Category: Development Plan

How Safe is Our City?

This is the original text in English of my article that appeared in Sakal on 12 July 2011, the 50th anniversary of the Panshet dam breach. The Sakal article (in Marathi) is at this link.

I grew up in IAT on one bank of the Khadakwasla Lake and went to school in NDA, on the other bank. My school bus went by the road adjoining the Khadakwasla dam and every day we would see the huge broken pieces of the old dam which was breached in 1961 when the upstream Panshet dam failed. Fortunately, there was no loss of life in that event of 50 years ago.

But, the population of Pune then was about 6 lakhs; there were hardly any slums and not so many people living in or near stream and river courses. Pune today is a highly dense, much built-up city.

With monsoon patterns becoming erratic due to Climate Change, Vijay Paranjpye says it is quite possible there might be an episode of 2-3 days of heavy rains in the catchment areas towards the end of the monsoon when the five upstream dams are 90% full. Planned discharges from the dams may cause flooding in Pune and this time round a much larger population would have to be evacuated.

Pune is on the verge of three types of disasters according to Sufi Pore, Former Director Disaster Management Training Institute, Mumbai, and who is on the UN list of disaster incident commanders. The number and intensity of earthquakes near Pune is increasing. Their epicentre is typically near Katraj. A stronger quake would affect Khadakwasla and Panshet dams. Another vulnerability is the number of tankers carrying hazardous chemicals, gas, acid on Mumbai-Bangalore highway. In the past, accidents have happened requiring evacuation in a radius of 5 km. If such an accident happens near Chandni Chowk, evacuation would be quite difficult. A third vulnerability is related to terrorist attacks, including biological weapons such as viruses. Even in epidemics, the capability for quarantine is limited.

On this day, the 50th anniversary of the Panshet dam failure disaster, it is pertinent to ask some questions: How prepared is our city to face disasters? Are we taking any preventive steps?

As per the National Disaster Management Act 2005, the District Disaster Management Authority is the main body for planning, coordinating and implementing the measures for disaster management in the district. Urban local bodies have a role too. The PMC has recently set up a Disaster Cell which has prepared a Hazards Response and Mitigation Plan focusing on fires (available on the PMC website). Mr Ganesh Sonwane, in charge of the Cell, says that training, capacity building and awareness efforts are underway. Plans have been made for enhancing the capacity for fire hazard handling equipment and personnel. But are these plans for hazard mitigation adequate?

Recent flooding events present mixed experiences. On the one hand we have read about heroic rescues by the Disaster Response Teams. We also get advisories on TV, radio, newspapers and over sms when planned dam releases are to take place. But I have also interacted with residents along the Ram Nadi who had flood water rising in their houses in a matter of minutes at night last year. No flood warning had been issued, and no officials came to their aid on the day of the flooding. The walls along the campuses of NCL, IITM and the defence estates act as mini dams for rain water rushing down the Chatushringi to Chandni Chowk range. Every monsoon we see flash flooding in these parts even with just a day of heavy rains. We witness landslides every year.

Clearly, our city is at risk. So what should be done? Architect and green building consultant, Anagha Paranjpe says that hazard mapping at the micro level should be done indicating areas prone to flooding, landslides, subsidence as well as congested areas etc. For risk reduction, we should respect the right of way of streams and rivers and the no-development zones on their banks. Of course, people living along the Ram Nadi will say that we don’t care whether you call it a stream or a river, the fact is that we are facing floods and marking a line on a map does not change that reality. Such actual experiences of the community must be taken into account when making micro-level hazard maps rather than sticking only to the theory of planning.

The master plan for the old city limits is being revised. While it is much delayed, this delay presents an opportunity to still try and integrate risk reduction measures in the master plan such as marking out no-development zones and rehabilitation of people living in risk-prone areas. There has to be recognition that the push for conversion of more and more open spaces including hills and wetlands into buildable zones often means increased risks to life and property.

