Delhi’s roads were converted into lakes on a rainy day last week. Same day, there was a passing reference to flooding on Hyderabad roads, and the small matter of seven resultant road deaths. It is a safe bet that in at least 100 cities and towns in India, on the same day, there was chaos on the roads, not just in huge public inconvenience, but also roadside disasters. No urban agency or corporation or municipal board or state government will own any responsibility— apparently the rain-gods are to blame.
Urban traffic chaos, air pollution, and resulting economic loss, not to speak of massive public health implications, all have origins in long-term failure to plan and coordinate. There is equally a failure at departmental level in even implementing the existing regulations—one can see apathy, callousness, indifference, coupled with departmental thuggery, linkage with political corruption and bureaucratic wooden-headedness.
Anyone driving in Noida will go through massive road hazards. Cross-over into Delhi, through any of the five or six entry points, and one can immediately see lack of imagination, and worse. Thus, hitting Mayur Vihar, one is certain to spend at least half an hour in a traffic jam, any time, traversing a truncated road blocked resulting from a turf-dispute between two sovereign powers: Delhi Metro and PWD. Any road or Metro work was done there at least three years ago; since then not a single worker could be seen at any time. (CM Arvind Kejriwal, who considers himself the exclusive national super power, does not see this as his concern, solely occupied as he is with dismissing his ministers, abusing the Prime Minister and issuing advertisements extolling his ‘achievements’.)
Go to nearby Patparganj, one can see at least four Metro lines, where no work has been seen for at least two years, and not a single worker on site. Go a little further, one is sure to hit an hour’s jam on the Ring Road-South Ext. stretch, a heart-line of Delhi—where the underground Metro has seen no worker for at least three years. Go to Delhi via DND, one can see a 50-m (yes, 50m, not 500m) stretch to the Barapullah flyover lying incomplete for four years, necessitating a 25-minute detour. One can multiply such instances at 300 points in Delhi.
The original Delhi Metro took five years to build—the current average is to build, in each segment, half-a-mile every year. In 30 cities of India, Metro is ‘under-construction’, with heart-breaking harassment to the road traveller. Chennai’s Anna Nagar-Nelson Manickam crossing has been witnessing a flyover connection, under construction for seven years now—it already looks like a 200-year old ruined Turkish castle. Go to any busy road-junction in India, in any city/town, it is a safe bet that an imaginative local administrator can improve travel conditions through the junction and ameliorate the situation by at least 50 per cent, with minimum application of thought—or our traffic agencies or a bunch of morons—or is it sheer apathy and neglect, coupled with massive corruption?
Has anyone bothered to compute the national economic loss arising out of needless harassment to the travelling public—unavoidable profligate wastage of fuel, with its economic cost and environmental contribution—these will not include the mental tension, anxiety, missed appointments, to compute the shadow costs of such callousness? Is there any national agency or statistical mechanism which will categorise improvements that can be made, compute the contribution of each traffic bottleneck to national loss? It is a safe bet that the cumulative effect of these would exceed 1 per cent of GDP—surely this is a massive under-estimate. Is any policymaker at the Centre or in the state even aware of the need for examination of such trivia?
The above does not address larger policy issues of vehicle taxation, petroleum price, coordination between ministries to comprehend the issues, formulate approaches and implement plans. While everyone talks of the need for public transport, has any coordinated study linking the need in each town or city and specifying the solutions been attempted—who in Delhi or any state capital is interested?
Surely, the ruling philosophy is that every crisis will get resolved through prayers. You see, we are a secular country.