Sunday, May 21, 2017

Smart City Or Accidents City?

“I do take pride in saying that in spite of being in public life for so long, there is not a single case against me, not even for wrongly parking a scooter or driving on the wrong side”… Narendra Modi.

No need to introduce the author of the quote as our Hon Prime Minister is known for many good things & the above quote told us one more aspect of his life i.e. discipline. Well, he can dare to say that he has not even once broke a traffic rule, though in last twenty years I wonder how many times he would have required to drive yet not many in rest of some 120 crore population of his country can be so confident about following traffic rules in their respective cities! May it be Delhi or Pune or my small town named Khamgaon in Vidarbha, two things of we the Indians are same all over the country; they are, our love for the game of cricket & our consistency in not following traffic rules of any sort! I am not sure about exact statistics but nearly one lac of people lost their life in approximate five lac accidents in a year in this country! This loss of life in road accidents is more than any number of deaths by any reason in our country & then there are lot more disabilities which are worst than actual death which the road accidents causes making a healthy person disable for ever & do mind getting called as “Diyvyanga’ won’t get back your lost hand of foot!

For a while keep away highways & expressways as reasons here are altogether different & most accidents are caused due to drivers mistakes like over speeding or lane cutting. We will focus on city road accidents, let’s take example of our Smart City Pune which always is reactive & never proactive on any civic issue & road safety is also not exception! One car bumped in to group of pedestrians standing on divider at baner road & two got killed & three got injured & entire media to govt system started running around. As usual this running around is to find a scapegoat for the accident & not to find any permanent solution or out of some deep soul searching. If any of you has ever travelled via baner road & remembers this particular spot where the said accident has happened, then you can imagine who is at fault! Before we touch the subject sharing a letter which I have sent to Hon PMC Commissioner exactly nine months before this accident & it’s about road condition as well traffic scene at Baner road. I have copied this mail to many of the govt agencies & had this been taken any cognizance then those lives might has been saved as well I would have saved from writing another mail regarding the same subject to Hon Police Commissioner of Pune! So please lets go through my those two emails as it will give you fair idea of traffic scene as well road safety in Pune. The first mail to PMC Comm. as well road dept has been written out of frustration while I got stuck in traffic at baner road for nearly two hours!

11 7 16

To Hon Comm. PMC & Road Dept Officers,

I travel every day from baner road & have done so at every hour of the day, following are my observations… sharing few of suggestions, some of which may look like crazy but so is the traffic scene there :)

Let’s visit in private vehicle at your leisure time just to have an experience as a routine traveler on this road...

1. First the road width shown in DP in itself is too narrow, it should have been at least 200 ft wide road considering it as a gate way to Pune from west side. Tomorrow even the proposed road from Mercedes show-room on highway to hinjawadi IT Park is built then more the baner road will be main connectivity from city to hinjawadi & then the load will be tripled as of now. So make it 200 ft wide wherever possible right from now & make necessary changes in DP for future development.

2. We can plan parallel roads to the same on both sides connecting to service road of bypass to baner road at least till mahabaleshwar hotel chowk i.e. till Symentec. We can plan a road across hill from pan card club & connect it to baner pashan link road parallel to ramnadi, so it will reduce load on baner road right from sadananad hotel.

3. Presently all the buildings along baner road use their front margin for the occupants commercial use, remove every structure in front margin & use it for parking. Same is true regarding the parking spaces shown in these buildings which are being used for other purposes. Restrict any new hotel/ restaurant permissions along the baner road, fronting directly on the road as they are main traffic hurdles. Even think of revoking existing restaurants/eateries license after checking their parking arrangements! (Just a wild thought)

4. Major issue is diagonal parking along baner road’s both side & then vehicles double parking. Make it pay & park at heavy rate at all hours of the day; it is a must keeping in mind importance of this gate way of the city. As well use full time police/traffic warden team always mobile in the stretch from sadanand to national society chowk. Create public parking lots at regular intervals along the lands adjoining baner roads, which are still vacant, make immediate changes in DP right now for this.

5. Try to divert as many vehicles we can from pashan exit at bypass towards university & destinations ahead; for that either make toll on baner road or use Delhi idea, odd -even numbers using baner road & pashan road respectively for all days of week, going towards city center. Promote kiwale BRT terminal route outlet for vehicles coming from Mumbai by expressway or talegaon chakan towards city center as many even doesn’t know such option is available.

