Like most Indian cities, Pune has crumbled quite rapidly over the past decade and most citizens are convinced that things can only get worse. So thought I would write about a positive development in the Deccan Gymkhana area in Pune. About a project that highlights how things can change if citizens decide to ‘be the change’ and about how citizens are enjoying the benefits of returning prime city real estate to mother nature.
The left bank canal of the river Mutha, between Prabhat, Bhandarkar and Agharkar Road had been in an abandoned state for many years. The canal was lined with eucalyptus trees however the main canal area served primarily as a garbage dump. The narrow road adjoining the canal had not been paved for ages and was barely motorable. The canal wound through residential colonies and ended in a narrow section of the Agarkar (BMCC) road and so was never of much use for vehicular movement. The canal only saw some action during the monsoon when it bred various creatures in the water that collected and later carried all the garbage dumped through the year to an unknown destination.
Some residents of the surrounding area however saw a novel opportunity in this, an opportunity to transform the canal land into a green zone. Planting trees, creating a jogging and a cycling track and converting the entire area into a public garden was the proposal that was put forth to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). An NGO (Hirwaee) was formed by the residents and the canal was to be developed by the NGO in partnership with the PMC.
The trend in Pune has been to permit construction on every bit of land available or to convert it into a road. So slums and buildings continue to crawl up the hills and ideas like roads on the hills get proposed. Nature invariably seems to be at the bottom of the priority list of the city. Therefore converting available land into a garden seemed like a far fetched proposal that received stiff opposition. However the Hirwaee team succeeded in proving the merits of the project to the administration and in getting it approved. The necessary funds were also raised. Some years were lost due to legal hassles and changing political wills, however work on the canal garden finally began over a year back.
The canal is now slowly but surely morphing from a garbage dump into a beautiful green park. The stretch from Prabhat road to Bhandarkar Road has already been transformed. There’s a tiled cycling track adjacent to which is a red-soil jogging track. The rest of the area has lush green lawns, saplings and the existing eucalyptus trees. It’s an unbelievable sight, especially for those who had seen the sorry state of affairs earlier.
The canal portion just prior to the portion of the garden project, from Law College road to Prabhat Road was converted into a road and serves as a grim reminder of what was prevented. That canal road already has an ever increasing number of encroachments by Pune’s beloved encroachers, the food and chaat stalls. I have repeatedly complained about these encroachments to the PMC as well as the traffic dept. but unfortunately nothing has been done. Strangely, the encroached chaat stalls are becoming so popular that they are causing traffic jams on the road that was supposedly created to eliminate traffic jams. I am quite certain that chaat vendors in Pune would do great business even if they setup shop right in the middle of the busiest road. Puneites’ obsession with eating at encroached chaat stalls is a matter I will take up some other time.
The visitors to the canal garden are rising steadily. The garden is kept green and clean, and I am pleased to note that I haven’t seen any visitors litter. Many enthusiastic walkers, a few joggers, a few cyclists, many senior citizens and quite a few birds make up the current visitor numbers.
The garden is not only a major achievement for the residents who pushed for it but also for the PMC administrators and the elected representatives who facilitated it. The garden will face challenges in the form of paucity of funds, etc. However the garden already is something that future generations will be grateful for. I do not know what the project will be named but my suggestion would be “Oasis” as that’s what it is, located right in the heart of a loud, crowded and chaotic city. Hirwaee can be reached at Hirwaee.org.