Around 350 people in Pune took to the streets despite the rains to protest the High Capacity Mass Transit Route (HCMTR) project on Saturday (July 20) evening. The protesters — school children, college students, professionals and senior citizens — formed a human chain near Anandvan hills, which is one among the many green spaces that will be targeted by the long-pending development project. The voice of the people was heard loud and clear as they stood by the side of the road and raised angry slogans against the proposed 36 km road.
The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC)’s final feasibility report estimates that 1,982 trees will need to be felled for the ₹5,192-crore project, which will connect around 60 arterial and main city roads to the HCMTR.
“We haven’t suddenly taken to the streets. We had approached the road department to discuss our objections, but we weren’t satisfied by the way they responded. So, we had to bring our opposition to the street,” says protester Vishal Pawar, vice-president of the Anandvan Mitra Mandal Pune, which has planted over 8,000 indigenous trees on the Anandvan hill. Pawar stresses that they are in no way opposing development. “It just shouldn’t be at the cost of the environment,” he adds.
According to the final feasibility report published on the PMC website in February, the corporation had conducted a detailed study of the transportation requirements of Pune between 1978-1982. On the basis of this study, a HCMTR was suggested. “The feasibility study of HCMTR alignment was carried out by MTP (Rlys) Bombay in year 1983,” says the report.
Sushma Date, of the Deccan Gymkhana Parisar Samiti (DGPS) and the HCMTR Nagrik Kruti Samiti, says that the draft development plan for the project was published in 2013. “The HCMTR was notified as a ‘mass transit’ and ‘rail based’ system. It was planned as an outer ring road, but the areas it passes through now are the heart of the city. How can a plan made in 1987 with traffic data from 1983 make any sense in 2019?” she wonders.
The HCMTR will cut through the areas of Bopodi, Aundh, Shivajinagar, Erandwane, Kothrud, Karve Nagar, Dattawadi, Parvati, Bibvewadi, Wanawadi, Salisbury Park, Hadapsar, Mundhwa, Kalyani Nagar, Yerawada and Kalas in Pune.
Within city limits
About 12 km away from Anandvan, on the other side of the city, citizens in the Chaturshringi area have been served land acquisition notices by the PMC. The area around the Chaturshringi Temple, located on the busy Senapati Bapat Road, is dotted with several homes and small scale businesses.
On May 5, Nandkumar Angal received a notice from the PMC Land Acquisition and Management Department informing him that his property will be acquired to make way for the proposed HCMTR. A couple of days after this, on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya, a team of five government surveyors visited his property to take measurements and mark it for the HCMTR.
Nandkumar Angal, a trustee of the Chaturshrungi Temple, is part of the 30-50 families and businesses on Senapati Bapat Road that may lose their land. Nikhil Bhopale, one of Angal’s tenants, will lose his home and shop to the proposed road. He is a part of the HCMTR Nagrik Kruti Samiti, a citizens group demanding that the HCMTR be scrapped. Bhopale says that when they asked about compensation, the surveyors had no answers. “They said the acquisition would happen first, then compensation would be discussed,” he explains.
“When they planned the HCMTR, Chaturshrungi was on the outskirts of the city. Perhaps they wouldn’t have had to acquire so much land back then. Today, in the Chaturshrungi area alone, this road will destroy around 50 homes and shops, two hills, and our invaluable cultural heritage,” says Bhopale.
Subhash Angal, another trustee of the Chaturshrungi Temple who may lose his home and shop, says that the authorities discussed compensating him with transferable development rights (TDR). “My family has lived here for seven generations. We renovated my home just over a year ago. We would lose it all if this road is built. When and how much TDR will be given has not been discussed,” he adds.
A Change.org petition as well as letters written to various authorities (CM of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis, MP Girish Bapat, MLA Vijay Kale, Mayor Mukta Tilak, MLA Medha Kulkarni, Municipal Commissioner Saurabh Rao, and District Collector Naval Kishore Ram) have the same demand: scrap the HCMTR project. The petition has already been signed by over 5,600 people as of 20 July, 2019.
“The HCMTR will be elevated, but it will still need to acquire about 80 ft of land where the pillars are to be built. The Chaturshrungi area is full of cultural heritage, which the road will destroy. We have three temples of historical significance here: Ganeshkhind Ganapati temple, Maruti temple, and Shankar temple. In fact, its historical significance is reflected by the fact that Shivaji’s mother Jijabai used to rest at the Ganeshkhind Ganapati temple on her way to Pashan,” Angal shares.
The cultural importance of the Ganeshkhind Ganapati temple has also been recognised by the UNESCO: it is the recipient of the 2015 UNESCO Asia-Pacific award for cultural conservation. “Ganeshkhind road gets its name from this temple,” says Subhash.
Many worry about what will happen to the groundwater levels if the project is allowed to proceed. Manoj Bhagwat, researcher with Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management, a Pune-based NGO that works on groundwater management, says that the Vetal Tekdi complex, through which the HCMTR is supposed to pass, is very important in terms of groundwater recharge. “We have found that the water percolating in the areas of Vetal Tekdi, Fergusson Hill, Bavdhan, and Chaturshringi hill range are essential for both deeper and shallow aquifer recharge. The shallow aquifers are recharged annually, but the deeper aquifers take hundreds of years to fill,” he explains.
Pravin Kumar Anand, president of the Anandvan Mitra Mandal, echoed similar sentiments about Anandvan hills. “We don’t want to disturb the hill because this is a source of groundwater recharge. We have noticed a marked increase in the groundwater since we started working here.”
HCMTR Nagrik Kruti Samiti’s other concern is that the road was initially proposed for decongestion of the public transport system but now it seems to favour private transport. “A road where two-thirds of its width is reserved for private vehicles and which will destroy a few urban forests and tekdis goes against the very principles of sustainable development,” says the citizens group in its objection letter addressed to HOD, Road Department of the PMC.
Despite all these objections, the PMC has decided to go ahead with the project. According to the HCMTR Nagrik Kruti Samiti, the Commissioner’s Office document (ref. MaA/LAM10/2509 dated 25/11/2017) clearly states that 80 per cent of the land for the project must be acquired before the work starts. “Not even 50 per cent 0f the land has been acquired so far, and yet tenders have already been floated,” says Date.
The Federal received no response from the HOD of the PMC Road Department Aniruddha Pawaskar on the topic. When HCMTR Nagrik Kruti Samiti met Pawaskar, it demanded that the PMC provide a detailed map of the planned HCMTR alignments by July 22. The citizens group has now asked for a public hearing on August 9 with Mayor Mukta Tilak, Municipal Commissioner Saurabh Rao, and Pawaskar.
The people at the protest, in the Chaturshringi area, and in other parts of the city are slowly coming together to demand clarity from the authorities. Tree activist Sathya Natarajan, who is vocally against the HCMTR, says, “We have asked citizens everywhere to keep an eye on their hills. We won’t allow any hills to be destroyed. We will now agitate each week until the public hearing on August 9.”
In 2013, too, citizens had objected to the HCMTR and they managed to collect and submit over 7,000 signatures to the concerned authorities.
Shatakshi Gawade is an independent journalist based in Pune who writes about the environment, rights, and culture. Vinaya Kurtkoti is a copy editor and independent journalist from Pune who writes about the environment and culture.