Land and apartment prices are rocketing. Rohan Builders prices a 1,500 sq ft flat on University Road at a stiff Rs 52 lakh. Traffic snarls are frequent, helped along by the hordes of two-wheelers on the roads. Of the 14 lakh vehicles plying on Pune’s roads, 11 lakh are two wheelers. The city has eight lakh cyclists. Every day, 400 new vehicles are registered. The roads are in poor shape and the city is getting its first flyovers now. Public transport is virtually non-existent. So in Pimpri Chinchwad, the municipal commissioner, Dilip Band, has proposed a tram project that might be flagged off soon. Says he: “Trams will run from Nigdi to Hadapsar in the first phase. We are looking for funds from the National Urban Renewal Mission. The first phase will cost something like Rs 600 crore.”
Make no mistake ? Pune (population: 4.5 million, including Pimpri-Chinchwad and the adjoining developing areas) is a boom town.
Some think that Pune is hurtling towards global city status. Barely two months ago, Forbes magazine included Pune in a list of the world’s second tier-cities ? along with Abu Dhabi, Tripoli, Chengdu, Warsaw and Toulouse ? that would emerge as global cities. The magazine’s yardstick for picking these cities? “Companies are looking for places with a high concentration of young, aspirational professionals.”
Certainly, Pune has this in abundance. Sulajja Firodia Motwani, joint managing director, Kinetic Engineering, says that businessmen home in on Pune to set up plants or do business in “as it has a huge talent pool of professionals such as managers, engineers and information technology professionals.” Adds Deepak Shikarpur, CEO of Dimensions Engineering Software Services Pvt Ltd, “Except for infrastructure, Pune has everything.”
Till a few years ago, Pune revolved around Bajaj Auto and Kinetic. They, in turn, fuelled the growth of a slew of auto component companies in and around Pune. The city now houses some 3,000 new auto and auto component companies. Indeed, the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture is overseeing a project that could make “Pune the next Detroit of India”, says D.K. Abhyankar, advisor to the Chamber. A state-of-the-art auto-calibration and prototype centre for four wheelers is to come up in Pune. The Auto Cluster Development and Research Institute could be the first of its kind in India ? any car company can test models or build prototypes here.
Unquestionably, however, Pune’s big daddy is the IT industry. The city has over 200 major software companies (including Wipro, Infosys Technologies, Cognizant Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services, IBM and Hewlett Packard), three government IT parks and four private IT parks. The city’s software exports have soared, from Rs 5 crore worth in the late 1990s to ? hold your breath ? about Rs 9,000 crore worth today. The industry, along with the business process outsourcing business, employs over 1.2 lakh professionals. s that Pune is booming ? and is plagued by problems Pune’s lure is its rich pool of educated labour. Says an Infosys spokesperson: “Infosys has followed a strategy of setting up world class software development centres at places where there is rich local talent as well as the required infrastructure. Pune has provided us with both of these.”
Some 12,000 engineering graduates pass out each year from Pune colleges like the Vishwakarma Institute of Technology, Maharashtra Institute of Technology, Pune Institute of Computer Technology, College of Engineering, Bharatiya Vidyapeeth and D.Y. Patil College of Engineering. Students from 82 countries come to the city to study IT, biotechnology and management.
Says Vivek Sawant, managing director of the Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Public Ltd, “Within India, some two lakh students from other states come to Pune to study, boosting the city’s economy by another Rs 100 crore.” The city also houses international schools ? the Mercedez Benz International School, Pimpri, Lexicon International School, to name but two. The Symbiosis group too is starting an international school. Says Priya Anand, an administrative official at the Lexicon International School which will start its academic year this season, “We have the advantage of both the ICSE and the IB curriculum. Our students will be wired from the secondary section in the sense that they will be carting their laptops with them.”
Still, development on this scale has brought in its wake a host of problems. IT parks like Wakad and Hinjewadi are at least 45 minutes away from Pune city and buses don’t ply there. What is more, the government has acquired 2,030 acres of land so far for IT parks ? and land acquisition has sparked off farmer protests. The police opened fire recently on agitating farmers from Mann, who were not willing to let go of their land even for Rs 30 lakh per acre. “The issue”, says Maruti Mohite of the Mann Bacchakruti Samiti, “is not of compensation but that of our whole way of life. Over 10,000 families of Mann will be rendered homeless.”
Nor is Pune a haven for pensioners anymore. “Pensioners have to move to special enclaves that we have built for senior citizens,” says Lalit Kumar Jain, president of the Pune Builders Association.
Grouses Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul Bajaj, “No industry ? neither auto nor IT ? can grow if there are so many power cuts, such bad roads and transport problems and corruption. We desperately need officials who perform well. Otherwise we will end up like Bangalore.” Adds Anu Aga, director, Thermax: “To realise the aspirations that many people like me have for this city, we need to take care of some of the concern areas ? improve its infrastructure, especially the roads and the availability of power; discipline our traffic so that Pune can shed its dubious reputation as the city with the highest two wheeler accidents; and invest in better town planning.”
The silver lining in this cloud is that urban planners like Pune municipal commissioner Nitin Kareer plan on “upgrading the storm water drains and widening the roads wherever possible and synchronising the signals”. Fixing the roads will cost upwards of Rs 200 crores, Kareer says. In other words, the Queen of the Deccan will wait for years to become a global city.