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Wednesday, 5.10.2022
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An engaged and ongoing dialogue would be a good start for everyone to participate in problem-solving and city-building exercise

As a Pune resident, the last month has been frustrating, fascinating, and perplexing. Frustrating because in an age when the state and local governments have my contact information, they do not seem to find it necessary to send me advance notice or alerts on matters that matter. Fascinating because in an age of easy access to digital data, most of us have been receiving WhatsApp and other messaging group forwards on weather charts, videos of vehicles floating away and sundry information in real-time disaster movie mode. Perplexing because all of us (not just government officials) are caught in a never-ending cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies every monsoon in spite of having lived through the same situation in all previous years.

They say people get the government they deserve, which means we get the kind of governance we ourselves would have delivered (as a collective average). So, it’s fair that the traffic along the roads I travel is an absolute mess because I do not actually take the trouble to get involved or raise issues or make suggestions to the civic administration. So, I cannot comment till I have actually tried to connect and gather a group of fellow citizens to raise voices together since democracy is often about the number of people who are affected.

But there is information that I should seek and questions that I should ask. For instance, I live in Baner and the state of traffic on Baner road has been a major source of grief this past month. It was predictable since the metro work started recently and everyone knew monsoon was around the corner. Were housing societies, schools and commercial outlets informed about the commencement of the metro project? About the impact on traffic and possible mitigations? Has the civic administration rescheduled other digging work to non-peak hours and set aggressive timelines to complete work to reduce stress on citizens?

Baner road is a main trunk road within this part of the city and it was already pretty congested. A lot of this has to do with terrible timing of traffic lights - instead of prioritising the main road with longer greens and short reds, the ancillary turns/roads are prioritised at many places. Now with the metro project, we have half the road width available. So, it was known there would be issues. Were traffic police informed, asked to be vigilant and take initiative in managing the traffic during known peak hours? I do not think so. A lot of problems on this road has to do with traffic cops not being available during peak hours. And when they are available, they just stand and watch. I would rather that they are not around since they are not helpful, but traffic lights should be on 24/7 because most people do follow signals; however, it’s common for traffic signals to stop working at one junction for hours and a jam to be created leading to a domino effect along the entire trunk road.

But this is not really about traffic woes. This is about the smartness of the development of the city. According to November 2021 news reports, the Pune Smart City project had received ₹171.5 crore from the state government and ₹141 crore from the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). It would be natural to ask how smart has the city become for the ₹312.5 crore already spent.

The PMC website has a list of links to various Smart City and other development initiatives in collaboration with different organisations. One that I found particularly interesting is the Quantified Cities Movement (QCM) that focuses on getting society involved in decision-making at the local level – decision-making based on time and location specific data. I found it by chance because I went looking for data on city development. Information about all these projects are sitting on the PMC website. It made me wonder what was the point of an intelligent plan if it is not communicated adequately so that citizens who are supposed to be participating in the process, are aware?

But getting back to Pune Smart City, the plan talks about 15 modules of development from physical infrastructure to customer care. Keeping the focus only on physical infrastructure, the scope apparently includes road widening, redesign of streets, footpath retrofit, junction redesign of 14 junctions in Aundh, Baner, Balewadi, rainwater harvesting, adequate water supply among many other developments. The project has been on for a few years and I saw some really nice footpaths in Aundh - wide, well paved, with creative installations, exercise equipment. But when am in a vehicle, I realise those wide pavements have made the road much smaller.

I have not seen anything smart about the development in Baner and Balewadi as yet. The tiny footpaths have gotten tinier, much of the road is dug up and as and when and with no information board or communication to tell us why. Contractors and the occasional supervisor on hand have no idea why they are doing this job.

I think one area with 100 per cent scope to become smart is communication. The state and city administration and private entities involved in development can and should learn from the central government and ensure that they brand their initiatives and disseminate that information to citizens widely in different languages. At the end of the day, everyone involved is working hard to do their jobs. Two-way communication would only help spread awareness and build a bridge. Towards that end, I admire and respect the Pune police. They are active on Twitter, respond to citizens complaints and provide a lot of useful information promptly. I follow their Twitter handle simply because I learn a lot about what’s going on around the city. Pune city traffic police and PMC are also on the platform, but they can do a lot more to engage with citizens and for that it is important for them to evangelise their presence a bit. Am not sure if city administrators have dedicated staff to monitor their media and a central information system to disseminate important information. But there is a lot of good work happening, but since everything is in transit, the common citizens’ lot does not seem to improve. An engaged and ongoing dialogue would be a good start for everyone to participate in problem-solving and city-building exercise.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Sanjay Mukherjee

Quelle/Source: Hindustan Times, 16.07.2022

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