The eco-housing policy that mandates rain water harvesting in every construction after the year 2000 should be reviewed. Geo-hydrologist Dr Himanshu Kulkarni, who is on the committee on sustainable ground water management set up by the Planning Commission, says that all areas of the city are not suitable for rain water recharge. In some places, due to the peculiar nature of the underlying basalt rock, harvesting rainwater and putting it into the ground can cause structural problems for buildings and may even lead to collapse. Instead of the current practice, a comprehensive and scientific aquifer management plan is needed which should be made after identifying the groundwater recharge zones and discharge zones in the city.

The national policy on disaster management recommends increased responsiveness towards vulnerable groups like slum dwellers, school children, poor households, construction workers, migrants etc. They call for conducting community‐based risk and vulnerability assessments and awareness drives through Residents Welfare Associations, traders and industry associations, NSS, schools etc. A clear disaster risk reduction strategy may not be available from the civic authorities. But we citizens should certainly demand for it. Strong democratic and participatory processes at the community level will enable people to be disaster prepared and we can all contribute to making our city a safer place.

Shelter Amongst Trees

Time seems to have stopped here. This patch of green in the heart of the city is contiguous with Bel Bagh, which is like a sacred grove. There were several gardens in the old city … Hirabagh, Vishrambagh, Ramanbagh, Tulshibagh etc., which now have only shops and buildings. The old houses in Jogeshwari Lane are mostly gone, and tall buildings now surround Hematai’s patch of green, where she lives with her brother, Suhasji. She says, “I was born here and have been living in this house since 1940. With these new constructions around, my house is now a fortress!” Dr Hema Sane was the first woman lecturer of Botany in Pune, in 1962. She retired in 2000, as Head of Dept of Botany, Garware College. She is also an M Phil in Indology. She has authored several textbooks, monographs, scripts and popular articles on plants in and around Pune.  Talking about the changing biodiversity of Pune, Hematai says, “Dr Vartak would lead nature walks for studying and collecting plant specimens in the Mutha river bed. Even up to the 80s we would find a couple of species of orchids there. They are gone now.” About her own life and her house, she says, “My life is rich not with things, but with my experiences and my friends, these trees, Rangutai the cat, and the birds. Another thing I cannot live without is music which my radio brings me.”

Dr Sane’s place is here on wikimapia

These photographs were taken as part of the ‘Living in a Changing Environment‘ photography workshop conducted in Pune by Prof Stefan Koppelkamm and Mr Peeyush Sekhsaria, and organized by Max Mueller Bhavan, Pune and Maharashtra Cultural Centre.

Living in a Changing Environment

Photography Exhibition curated by the Maharashtra Cultural Center and the Max Mueller Bhavan

8 April to 8 May 2010 at Max Mueller Bhavan, Boat Club Road, Pune 411 001

The exhibition shows photographs of Bhagyashree Bhutada, Prasad Dabke,  Snehal Date, Sanket Deshpande, Rainer Hoerig, Arul Horizon, Pooja Joshi, Meghana Kulkarni, Shamin Kulkarni, Sanskriti Menon, Sujit Patwardhan, Vikrant Thakar

The exhibition unites twelve personal perspectives of the city of Pune. Some of the photographers take you on a discovery tour to places which contribute to the identity of their city threatened by the dynamics of urban development and neglect. Others take a critical look at the ubiquitous billboards which dominate the appearance of large parts of the city and at the new urban lifestyle symbolized by glass and concrete buildings which are neither adapted to the climate nor to the architectural and cultural context. The photographers hope that this exhibition will make a visual contribution to a discussion about the future of their city – a discussion they feel is necessary and urgent.


The photo-exhibition is the result of a week-long workshop conducted by Stefan Koppelkamm and architect and photographer Peeyush Sekhsaria. Stefan conducted the Places I Like photography workshop in Bangalore in August 2009, and through the facilitation of MMB Pune, we were able to have the workshop in Pune too.

For me, the photo workshop was a way of exploring the old city. We walked about Tulshibagh, Mandai, Kasba, Tambat Ali, Laxmi Road, Narayan Peth looking at paars, changing uses, buildings being pulled down, new buildings replacing old, mandirs subsumed within new buildings, deep stumbhs now standing neglected, little curving lanes, ferns on old crumbling slim red brick walls, shop signs in chalk … We also had thali lunches, nira, kairi panhe, Dharwad pedhe, hot pattice from New Poona Bakery.