6. Remove every puncture /crossing in the present dividers, so allowing U turns or pedestrian crossing only at signals & develop parallel road from signal to signal lengths on both sides. For that make permanent dividers & with flower beds, as it is right now there are no green cover all along or in between on baner road making it extreme dry & heat island!

7. Think of a full length fly over from sadanand to university chowk or mahabaleshwar hotel chowk, like eastern free way from Chembur to Dmelo road in Mumbai, but that’s too long term solution, though we need to think of long term also!

8. Needless to say increase bus frequency with good quality buses running from university circle to hinjawadi, & for that build underground parking lot for commuters’ right at any govt land near university circle, we can think of rural police open grounds for this.

Thanks, will share more, happy to assist! 

Sanjay Deshpande 

*Below is email I wrote to Hon Police Commissioner after the baner accident happen in April 17!

20 4 17

Dear CP madam & jt cp sir,Pune Police

I have seen that clip too & nearly 10 vehicle seen crossing that spot in same speed before this vehicle. I myself walks daily on paud road or baner road & it’s impossible to cross the road such is the speed of all vehicles, even at signals if there is no police vehicles doesn’t stops at red especially PMT buses or private buses. Now as a civil engineer & experience in urban planning let me put clearly that dividers are not meant for standing on them even while crossing but dividers are meant to avoid such accidents fatality i.e. when a vehicle lost control then to restrict it going in opposite lane & causing more damage; refer any accident on express way!! It’s unfortunate that in this case the poor family got victim as they took refuge of divider (I too have done it in past); I am well familiar with the spot & there the road turns on slope, here there must have been speed breakers before vehicles approach that spot but neither speed breaker nor warning boards are present! 

Every such major road like baner road, paud road or karve road, fc road or ganeshkhind road or any main road in city, there must be ample & safe pedestrian crossings in the form of under-pass or over-bridge & every level road crossing has to have signals controlling vehicles, all of which is absent at this spot & there are thousands of such spots in city which every day kills pedestrians & two wheeler's! PMC should undertake survey of every such spot along with traffic branch & the report has to be published along with action plan.

Then there is issue of literally no parking provision for any of commercial establishments on all the main roads of the city which leads to narrow the road drive section on these roads. PMC has to undertake survey of every single building along all the main roads & its parking provisions as well present use of the same & demolish every encroachment done in parking & see that roads are free from illegal parked vehicles.

If you refer the majority accidents took place near pmt bus stops as people get down from bus & the crossing or signal are way long from the bus stop so they tend to cross the road in mid way. First the bus stops must be near to chowk & second every divider has to be of such height or design that neither pedestrian nor animals like stray dogs should cross it! As there has been incidences stray dogs running in between & causing accidents especially those of the two wheeler riders.

One more thing is road cutting as well poor quality road work or digging which makes mostly the two wheelers get slip-down; most simple example is leaving edges of concrete road or tar road unprotected as well chamber covers which are not in level with the road surface.

All these things slows down the speed of vehicles & when people get open stretch of the road they tend to speed up, is the common human tendency. So what we need is hassle free safe driving as traffic police is to control the traffic not to look for such issues which actually increases their work load!

I think police dept should form a team to study lacuna in infrastructure essential for good traffic management & write all these to PMC as well UD, as this is scene in every city where local body's poor planning leads to accidents actually. Happy to assist for same!

Sanjay Deshpande

-- -----

Now after you have gone through both above emails, let me ask you a question, in Pune city alone nearly four hundred people ( read citizens) dies per year & triple number of this figure get severely injured in road accidents, clearly there is no road safety at all in this city. This statistics also makes this smart city as most road accident prone city in the country, I presume; so who is responsible for this situation? Whenever we think of a city roads or traffic first come the proper planning & we in Pune have failed to provide roads with enough width which will accommodate the ever growing numbers of vehicles. Then is the department which is supposedly to build these roads & keep them in proper condition as here I remember to read the statements by officers saying “there is no policy about speed breakers or about road dividers”! Well then who is supposed to make such policy is what a common man like me will ask! And joke is now the very same dept is changing road dividers of the accident spot at baner road, by which policy? Well, we don’t ask such questions in this country!  Same is with the height of barricades or guard rail at fly over as that also is common accident cause, two wheeler riders falling down from the fly-over when the bike collides with the barricades; seems that side-rail policy is also not clear in PMC! Then let’s see who is responsible for keeping all these roads in drivable condition, as right from sudden ongoing road excavation without any warning boards to drainage chamber covers way above road surface level, every possible hurdle is there on our roads. And to avoid these obstacles two wheeler riders often change the course at eleventh moment resulting collision with divider or poor pedestrians who are the worst victim of any road mishap! Conditions of footpaths is so worst that even while walking on them also can cause you topple down thus many prefers to walk on road & then falling prey to the errand drivers! Then comes the dept which is supposed to control the use of shown parking places in the thousands of buildings along all these roads. All these parking places in the commercial buildings are being used for every other purpose than parking & by virtue of which all the vehicles related to these building gets parked on adjoining roads, chocking the existing road width. Lastly come the traffic police dept whose job is actually getting difficult as all above things are not in place & then every person on road is frustrated along with the traffic police, resulting numbers of incidences of exchange of heated arguments of commuters & police; this way entire cities mental health gets damaged, which by me is biggest loss due to poor road safety conditions as well traffic management of the city!

