It is difficult to think of London without its tube — the underground railway system. It is that integral, indelible and life-enhancing part of the city, its living and its imagery.
So much so that ‘poems of the underground’ is an institutionalised people’s movement, with some literary taste. The people there are important enough to be a part of public policy.
If people of Pune were taken into confidence, were heard out, and in the process made active stakeholders in formulating public policies and programmes, our cycle tracks and the BRTS wouldn’t have looked like jokes.
Which are the public services of Pune which we, as citizens, feel proud of? In fact, most good things we like and remember about this city are the weather, the greenery, the open spaces and the pre-independence legacies.
Things changed after we began to choose our leaders.
Not one sane mind can deny the need for a mass transport system for Pune. Given an effective and smart choice, most of us would want to commute to work by such an alternative.
Effective and smart — they may mean different things to different people. A civic society should be willing to debate, discuss and disagree on them.
There should be enough space, openness and transparency while deliberating about them. It is heartening to see so many people and groups with divergent views and philosophies coming together to demand explanations and question the decisions of our policy-makers.
Their record in handling our issues of water, power, environment, civil supplies and health services has been far from satisfactory, so far.
One look at all the stories on these issues necessitates the need to debate and question decisions, in public interest — particularly those taken in haste.
Decisions which are perhaps copy-pasted, are not in the best interests of the city and its future. Maybe, they are right and the best, but what is so wrong in talking about them, opening them to review and scrutiny?
If there is nothing to hide, why shy away from taking the people into confidence?
On the one hand, people have reservations about the plan Delhi Metro Railway Corporation has given us, and on the other, some elements who have the numbers, are in a great hurry to execute it with this blind belief and blanket conviction that since metro is the way, so this is the best thing to do.
The change metro railway is going to bring is huge and irreversible. For better and worse. So, it seems reasonable enough to leave nothing out of debate.
We can take that train, go fast. And reach where? Doling out 4.0 FSI to builders on the metro route as proposed, but without any clarity about the benefits to citizens, pedestrians and consumers of that service as well as about the likely impact of the project on parking spaces, road connectivity and city skyline, is not wise.
Pune should learn from the mistakes of Delhi and Mumbai, to become a better metropolitan city, unlike these faltering ones. In his very interesting book on Mumbai — Maximum City — Suketu Mehta talks about the lobbies which did not let Mumbai decongest and evenly expand into the idea of Navi Mumbai.
Politicians wanted to cling to their power-dressed South Bombay and builders wanted the price of real estate in the island city to go upward. Does the case of Pune metro in its present form have similar breed of supporters?
For the political types, transparency and accountability to the people who voted for them is quite a different ballgame. In the last 60 years of free India, we have seen how the political breed has mastered the art of manipulating the mandate.
There have to be some ulterior motives and vested interests in hurrying up with the metro project. When leaders want to shy away from their people, there must be something rotten about democracy’s manifesto.
And if consumers in a capitalist set-up and citizens in a welfare state don’t have direct and transparent equity in serious issues confronting them, we know by experience, it is necessary to subject such issues to serious and detailed scrutiny.