SC raps Pune civic body over road project

In a setback to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), the Supreme Court on Friday said that the civic body’s ambitious High-Capacity Mass Transport Route (HCMTR) project, which has drawn flak from several environmental groups and activists, could not be implemented without prior environmental clearance (EC).

The apex court upheld the judgment of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which had directed the PMC in November 2020 to get the EC for the HCMTR, given the mammoth scale of the project and the potential environmental damage embedded in its implementation.

In its affidavit, the technical committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had made it clear that the HCMTR was an “area development project” and that a prior EC would have to be obtained.

Coastal road project

The PMC, on its part, had argued that the HCMTR was similar to Mumbai’s coastal road project which did not require an EC.

“However, the judges were not convinced by the PMC’s arguments as they relied upon the opinion of the MoEFCC expert committee. The HCMTR as proposed by the corporation is to be a 36 km-long, 80 foot-wide six-lane fully elevated route passing through Pune’s most developed areas. Four lanes are to be reserved for private vehicles and two for buses,” said Sarang Yadwadkar, the original petitioner in the NGT against the project.

Welcoming the SC’s decision, Mr. Yadwadkar said the project, if implemented, would have a severely detrimental impact on Pune’s environment.

“The so-called rapid environmental impact assessment that had been carried out by the project’s proponents was completely unscientific. The alignment of the route, which is proposed to pass through densely populated residential areas, hospitals, schools, water bodies, will have a tremendous impact on people and their health and on the city’s green spaces,” he said.

Pollution levels

Pune’s environmental groups have been opposing the proposed HCMTR for years on grounds that the route alignment would not only destroy the hills and green heritage spots, but that the vehicular traffic on the HCMTR would raise pollution levels to unacceptable limits in the core city area.

Stating that the project was initially conceived to give a boost to public transport in Pune city, road activist Sujit Patwardhan, founder of NGO Parisar, said that the objective of the HCMTR project — as proposed in the draft Development Plan (DP) of 1982 and sanctioned in the final DP in 1987 — was to substantially enhance the level of public transport in the city and give public transport a dedicated route to connect with the congested parts of the city and its newly developing localities.

“Given the current high pollution levels in Pune’s core city area, it is already designated as a ‘non-attainment city’ under the National Clean Air Programme. The PMC has totally twisted the meaning of the HCMTR by adding four lanes for private vehicles, which has led to a design which is not only massive in size but also at an astronomical cost,” Mr. Patwardhan said.

Mass transportation

Transport expert Pranjali Deshpande, on the other hand, said it was essential to revert to the HCMTR’s mass transportation function given the general vision of the city’s leaders to move towards sustainable modes of transport.

“Running non-polluting modes on the HCMTR such as an exclusive bus rapid transit system with electric buses can eliminate both air and noise pollution, thus reducing its impact on the local communities,” she said.

In 2019, a number of city-based NGOs under the umbrella of Nagrik Kriti Samiti (NKS) had demanded that the PMC scrap the tender floated earlier that year for the controversial HCMTR project. The NKS had alleged that the bids for the project had been grossly inflated and that the lowest bid received by the PMC on the project was 44% higher than the estimated project cost.

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 8:09:02 PM |

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