And when every agency is busy on pointing figure on each other about road condition & accidents then on other side is we the society! Here we are equally at blame as we are most useless bunch of animals (I beg a pardon as animals also are way ahead of us in discipline) when it comes to following traffic rules! We think ours is only vehicle on the road & like the WWE show on TV i.e. wrestling mania where no rule is there but only to kill the opponent is the target, we behave same way on roads! For us signals exists only if there is a policemen standing alongside (PMPML busses ranks first on this scale) & we don’t understand simple signs like one way! Most accidents have been caused by people entering in wrong way in one way & jumping signals, about which no system can do anything! We have to be fined for not wearing helmet that shows our level of carelessness regarding road safety. Especially when every other safety factor is against us on roads then at least we can secure ourselves by wearing helmet, even this much we can’t understand, what are we made of, I can’t even imagine! On the top of it we have advertises of the two wheelers or four wheelers saying zero to hundred km/hr in some ten seconds! What we want to achieve by speeding in such way on roads like ours is the question the auto manufacturers should ask to themselves! And even the pedestrians, who keep crossing roads anywhere at their will, should think to save few minutes we are risking our entire life by doing so! What even thousands of CC TVs can make the difference if millions have not been following any traffic rule; civic sense is most rare thing in this country is what I conclude to myself looking at all above scene around!

The solutions are very simple if all the concerned agencies first understand their responsibility towards road accidents as mentioned above in my mails to the authorities & behave as well act considering every pedestrian or two wheeler rider can be their own brother or son or sister then they will realize the seriousness of the job they have at hand. Take one road like baner road & make every agency associated with road safety on above aspects to perform & make them accountable. Had this been USA then I am sure the courts as well police would have made local governing body also party to road accident considering it as crime! Running of year long awareness campaign is another thing which can be taken with the help of NGO’s. Media also need to stand up & dedicate their some space for ever to this aspect & not just run the accident stories after some mishap happens. Make road safety a part of education right from school to college studies as it’s the younger lives which are lost mostly in accidents. Strengthen & systemize public transport to reduce vehicular load from the roads as however bigger roads we build or increase numbers of traffic police if the vehicles keeps on pouring on the roads then accidents will keep happening! A Smart City is not counted by just how many apps it has for the services provided to the citizens but how it makes people feel safe on its roads & I think on that scale we are fast travelling to the tag of Dumb City & unless each of us don’t act then soon we will surely get the tag of Dead City too!  

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

Please do visit my blogs to know about our philosophy at Sanjeevani !
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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Understanding Affordability In Real Estate!

“If we don't figure out a way to create equity, real equity, of opportunity and access, to good schools, housing & health care we're not going to survive as a productive and healthy society”… Tim Wise.

Timothy Jacob "Tim" Wise is an American anti-racism activist and writer. Since 1995, he has given speeches at over 600 college campuses across the USA. And his above quote indicates very clearly that even in a country like USA which is dream destination for most people in the world to settle down; yet affordable housing remains a problem for USA too! By now affordable housing is buzz word for every person not just related to the real estate in our country but our Prime Minister’s office also has taken it as their main agenda. The reason is twofold giving due respect to Hon PM’s intentions towards the need of affordable housing, central elections are due in next two years & by then nearly fifty percent voters will be staying in cities & it’s here where the problem of housing is grave! And if the Hon. PM wants to continue his party to win then he can't afford to keep these fifty percent voters unhappy just because they won't be having a decent home of their own as the unhappiness will be reflected directly in voting against the ruling Govt! Right from Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana by virtue of which nearly Rs 2.5 lcs gets deposited in the account of a first home buyer to RERA to making real estate policies more flexible, everything is being tried by the central govt to make more & more homes available to masses! But the problem is, still somewhere something is missing & if on one side supply of housing is increasing then yet on other side people are crying that the homes are not in their budget i.e. homes are non-affordable commodity to most classes of the society! Result is real estate is in dilemma as product’s inventory is increasing along with the production cost yet the end user as well govt wants real estate to reduce the home rates further down! I think high time to understand the concept of the term affordable when it’s applied to real estate & then only we can decide fate of affordable housing!

