Many years ago in Delhi, going on long drives used to be a thing of immense pleasure and relaxation. Now, just the thought of driving on the labyrinth of potholed roads is a nightmare. There was a time when going for a drive to that famous spot near the Delhi airport that we fondly called the ‘Jumbo Point’ to watch airliners take off and land over our heads was romantic. It brought an indescribable adrenaline rush. Now, the only rush we get is that of traffic at every single hour of the day.
It’s a sad commentary for a place that was known for its wide roads and open spaces just about 20 years ago. I remember travelling from the Palam airport to Lutyens’ Delhi in a car, during the mid-Eighties, after spending two weeks in the concrete jungle of Mumbai, and the first thing that struck me while going past Rashtrapati Bhavan was the contrast between Delhi’s wide open roads and lush greenery and the decrepit slums of Mumbai.
Now, I get stuck in traffic just trying to get out of my home. When has our paradise gone? And why?
A report by IBM’s Global Commuter Pain study in 2013 said New Delhi was among the top 10 cities in the world with the worst traffic jams.
The national capital has had to deal with a massive slowdown of daily traffic, due to a tremendous explosion of vehicles. While the number of motor vehicles increased by 28 times between 1971 and 2011, the road length grew by merely four times. It means traffic slows down at many places to an appalling 5kmph, and experts who have used forecast techniques to understand the extent of traffic distress in the future say that in seven years, every single inch of road space available would be occupied by a vehicle and traffic jams could last for days.
We are headed for trouble. The gridlock is for real. The problem is compounded when besides the surfeit of vehicles fighting for space, one also has to account for the disdain and impunity with which people break traffic rules. Delhi, a city fast becoming the pollution capital of the world, adds 1,400 cars to its roads every day. Over the last decade, the number of vehicles has jumped by a phenomenal 97 per cent. Add to it the vehicles registered in the satellite towns like Noida, Faridabad, Gurgaon and Ghaziabad, which collectively make the NCR, and you get a mind-boggling figure of vehicles traversing the city daily.
So, what has led to this phenomenal increase in vehicles in Delhi? Besides the obvious upward mobility due to an economic upswing from the late Nineties till 2008, the reason for more people owning cars was the easy finance and credit facilities available.
Earlier, one needed money upfront to buy a car, but all that changed with the deluge of leasing companies and banks providing easy finance facilities. All you need is 10 per cent of the value and you could drive a brand new car home, the repayment for which could be made over three, five or seven years in easy EMIs. While earlier even one car was a luxury for a middle-class household, now each member of the family could comfortably have one’s own car. The buy-now-pay-later policy caused this uncontrolled explosion of vehicles.
Continual snarls are caused by the lack of traffic etiquette of Dilliwalas. They jump traffic lights with impunity and park their cars unmindful of the ripple effect that can lead to jams.
Increasing population due to unchecked migration of people from other parts of India for job prospects, poor infrastructure, lack of a reliable public transport system that can cater to the classes and the masses, continuous construction work on the roads, religious processions at odd hours, a mix of fast and slow-moving traffic, vehicular breakdowns and most importantly the lack of self-discipline—welcome to our ‘Hellhole’.
Till such time that we do not avoid taking our cars to travel even short distances or resist the temptation to buy newer models of fancy cars, things will only get worse. And if this explosion continues unabated, the day is not far when we will find ourselves in a jam even while reversing our cars from our driveways and perhaps a ‘pedestrian traffic jam’ at popular marketplaces. Can someone bring back our lost paradise?
Dalmia is chairperson of Grievance Cell,All India Congress Committee