This blog was originally published in German on tize.ch as part of my capstone project – you can read it here.
In the past, the city used to be a cosy piece of agglomeration, the ideal weekend getaway for Mumbai’s upper class, says an old-established Puneri. He sits in a coffee shop in the villa district of Koregaon Park, which was once the centre of the Rajneesh movement, today serving as a meeting place for expats and tourists. As in the whole city, a building boom has broken out in Koregaon Park: Luxury hotels and apartments are shooting out of the ground and are symbolic of Pune’s transformation in recent decades.
Pune’s rise to become one of the country’s most important industrial and IT centres proceeded at breathtaking speed and surprised everyone with its violence. The population of the city three hours’ drive from Mumbai has almost doubled over the last decade and is estimated to be between five and six million. By 2030, the figure is expected to be eight million. The increasing urbanisation of India is particularly evident in Pune. Every year, tens of thousands of people stream into the city from the rural areas of Maharashtra state. They want to participate in the economic expansion, hoping for jobs and a good education for their children.
The slums scattered throughout the city show that hope rarely becomes reality. This is also the case in Koregaon Park, where the slum is located three minutes’ walk from the Westin, one of the most expensive hotels in Pune. Its residents watch the hustle and bustle of the hotel and the limousines of the well-heeled clientele as they wash their clothes in the dirty stream. Those who have a job clean and cook for a pittance in the residential complexes of the rich or guard their entrances. For the many others, the only thing left to do is beg for alms. One third of the city lives in such poor conditions.
Kasba Peth, the centre of Pune: In the narrow alleys of the old town – remnants from the early days of British colonial rule – it hammers and grinds continuously. It is the coppersmiths of Pune. A craft with a long tradition that has always shaped the city’s identity. They are an example that the erratic development of recent years has not only known winners. Of the original 200 or so workshops, some 30 are still in existence. Globalisation and with it the widespread use of aluminium and plastic has ruined the coppersmiths’ business and wiped out centuries of family tradition within years.
The glass facades of the numerous office buildings on the outskirts of the city appear to be an antipode. It is the realm of the IT industry which, together with the automotive industry, is responsible for the city’s economic upswing. They recruit their workers from the numerous universities in Pune. The young, marked by the increasing influence of the West, appreciate the city. The quality of life is good and the political climate more stable than in the capital Delhi, where religious conflicts often lead to unrest.
But Pune also has problems. And it mostly affects the most vulnerable. The city has been suffering from the increasingly extreme climate for several years. The drought period is getting longer and hotter, the rainy season stronger. In September 2019, thousands of people were evacuated and twenty fell victim to the floods. Those affected knew of the dangerous location of their houses near the river, but they lacked the money to move away from the area.
Affordable housing has become scarce due to the construction boom, and many have been forced to relocate for real estate projects and driven back to the outskirts of the city. They spend hours in Pune’s traffic jams to get to their jobs. Public transport, for many the only means of transportation, has long since reached its capacity limits and is only minimally relieving the city’s roads. A metro is under construction, but until it is operational, the people of Pune will continue suffering from the overcrowded streets.