That the Osho Commune management always had a disdain for German Bakery is
reflected in this quote by Swami Chaitanya Keerti, former high profile spokesperson
of the Osho Commune, “Oh, I have never been to the bakery, maybe just twice during
my 25 years’ stay in the Commune.” Contrary to that, Swami Jadish Bharati, an Osho
sanyasin who has been banned and was a regular at the German Bakery (he lives close
to it), swears by it. “I will die if German Bakery does not re-open,” he states. That
quite sums up the sentiment of thousands of travellers and youngsters, its reputation
Vinita Deshmukh

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pune roads are full of gutka sachets

I am in the midst of an eight day Kaya Kalpa Kriya programme organised by the SSY (Swayam Siddha Yoga), founded by Swami Shri Rishi Prabhakar. One of the sessions included sweeping a public road and collecting plastic litter. Last Sunday morning, we got into action on Salisbury Park Road between Golden Bakery and Dias Plot slum. While the roadsides were predictably studded with all kinds of plastic litter, the majority of it comprised plastic gutka sachets. In fact, every second plastic material that I picked up was a gutka sachet. That's when I realised the enormity of the cancerous spread of this addiction (literally and otherwise)! 

The gutka pan masala industry accounts to a whopping Rs.100 billion in India so you can imagine the power of this lobby. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India records about 800,000 tobacco deaths every year or 2,200 deaths a day. Pune based doctor and activist Dr Kalyan Gangwal along with other like-minded activists have been fighting tooth and nail since several years, against availability of gutka pan masala in such small plastic packets that lures young children and th youth to it. A few years back, the Supreme Court had given a formidable judgement directing gutka manufacturers to ban production of such convenient packets and instead sell them only in 200gms tins. This would curtail easy accessibility that is causing harm to lakhs of youngsters. The gutka lobby being strong and influential, the directive was ignored.

Recently, the Supreme Court of India has again come hard on this pan masala industry. A couple of weeks back,  it imposed a ban on the use of plastic in the packaging of tobacco products and set March 2011 as the deadline for implementation. The gutka manufacturers pleaded that this would lead to closure of industries. The court then ordered that they should shift to environmentally sachets or then shut down. 

March is coming close and one would be pleasantly surprised if the Supreme Court ruling is adhered to by this industry. It is high time though this industry becomes socially and environmentally conscious considering that more than fve million children in India suffer from oral cancers, mostly because of consuming gutka. 

In the meanwhile, actors like Sanjay Dutt should take moral and social lessons from Sachin Tendulkar (who did not accept to be the brand ambassoder for a liquour company) and stop advertising to promote gutka-eating.  

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why can't BRT in Pune be like Ahmedabad's?


Pune is all set to implement BRT on 24 more routes without rectifying gross design and traffic engineering mistakes that it made for its maiden pilot projects on Pune-Satara Road and Pune-Solapur Road. In 2010 alone, 50 Puneites lost their lives on these two routes in fatal mishaps. The hurry to implement the next phase is not so much for the convenience of Puneites as much as it is with an eye on 2012 PMC elections. Last time too, it was the PMC elections which had the Congress implement the pilot BRT project, thoughtlessly and with dire consequences.

While I shall post in this blog, tomorrow, all that is wrong with the next phase of Pune’s BRT,  RTI activist Sanjay Shirodkar visited Ahmedabad last week where he travelled in the BRT which is called `Janmarg’ He says, ``I got an opportunity to travel in Janmarg. Only one word comes in to my mind - "AMAZING!"

Shirodkar has made the following observations about Ahmedabad BRT: 
*Superb Implementation
*Low fare
*BRT lane is only for BRT buses, unlike Pune
*Superb & spacious stops
*Cool ticket counters at each stop
*Stops are located every 500 meters - as a result citizens get doorstep public transportation
*Ticket size is 3inches x 1 inch, precision work and thus lot of saving on paper and printing
*Automatic door openings
*Cool and spacious Buses
*Next stop announcement in Gujarati, English & Hindi along with Electronic scrolling
*Whole city is covered by BRT
*Speedy travelling
*Security at each stop
*TT and compulsory ticket checking at each stop
*Fantastic frequency of buses
*Simply superb!

*Blaring horn inside the bus
Janmarg as the BRT in Ahmedabad is called, is a brilliant example of meticulous implementation. Pics by: Sanjay Shirodkar

Computerised ticketing and international class bus stops at Janmarg

The exclusive way of Janmarg in the centre of the road has received public applause as the pilot project in Ahmedabad was chosen on a wide road with less traffic congestion

Another glimpse of Janmarg. Wish the powers-that-be in Pune had such vision

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Birds duck the dirty Mula-Mutha

The water body at Kavade, just 3 kms from Loni was the hotspot for migratory birds. It is now filled with hyacinth and garbage, thus destroying a potential bird sanctuary within the limits of Pune
With insufficient and ineffective Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) in Pune and indiscriminate dumping of garbage, the Mula-Mutha Rivers have not only turned into stinking strips of nullahs but also carry their toxic waters downstream. As a result, hundreds of villages downstream receive toxic river water, which they use for drinking as not all of them can afford water treatment plants. This has resulted in grave resentment and loud protests from hundreds of villagers who are demanding that Pune should ensure that no sewage is discharged into the rivers. Added to this distressing situation is the threat to bird habitats being destroyed, in these water bodies. Birds can't talk, so they have apparently decided to protest by boycotting some pockets which are bird sancturies-in-the-making.

One of them is Kavade village, about three kilometers from Loni. Located on the banks of the Mula-Mutha, around 65 varieties of birds like painted storks, black headed ibis, ducks, ruddy shell ducks, common teal, northern shoveller, wolly necked storks, egretsand so on visit the water body all the way from Ladakh and other faraway places. Die-hard birdwatchers observe that mornings at Kavade was an enriching experience but now no more.

Several citizens have taken up this issue with the PMC and the state government but it has been ignored. Recently politician-activist Sandeep Khardekar who visited the spot lamented that, ``now the spot has been turned into a garbage dump and hyacinth has spread all over.This is preventing migrated birds to enjoy their share of nature and in the process maintain the ecological balance of this area.'' Khardekar has appealed to the chief minister to urgently look into the matter.  The pics says it all.