Traffic woes are a constant source of discussion and debate. Sujit Patwardhan, founder and trustee of Parisar, tells us how and why urban transport is their focus
Congestion, pollution and accidents are daily travails of the urban population. Huge budgets are being allocated for various transport projects. Yet, cities are reeling from the impact of sharp rise in the number of automobiles and two-wheelers and the lack of planning, infrastructure and urban transport. Isn’t it strange then, that only a few NGOs focus on problems of urban transport?
Parisar, is one such organisation, founded in 1981, in Pune, by a handful of individuals, sharing a growing concern about the deteriorating urban eco-system and livability of the city, constantly under the onslaught of skewed development priorities.
Parisar opposed cutting of old banyan trees for widening of the iconic Ganeshkhind Road and, as usual, was accused of ‘stopping development’. It is then, that the activists realised a deep flaw in the way they were trying to solve this problem. We understood that wrong and outdated policies were the biggest threat to urban environment. This led Parisar’s to focus on issues of urban transport and advocate sustainable transport policies.
In 2004, Parisar, along with other NGOs, organised a seminar called “One Right Turn” which, explored the ideas of sustainable transport, challenged the idea of ‘building your way out of congestion’ and proposed public transport, walking and cycling as solutions. These thoughts were vindicated by the National Urban Transport Policy (2006), which espouses nearly similar principles. The seminar changed the way the city thought about transport and led Pune to submit proposals to build a network of over 100km of Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) under the Central government-funded Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. Parisar’s challenge today is to ensure proper implementation of this project.
Parisar publishes reports on its work regularly. One such report is the ‘Report card on the Quality of the City Bus Service’, an assessment of the cycle tracks and analysis of the city’s annual budget. Parisar also contributes in preparing various reports like the Environment Status Report a detailed plan for Public Bicycle scheme.
Parisar has successfully pushed for adoption of a ‘Street Design Manual’, which will help in improving environment in the city so as to adopt walking as a major mode of transport. Parisar also helps creating a network of similar NGOs in various cities, with the idea of sharing experiences and aggregating forces for advocacy at the national level.
“Explaining what Parisar does is sometimes difficult”, according to Ashok Sreenivas, an IITian who splits his time between Parisar and Prayas, another NGO. “People usually connect more easily with NGOs that help the poor or the needy and where the beneficiary is someone you can visualise,” he adds. That may be one of the reasons why there are only a few NGOs that work in the area of urban transport, where it is more about getting the government to do the right thing than the citizens doing it . Those who work at Parisar come from diverse backgrounds and learn about urban transport on the job.
Gathering greater public support for improving public transport, creating cycling facilities and a better environment to adopt walking while moving away from automobile-centric planning are the ultimate goals of Parisar. These goals, once considered radical, have now, become mainstream.
As an organisation, Parisar understands that it still has a long way to go. But that does not deter its belief that despite increasing number of vehicles, it can be easier to travel in days to come.
For contributing to its efforts, Parisar welcomes volunteers and offers student internships. Donations are exempt under Section 80(G) of the Income Tax Act.
‘Yamuna’, ICS Colony
Ganeshkhind Road, Pune 411 007