Why Pune remembers the Peshwas when it rains

The old city in Pune remained dry thanks to meticulous urban planning in the Peshwa era and presence of storm water drains, while the newer suburbs, which have seen rampant construction, got flooded

Traffic chaos at Narpatgiri Chowk in Pune after rains cause water-logging in June 2020 (Photo: Getty Images)
Traffic chaos at Narpatgiri Chowk in Pune after rains cause water-logging in June 2020 (Photo: Getty Images)

Nadeem Inamdar/Pune

More than 800 kilometres to the north of Bengaluru, Pune—the IT hub of Maharashtra—was inundated following 62.44 mm rainfall last week. The city had been battered twice before by heavy rains in 2019, when 17 people were killed on a single day on September 25 following 87.3 mm of rain.

Barely two hours of incessant rain this time caused trees to fall and walls to collapse. But what surprised urban planners even more was the flooding of the Pune cantonment area built in colonial times.

The Pune Cantonment Board (PCB) has been in financial distress for the past several years with no funds to repair and overhaul the the 50-year-old drainage infrastructure. Rain water inundated MG road, Shivaji Market, East Street and other interior roads, catching residents by surprise.

Significantly, the old city, the Peth areas, remained dry due to meticulous planning in the Peshwa era and presence of storm water drains. Most of the affected areas were in the suburbs which have seen rampant new construction, decline in the number or complete disappearance of nullah streams, absence of storm water drainage system and lack of basic infrastructure funding by the civic body to boost drainage infrastructure in the area.

Ravindra Sinha, one of the convenors of Citizens for Area Sabha, a prominent civic rights organisation in Pune said, “The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) had commissioned a private agency to undertake the drainage study of all the streams crisscrossing the city. Surprisingly, the streams are missing from the development plan of PMC. Encroachments and illegal constructions on all these streams are the main reasons for urban flooding in Pune and no attention is being paid by the civic body.”

Former PMC Commissioner Mahesh Zagade also blamed illegal constructions and closure of natural streams. “Indiscriminate allocation of FSI (floor space index) and lack of respect for natural flow of water vanished from the development plan. There seems to be no planning and grave mistakes have been committed by the civic body since 1987. We had given a proposal for improvement of the city infrastructure in 2011.

"Due to pressure from the local administration, the standing committee rejected the proposal and went against the wishes of the citizens. The entire city is facing the brunt of floods due to non-implementation of these suggestions,” he claimed.

Encroachment and construction over streams, public spaces and vacant plots, unplanned development, allowing construction on hilltops, with no afforestation taking place in depleted and abandoned forests and over wasteland; proper sewerage and storm water drains are missing and debris dumped in the drains have blocked the outlets and caused flooding, he explains.

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