Like Tim Wise said in his quote, "equity, real equity in giving access to good homes" (don’t forget good schools as well health care) means there are different classes in the society & every class has their own set of limitations especially in term of earnings as well life style. And what we need is making a home which will be available to every class so that they can own a home which suits to their life style & live at peace. This last part of live at peace is very important as or else when one puts all his money in a single commodity like home then we can’t expect his or his family to give away every other smallest pleasure of life like going to movie once in a while or dine out or sending their kids to decent school & many such & just keep saving to pay their EMI’s! No sir, no sane person will buy such affordable home as it’s no more an affordable home in first place which makes you restless with constant stress of paying installments for the same. At the same time affordable is not a home which because of just cheap land rates has been build far away from every civilization! One more popular concept is affordable is smaller which has defeated the very purpose of home as you can’t have a bedroom that of a size of larger toilet & label the home affordable! Every such attempt to pack a home under name affordable & deliver with above flaws has been failed miserably & still large number of city population seeks for real affordable home is a fact.

Here I will give example of next in need or popular or dream commodity after the home, in Indian families; that is an automobile! I remember first automobile in our family, I was in school, it was a Luna & I ran along with my father driving it from show-room to our home for two reasons. One is sheer excitement of having Luna in our home which was first in our locality & second is my father wasn’t confident of driving the new Luna double seat & more than me getting an injury he was worried about the Luna getting damaged! Luna was the first vehicle which in every term was affordable & started a new era in auto industry & second such entrant years after that was Maroti Suzuki, popularly known as just Maroti! Till these two came in market having a four wheeler was only in capacity of riches & two-wheeler wasn’t a need in first place then, as distances required to travel were very much in walking or paddling limits! But look at today’s life, people in cities needs to travel all around for their work, education, meeting relatives, buying grocery & what not; thus having a vehicle of their own a basic necessity & yes absence of a proper public transport system is main reason for that barring a few cities like Mumbai. Just look at the options it provides to the end user; in four wheeler range you have Porsche, BMW, Audi ,Merc ranging from some Two crores & the you have good old Maroti, Tata, Hyundai where you can get a decent car in just four lacs also with all need base features! And same is in two wheeler market, right from Ducati, Harley Davidson super bikes to Honda, Hero Motors fuel saving bikes, every possible option is in market & yes there are for ladies also like Honda’s Deo or Activa! Entire markets’ needs considered & taken care & that’s why no one cries for not having affordable car or bike, as every segment in the society has some option of owing a vehicle for them as per their needs, which includes budget aspect too! Even the finances have been worked out by the institutes & auto finance was first to reduce their interest rates as well come up with zero interest schemes types option. This further reduced the burden on the buyers’ pocket. One more thing understood & acted by the auto industry is an affordable vehicle for all classes means lesser maintenance vehicles & especially with the Indian road conditions it was a challenge which they faced successfully. Look at today’s bikes with puncture resistant tube less tires & the good old days of carrying your bike to puncturewala seems from different planet!

So no more owning a vehicle is a luxury but its need of every household & here is where automobile industry scored over real estate. As it meticulously identified needs of every individual customer & designed the product accordingly. Today you want a luxury sedan you have it, you want a sports SUV you have it, you want a low maintenance bike you have it, you want fuel efficient bike you have it, you want a super bike you have, every choice & option is available in auto industry. And this is what I call affordable automobile as each segment of society has different concept criteria for affordable & having a product available as per these variants is affordable!

