Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A silly joke on Delhi’s traffic system

Every commuter who travels in bus would be agreeing with me regarding the title, which has been chosen. Actually, the entire story started in the late 1990s when the Honourable Supreme Court of India ordered the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), which comes under the auspices of the Delhi State Government, to convert its fleet of buses  into compressed natural gas enabled ones. The DTC, which used to lease in buses from the private bus owners, may be, owing to lack of financial resources (despite the existence of land mafia and private infrastructure developers), pressurized them to convert the buses into CNG-enabled ones, without offering any form of incentive/ subsidy or help for transfer of technology. (However, by saying this, one is definitely not supportive of the term 'crony-capitalism'). Due to this misappropriate action, private bus owners stopped leasing out its fleet of buses to DTC, and started employing their buses outside Delhi, thus leading to an ironical and embarrassing situation that can be termed as ‘clean Delhi but pollute the rest’. Some organizations, NGOs and individuals who were concerned about environment during those days argued that converting into CNG-enabled engines is just the beginning and not the end since a lot can be achieved by mending the Master Plan of Delhi-2021.

The shortage of DTC buses led to the entry of blue line buses, which were termed as ‘monsters’ by the media in the recent past because of the number of people ruthlessly being killed by them, leave aside the innocent pedestrians. However, some have claimed that there should be strict laws for the pedestrians too, in case they violate traffic rules. But the story doesn’t end here. The rise of the urban middle-class, due to its access to easy credit, brought about another gory change in the entire Delhi traffic scenario. The vehicle named car, which comes in various sizes under multiple brand names, including the flashy ones, started pouring into the roads of Delhi, resulting in a large number of problems, which could have been avoided. Firstly, cars cause pollution, particularly the ones which are not fuel-efficient and do not follow any Euro norm. One must know that the presence of green house gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere lead to creation of ozone hole and melting of glaciers, which are symptoms of climate change. In countries from Latin America, and in the US, a huge share of cereals and oilseeds are increasingly being diverted to produce bio-fuels (an alternative to petroleum), for reducing their import dependence on petroleum particularly from the Gulf-region, for strategic reasons—both economic and ‘geo-political’. Some earlier thinkers had the idea that biofuel production would be environmentally and economically sustainable, and hence it is justified. But since a huge share of cereals/ foodgrains (like soyabean, corn, wheat) and oilseeds (including sugarcane) go for biofuel production (for energy requirements), without satisfying the existing consumption needs of the human population, so a mismatch is created between demand and supply (--a kind of shortage) that leads to inflation in these commodities. Moreover, biofuel production as a part of large-scale industrial production (which includes mono-cropping) has adversely affected biodiversity, soil health and fertility, and productivity of agriculture. One must also know that petroleum and petro-products are fossil fuels (which are non-renewable sources of energy), and instead of utilizing them intensively, there is need for finding alternative source of energy such as wind energy, tidal energy etc. Secondly, India’s import bills have risen due to the influx of cars on roads because they run on fuels, and India is highly dependent on imports of petroleum and petro-products. It is sad to even watch our sarkari babus and their kiths-and-kins driving cars because they too have fallen into the same ditch like their middle-class brothers and sisters despite knowing the fact that owning disproportionate asset can lead to arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Thirdly, the sheer number of cars in Delhi is responsible for traffic congestions, which leads to wastage of time and what not. Fourthly, the car-owners must know for the sake of their own good that driving car requires training, licenses, kick-backs, road rage, anxiety, accidents and most importantly operation and maintenance (O&M) cost. Fifthly, the public money spent on building flyovers all over Delhi for reducing traffic congestions and enhancing traffic management (despite all of us knowing that Delhi is situated in a seismic zone), could have been utilized for welfare-related programmes. The way subcontracting of infrastructure-related projects take place by the Public Works Department (PWD) to the local contractors and builder mafia in the name of public-private partnership (PPP) is just like adding a new feather to the cap of Delhi's transport system.

The grim reality today is that Delhi needs the completion of the Metro asap. The roads need to be looked after by the engineers may be from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) so that maintenance of roads can take place transparently. In the name of road construction, bribes should not be taken by the authorities. Roads should be prepared by utilizing good quality material and sound technology. The traffic police department should pay more attention to un-working traffic signals, hit-and-run accident cases, and not green papers named ‘cash’. This is high time to call for an efficient and accessible public transport system. There is the utmost need for the Legislature, Judiciary, Executive, the Fourth Estate (the press), and the Fifth Estate (citizens) to recognize the power of some tools and legislations like the Right to Information Act (RTI Act), Public Interest Litigation (PIL), Lokayuktas (ombudsmen), Chief Vigilance Commission (CVC) et al if they want better public service delivery by the various accountable Delhi transport authorities. The article ends here with an example: In one bus, 40 passengers can travel. But if each of these 40 passengers own a private car of his/ her own, then think of the amount of congestion it will create on the roads, think of the amount of air pollution it will produce, and then think of the rising petroleum import bill, and soaring international crude prices (over US $ 100 per barrel). In fact, one must add here that if India's import dependence on petroleum and petro-products declines, then there is no need to worry about trade deficit. Hence, India would not need SEZs, EOUs and EPZs in that case to increase its export.

1 comment:

CoachKen said...

Interesting commentary on your countries development of a transit infrastructure, I was originally looking at your economic theory as I am ranting about the US governments possible 25 billion bailout to the auto industry. Mass transit is the answer and biofuel that is based on food for production is an idiotic solution. It is creating a negative economic affect on the food market. It is a misguided solution. Unfortunately our country has invested millions in this technology and it has developed a life of it owns on capital hill. Biomass fuel is the technology of the future. Vehicles need to be developed that efficiently burn some type of waste that society creates. Other energy forms as you have mentioned also deserve merit. Good blog!