Visual relief for Viman Nagar – Citizens’ video alert spurs PMC to wall off airport road eyesore

Residents have been clamouring for action for over two years, but civic body has done nothing about slum dwellers spilling over onto the footpath, until now
Tenacity and a resolute drive to improve the city are lessons the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) could learn from resi dents of Viman Nagar. It’s taken two-and-ahalf years of written and verbal appeals, and finally a video, but municipal commissioner Kunal Kumar has at last issued an order for a wall to be built on VIP Airport Road, to fend off dwellers of the Sanjay Park slum from defacing the road.A particular stretch on this road has been facing defacement, encroachment and damage for long, much to residents’ dismay, especially as this road is often the first impression of the city for visitors coming from the airport.

Evidently, the PMC has not shared their concern, with eight hearings with the municipal commissioner and divisional commissioner, along with several letters and e-mails yielding absolutely no results.

Finally, determined to make themselves heard, members of the Viman Nagar Citizens’ Forum shot a video of the offending stretch sitting inside a vehicle, giving civic officials a view of what it looked like to people passing by. The slum is located a mere 800 metres from the airport. The video focused on the footpath completely occupied with constructions, handcarts and vehicles and how slum dwellers were drying clothes, washing utensils and even bathing in plain view. Then, there are vehicles parked on both sides of the road, reducing its width by nearly 40 per cent. With the abomination in plain view, Kumar finally took action and ordered for a 200metre retaining wall to be built along the slum without further delay. The work is expected to start at the end of this month without inviting any tender.

While residents have welcomed the move, they are firmly resolved to continue with their efforts till the issue is permanently settled.

Speaking to Mirror, Qaneez Sukhrani, convener of the forum, said, “The issue was addressed to the chief minister and even the Prime Minister’s Office, which sent it back to the desk of the municipal commissioner, where it was originally raised in 2014. Despite all of this, no action had been taken. PMC is the caretaker of public spaces under the MMC Act 1949 on behalf of the stakeholders (i.e. citizens) of the city and they should act responsibly, especially where the self-respect of Pune is concerned. Instead, the issue was completely neglected out of political pressure and fear of upsetting the residents.“

“We had demanded a permanent solution to the aesthetics problem citing close proximity to the airport. We had also suggested the solution, which was to build a wall along the slum, which would keep the dwellers inside and restrain them from causing large-scale damage to public property, but we received disappointment and frustration,“ she said.

Finally, on October 13, during the hearing at Lokshahi Din, they decided take a step that would make the authorities take notice. Over 50 representatives of the road and anti-encroachment departments were present, along with Pune traffic police officials. “We showed them a clip of the entire 200-metre stretch shot from inside a vehicle, giving them the view through the eyes of visitors to our city. We are not against the slum, though it is allegedly encroaching on the land of the air force. But, taking up public space on the footpath is another matter,“ Sukhrani added.

Rahul Shirsat, resident of Kalyani Nagar, echoed Sukrani’s views, saying, “The ward officer never took any step at the primary stage because of political pressure. But, what about the other authorities? The anti-encroachment and road department never even reacted to the issue -they said they were afraid of the slum dwellers.

Nanaji Raina, a retired airforce officer and member of a senior citizens’ committee at Viman Nagar, said, “The issue had become a joke. At every hearing, officers would simply look at each other and say nothing. These 400 slum dwellers are considered the vote bank of political party leaders, so they cannot antagonise them. But, what about the law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who have to tolerate this rubbish? Under Section 3 of the Maharashtra Prevention of Defacement of Public Property Act 1995 (MPDPP), offences are cognisable.There could be investors coming to Pune for the `Make in India,’ who will see this stretch and take the next flight out.“

When asked, Rajendra Raut, chief engineer, in-charge of PMC’s road department, said, “We have received the order and are going to construct a retaining wall alongside the slum, which will prevent people from coming directly on the road. We will also take help from the anti-encroachment department and the Pune police to avoid any issue of law and order while work is on.“

“Since it is to be implemented on a priority basis, we are not going to invite tenders -the expenses will be fulfilled from other budgetary provision,“ Raut added.

Sandhya Ghagare, deputy municipal commissioner and head of the anti-encroachment department, assured, “We will deploy our staff while the wall is being built.Vehicles parked on the stretched will also be lifted and dumped. The encroachments on the footpath will be removed, too.“

Source : Mirror