Now on this back ground look at real estate or housing; what we saw is options are available but they are not in tune with what all segments wants, they are designed for a particular segment. In real estate if you study the pattern, then most of the time the end product is as per developers whim as he feels there is more money so he decides to come up with a high end township under the tag of “Dream Township or Heavenly Homes” or so called affordable homes which are way away from any civilized infrastructure & of size which he thinks is cost effective. But have we ever thought what type of home we can call as affordable, the answer is every type of home is affordable as per earning capacity & life style of the people but one thing remains common & that is bare minimum space essential for comfortable living & physical as well social infrastructure of the home as well mental peace it brings along to the home buyer! For e.g. take an example of an auto rickshaw driver with earnings may be Rs 20,000/pm & if his wife is also working the make it total Rs 30,000/pm. Now with all the EMI’s & loans available to this category if you ask him to go some thirty kilometer out of the main Pune city center then he won’t ever go & will consider this home as non-affordable, why? Because affordability don’t have just budget or money aspect but if he is an auto rickshawala then his day starts may be at five am in morning at railway station or bus station & for that he has to start from his home half hour before that & then he carries his auto rickshaw to his home at night, so if you ask him to stay in a home thirty km away from his work place, how he is going to carry his rickshaw to his home? And if he has to use public transport then first it’s not in place & second where he will park his rickshaw safely for the night, as this city doesn’t have parking places for even PMPML’s own busses! Same is the story with thousands of small businessmen as well people working in service industry in the central part of the city!

Even for higher middle class situation isn’t different, an engineer with IT or MNC earns lot more than an engineer working in a small builder’s firm or small work shop so though by qualification both are equal yet their earnings as well life style is totally different. In a city like Pune the major real estate market is driven by migrants & these people don’t have needs like proper city based native clients has. For e.g. if some local IT engineer is looking for a flat in western suburb then he will think of how his parents, friends or other relatives will be coming to meet him so he will chose a home where public transport as well private means of conveyance is easily available. Where as  a person coming from Nagpur/Amravati who doesn’t have any relative here won’t be taking this aspect that seriously as he has to think of his own work place as well his kid’s schools distance, that’s all! Here again the affordability concept changes as per the means of transportation & distances from the said home.

Then comes the life style as an IT or MNC engineer won’t mind living a bit away from normal city hotspots like Lakshmi road or FC road but he will like to hang out at night happening spots for his weekends with friends & if they are not available nearby then the home will be considered as non-affordable by him on life style scale. Here one more aspect is very interesting, when we say physical infrastructure then take example of very basic thing like water; if I say to a IT engineer from Pune or Mumbai that there is no PMC water & he will have to buy water tanker as the project is out of PMC limit then he will think its non-affordable on infrastructure basis. But the very same home some IT engineer in very same firm won’t mind if he is coming from Vidarbha or Marathwada as he is born & bought up drinking tanker water since childhood in his town & won’t consider tanker water as an obstacle in buying a home!

One major aspect apart from all these factors is deciding affordability on life style basis on budget scale. I had an interesting experience when I was talking to group of some young IT engineers who has come for group booking. They were all working in MNC’s with good package, which I wouldn’t dreamed off in their age yet they readily settled for an option which is way away from happening spot suburb just as they were saving some twenty lacs per two bhk unit. I asked they can afford this closer to city option yet why they are opting to live away, the reply was today most of us are bachelors or just couple but tomorrow when we will have kids then their education as well other need will reduce our spending limits & we don’t want to give up our routine luxuries like occasional dining out or shopping in malls & for that from right now we should control our EMI; & any way we all are not from Pune so we are not specific about being that close to the city or any particular suburb, just nearby vicinity of our work place is enough for us if we are saving on base price of the home! It was an eye opener reply for me as when we call something of high maintenance then the term includes both, physical as well social maintenance! Also important is understanding social standards of living as you can’t expect normal middle class family living in neighborhood of slum dwellers homes of size 300sq ft & even neither they can live in that size of home. Another aspect is designing these houses as per the needs of family size & use of spaces. As if you go to any so called affordable houses for e.g. slum redevelopment homes after few years then they are unable to maintain the services. Recently there was accident in one of the buildings in Mumbai in affordable housing as the lift was not in condition & a small girl died in it. Such examples must be studied as a case study for working on affordable housing.