Our photos capture some of this flavour and tell stories about Pune.

Pooja’s photos about the brick kilns outside Pune have a story deeper than what is immediately evident. The location of the kiln was probably a farm, now its just a piece of real estate, already sold for construction. The top soil was probably sold separately to another kiln. And so the city and the built environment expands and eats up the surrounding farm land.

Rainer captures the old and the new; physical structures of glass and chrome replace mud and straw huts though remnants of the village are still strewn about. You wonder what became of the people whose village it was. In another photo, the Bombay-Pune road is the setting for the crossing of the Wari that pre-dates the structures in the background – the British water tower and the modern glass-chrome mall. Some collective memories endure and are longer-lived than buildings.

Snehal’s photos of Taljai celebrate the green patches left in our city, though the skyline of the city just beyond tells you just how vulnerable these patches are. Sujit’s photos of shops and vendors in the old core city speak about a type of economy very much alive, vibrant and colourful – but does the key-maker or the Amrutulya know that Pune’s City Development Plan also speaks about a vibrant economy, but that it might mean a very different economy and a very different perception of ‘vibrant’. These little, ‘low-value’ economic activities have no place in the modern city which measures its success by the foot falls in the malls. Vikrant comments on the larger-than-life bill boards and their empty promises.

Arul and I have more personal yet generic stories to tell – of particular people, and the changes in the city seen through their lives. Prasad captures the dull red gleam of the Tambats’ lives. The Mandai that, with its dark, musty and mysterious light, could be a child’s ‘I Spy’ delight – Bhagyashree yearns to see it full of people and life again.

Other photos also show dilapidated structures, beautiful no doubt, but maybe unsafe? A change in land-use, and an increase in the FSI limit will decongest the old core, but de-congest it of what and for what? To replace it with more glass and chrome? Perhaps the photos can be the reason or the excuse or the backdrop for a wider dialogue on what is our city about, whose lives are at stake, and whose vision is shaping the structure of the city and the destiny of its people.

My photos.


Glimpses of the Workshop

Pooja, Peeyush, Stefan
Sujit, Bhagyashree and Snehal compare cameras
Sujit, Bhagyashree and Snehal compare cameras
Rainer and Stefan
Prasad, Stefan, Peeyush

Mazoor Addas

Several thousand people hoping to get daily wage casual work congregate at various locations in Pune, such as Dandekar Pul, Hadapsar flyover, Aundhgaon, Warje etc. Results from a study commissioned by the DP Co and conducted by Dr Tambe at Univ of Pune reveal that a wide range of skilled, semi-skilled and un-skilled work is on offer at these mazoor addas, such as centring, masonry, carpentry, stone work, moulding, etc.  

Some of the older addas which have been in existence for over a decade or more, specialise in certain types of work (such as mandap kaam at Dandekar Pul). The newer addas typically have new migrants into the city and who mostly get picked up for construction work.

The issues are many: social ones like women get paid lesser than men and of course there is no registration or security of any sort, no place for little children; physical ones like there is no shelter from sun or rain for the people who land up hoping to get work, no toilets; no place to park bicycles, keep tools etc. Women may get picked up being promised construction work, but forced into prostitution.

The objective of the study is to document the space needs of the addas (as well as the nature of hardships and issues), and make a case for inclusion of a provision for the addas in the master plan for Pune. The 1987 Development Plan is currently being revised. The provisions for the addas may relate to creation of sheds, bicycle parking space, creches, toilets etc. 

The solutions may be quite simple, and may bring a measure of support and reduction of hardship to this sector of unorganized workers in Pune. However, the people most affected (the workers) are not organized and don’t have a voice. The DP process is not proactive enough to recognize these needs. The DP Co started out hoping to make a difference to Pune/ in Pune – make it more livable. Now, we need ideas on strategies for where and how to raise the issue enough to ensure solutions happen.