Here is why repeatedly we in totality along with Govt have failed on giving affordable houses as we haven’t understood what affordable houses are! And then it’s not responsibility of one single entity named developer of the Govt to provide affordable but it’s a joint effort! As the Govt can’t give some two or three lacs rupees subsidy to home buyers & then held developers responsible to deliver affordable homes. Neither the real estate industry can cry that Govt should give everything on platter & then we will make affordable homes & still have high profit margins! Do mind it’s a joint venture morally as well physically of both parties as both are beneficiary of housing industry! There are three segments of society largely, super rich, super poor & semi rich or semi poor. The issue is not with first two categories as super rich can chose his home anywhere as per his wish & super poor has no choice so gets settled even on footpath or in slum; it’s the last category which we call middle class, it may be higher middle calls or lower middle class who needs a home but have thousands of limitations & here is where affordable term counts most! Affordable housing is not just need but its right of every citizen who in his or her way contributing for the growth of the country & it should be treated with highest priority. The solution needs to be done systematically & not by age old whims or formulas of so called affordable homes & we need to do it fast as it’s not about winning elections or making real estate stable but if we want peace in the society as no country can afford more numbers of homeless people & yet thrive to become as super power!

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

Please do visit my blogs to know about our philosophy at Sanjeevani !
 (Click the links below)

Social Side of Sanjeevani ! (Click link below)

For any of your complaints about city, log in at link below

Think Green, Think Life

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Being a Father!


Sharing something which is close to heart of most of us i.e. role of parent in life, may it be father or mother; most of us have been gone through either of the role in both ways! Means we either have experienced our parents as kids or we are playing the role of parents; only the most unlucky ones who doesn’t have the wonderful memories of their parents! I am lucky to have best of parents though I can’t be sure of my kids saying so, yet being a father is not just fun & joy but a responsibility also especially with the fast changing new genre. I think being father is not the role restricted to your own son or daughter but the role extends to your work place also. As you grow by age as well experience, at work your junior colleagues also looks at you as a fatherly figure around & expects guidance from you. In all this process most important is constant dialogue & sharing & you can do it by writing down your thoughts & then share along with numbers of across sharing’s! Ultimately responsibility can’t be taught, one has to feel it & understand it by oneself so is fatherhood! Here is something I wrote to rohit, my elder son; though I am writing to him on his birthdays since long but the language keeps changing as he grew in age yet the feelings as well thought process remains same! Do read & share with your close ones as a person can be best understood with what he or she expresses…   

12th May 17

Happy Birth Day Rohit!

"You are lucky if you get even one person out of thousands around you who really gets happy with your success"... Del Carnegi. 

Dada, on your 22nd birthday I can say you are lucky as you have at least two such persons around you in the form of your parents as many a times even your parent may not be happy with what you call success! And do mind success's definition does differs from person to person so is happiness. I will advise you that don't tie your happiness with success as that will often make you unhappy. Well, now you are no more in teen age  leave apart a dad's boy to listen to me yet for me you will always be the same as I seen you first day of your entry in my life, a smiling giggling chubby baby! And that makes me keep writing you on your birthdays as well keep on advising you whenever I feel like. Recently I came across an interesting quote,   "By the time you will realize your father was right your sons would have started thinking you are wrong!" Just wonderful, as I have experienced it by myself so can’t agree with it more; beta, I know today whatever way I behave,  you as well chota, both must be thinking of me as an arrogant fool but then this arrogant fool loves & care for you both is also a fact! All a father wants is his sons should not repeat the mistakes he did & I am no exception. Dada, add three months to your today’s age & I got engaged with aai at that age but today things have changed a lot; the challenges are different so are the opportunities. In all these changing times one thing remained same, definition of good & bad never changes, mind it always! So stick to goodness always, whatever you do & avoid badness as much you can & for that understand what is good & bad in first place.

As a father my views towards upbringing may not match with you but will share a small story with you here...

"Long back in a small town there were two friends, one was teacher & another was rich businessman. They both decided to grow some fruit bearing trees & planted few trees in the back yards of their homes. The rich businessman kept a special person to take care of his trees & instructed him to give lots of spring water as well fertilizers to the trees! While the teacher has nobody to take such care neither has money to buy costly fertilizers or spring water, so all he did is used to lift the water from his well manually & gave little but whatever essential water needed to his trees! One day there was big storm in the town at night & when the businessman woke up in morning saw all his trees has been uprooted by the storm & collapsed on ground completely. He rushed to the teacher friend's home & to his surprise the teacher's trees were all up & swaying happily on the tune of morning breeze! He asked to teacher what special care he has taken as his trees are unaffected by the storm? The teacher smilingly said, nothing, I just gave them enough water to survive so their roots went deep in the soil in search of more water as well food & in the process the trees become strongly grounded & that's why they could hold the storm whereas your tree's roots didn't went deep as they had enough water & food on the surface itself making them weak to face the storm!"

The story ends here & I am sure by now you are grownup enough to know the meaning of the story & who plays what role in the story of your life. Just one thing, if you want to enjoy the breeze then you must strengthen yourself to survive the storms; you should realize this & adopt it in life as that’s what growing is! What more I can wish for your birthday than to see you growing & not just ageing & yes thanks for making me understand fatherhood, I take it as return gift from you!

Love you always…


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Jhalana, Leopard's Home in City!

Those who have never seen a leopard under favorable conditions in his natural surroundings can have no conception of the grace of movement, and beauty of coloring, of this the most graceful and the most beautiful of all animals in our Indian jungles.”   Jim Corbett.

James Edward "Jim" 'Corbett (25 July 1875 – 19 April 1955) was a British-Indian hunter and tracker-turned-conservationist, author and naturalist, who hunted a large number of man-eating tigers and leopards in India. Well, this is the way Wikipedia describes Jim but by me if in one word you want to describe Jim then its “Wilderness”! The man has become other side of coin named nature such is his involvement & when he says a leopard is most beautiful or graceful animal of the Indian forests, then indeed it is! I have no guts to challenge Jim when its forest matter for two reasons, one it’s the years he has spent in forest & second you don’t doubt your Guru which he is for me when its anything related to nature. One more fact is I haven’t seen much of the leopard in my so many forest trips where as tigers yes I have seen many, though it’s never enough to have a tiger sighting is equally true yet above words of Jim kept lingering in the back of my mind since long & so is the wish to see the leopard in wilds. When I booked myself with my forester group for Ranthambore, where along with tigers, leopards also been sighted frequently yet when its tiger or leopard then ninety nine percent people will keep chasing tiger & I am no exception. And it’s but natural as the aura of the tiger is above every animal & may be that’s the reason in Indian forests leopards’ importance is seldom recognized. So when I came to know about a small, lesser known place named Jhalana Leopard Sanctuary near Jaipur, via a whats-ap group of wild life lovers, I grabbed the opportunity to club it with our Ranthambore trip!

Those who don’t know much about forests they may not understand importance or uniqueness of leopard which has presence in almost every part of the country, rather in our Pune district in Maharashtra they are in abundance & every alternate day there has been news about leopard sighting or attacking cattle in rural parts of Pune district. So most will ask what’s so special about a leopard & I don’t blame them as about forests we are most ignorant or I will put it bluntly negligent is proper term. As in first place we hardly care about any other animal than our own self leave away a leopard. And then those who go to forests them as I mentioned earlier end up clicking tigers & thinks they have seen forest. A leopard is most difficult to sight in first place in forest especially where tiger’s presence is & then almost impossible to click it clear, such is the way it moves through the foliage & that’s why it’s aptly called as “The Ghost” in forests! So sad, as such a beautiful animal just as it is way more cautious than the tiger & cares for his survival for the fear from getting killed by the tiger is called as ghost whereas the tiger gets the tag of king! Presence of the tiger reason why leopards are rarely seen where tigers roam as tigers just hates leopard. There may be two reasons, one as it’s indirectly might come in hunting of the tiger & second is leopard does kill tiger cubs. As there has been many cases reported of tiger killing a leopard as well ferociously chasing leopard or shoo it away from the scene by the tiger. In my so many forest exposures I have thousands of tigers images but not even ten that of leopard. Though there has been good & clear sighting of leopards by many even in project tigers but it’s mostly by chance or luck. Unlike tiger a leopard never follows a fixed track or route for e.g. in our recent trip we saw Noor, a tigress coming out of water hole & heading in a direction, the guide & the driver then followed her for nearly five kilometers & yet we could cross her path down the track, tigers are such predictable where as you can’t track leopard even for few hundred meters as it can go in any way!

With all such track record & yet my eagerness to see a leopard in clear or say more clear, I thought visiting Jhalana which is exclusively a leopards habitat would fulfill my wish to see a leopard more relaxed way. But then two surprises awaits me, Jhalana is right in the big city like Jaipur, more precisely in the industrial estate which I wasn’t aware of & second even its exclusive leopard habitat, that doesn’t makes the leopard careless & move openly is what I forgot! First entry to Jhalana was right through very urban area & this was earlier private forest of Maharaja Mansinh of Jaipur. The terrain very much like cut pasted from the Ranthambore yet it’s like a small island amongst the urbanization. And I must congratulate the forest dept of Rajasthan as well urban development & tourism dept for being able to conserve such wilderness right within the city! Till you doesn’t enter in to Jhalana Sanctuary you won’t believe that you are actually entering in a forest where right from alarm calls the sighting of a leopard is going to be as thrilling as in any project tiger & that’s where the success of the entire system lies! To make able the leopard survive & not to enter in surrounding urban areas two things were most important, one is hiding places along with green cover essential for the leopards life style & ample prey base i.e. food. Both things are perfectly made available; the tree clad hills with enough caves are the leopards home where as pea cocks, languor, blue-bull (Neel guy) as well chital are there to take care of leopards feeding! No wonder Jhalana give you perfect leopard sighting experience & it’s here where you learn to chase leopard from peacock call which otherwise is much easier by chital or sambhar calls.

Yet looking at the surrounding when I entered through Jhalana gate I was bit skeptical about the thrill which make your adrenalin rush when you keep looking through the gray yellow landscape & ears alert for any call making you know existence of a predator around, you can see it yet you can feel its presence around! And here also Jhalana surprised me as next two days we were moving repeatedly on the dust clad tracks as it’s a small area hardly some thirty odd square kilometers but yet it could make us forget the urbanization around. Right from waiting at water hole to listening alarm calls of peacock & blue bulls running for their life we witnessed every excitement & yes growling of a leopard too! And trust me even in full day light & safe in the gypsy also can’t stop the chill in the spine when you hear an angry leopard growling around! I remembered the fear in the minds villagers of Kumaun which Jim Corbett has mentioned in “Ruddraprayag’s Leopard” & I believed it totally now, as if in full day light this growl can frighten me imagine what impact it would have been on the villagers, to hear such growling sound in a clay hut with a door made of some planks & pitch black darkness around! Though I realized that even in Jhalana leopard sighting isn’t that easy as a leopard will behave as a leopard only, so once when we were waiting at water hole, a female leopard silently glided through bush thickset around & just her head appeared above the edge of the water hole, The moment a private car (yes they are still allowed here & has been banned from 1st May 17 thankfully) started its engine to take a close look, the leopard’s head disappeared in an instant & gone! Though conservation efforts are being taken by forest dept yet right in between the forest there is a temple of Kali Mata. Here natives are allowed & worst part is they bring food for the languor as well chital & blue bulls; I saw a devotee couple feeding Bhajiya to these animals & even throwing food stuff in plastic carry bags, this has to be stopped! And do mind Jhalana is not all about leopards there is lots of other wild life & excitement is high all the time, here is something we came across in for of peacock fight, one of the most amazing sights I have ever witnessed in forest & sharing in words which I posted on FB with snaps… ”We were not looking at them rather we were neglecting them such was the routine sight that of peacock in Jhalana leopard sanctuary, our eyes were searching for yellow black spots & all the use of peacock is for alarm call as at Jhalalana there are less numbers of chitals & neelguys though in abundance but of no use for alarm call, so all it depends on peacock! So when we saw two male peacocks circling each other then we saw it’s just another normal sight but soon we realize its fight over female & then next fifteen minutes we forget about leopard such was vicious fights & those feathers were tangled in each other & sharp claws aimed at other bird to kill! The moments were so fast that focusing was impossible yet sometimes wild life photography is not just about detailing but about capturing the right moment too! Here is one such.”

And we have been blessed with sight of hares also & were lucky enough to click one clear, again a thing which I wasn’t able to do in many years & hare are very shy specie & rarely poses for a snap!

Every urban planner especially from Pune should visit Jhalana just as how to conserve wilderness within rampant urbanization & use tourism to support conservation. Once these leopards were nuisance to the community & man animal conflict was at peak, the only possible outcome was wiping out the leopards of Jhalana. But some wise planning & actions has helped man & animal both survive & live at own peace. In Pune also as I mentioned above there are many areas where we can conserve leopards along with tourism. As the Corbett has said leopard is undoubtedly the most beautiful animal & with a gift of survival in extreme conditions as that’s why it’s still seen in most part of India. But this time it has greatest enemy to face, in-front of which it is helpless. And the enemy is none other than you & me, directly or indirectly each of us is a reason for destroying habitat of leopards around. Unless every one of us understands our crime & accepts to take punishment for the same by way of contributing for conservation of leopards, the most beautiful animal is surely walking slowly towards defeat in its last fight for survival!

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

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