THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The latest national family health survey (NFHS-5) has found that Kerala tops the country among larger states in the proportion of households owning a car. Nearly one in four families (24.2% households) in the state have a car while the national average is only 7.5%. The neighbouring states — Tamil Nadu 6.5%, Karnataka 9.1% and Andhra Pradesh (2.8%) — are nowhere near Kerala, the data shows.
The data on registrations with the motor vehicles department shows that car sales is returning to pre-Covid levels. The Covid outbreak and the subsequent lockdown resulted in a 23% decrease (1,55,662 cars) in sales in 2020, compared to the previous year. In 2021, car registrations picked up with people owning 2,09,103 new cars. This year, 73,113 cars have been registered in the first five months.
Experts point out the likelihood of government employees’ pay revision in 2021 having resulted in more car purchases. B A Prakash, an economist and former chairman of the State Expenditure Committee and the Fifth State Finance Commission, says the transport sector has been witnessing changes over the past two decades.
“The modernisation in transport has happened since the economic reforms of 1991. We have moved more towards personalised modes of transport from public transport. This kind of vehicle density is seen only in developed countries. It is a kind of a face of our development,” Prakash points out.Around two lakh vehicles are registered every year and the total number of vehicles registered in the state comes to nearly 1.5 crore. The high vehicle density comes with its own perils in the form of increased pollution, crowding, and shortage of parking space. The situation calls for policy makers to bring in suitable adjustments to make growth more sustainable.
“There should be a policy change to discourage private vehicles and encourage public transport. The vehicle policy should have provisions to increase parking fee, not allowing cars without three passengers to enter the city etc,” says Samson Mathew, director, National Transportation Planning and Research Centre.
The vehicle registrations data also shows that the poor continue to choose two-wheelers in comparison to cars. Of the new registrations in 2019-20, 65% were motorcycles and only 22% cars. The state has around 95 lakh motorcycles registered. There are experts who think that the growth in car purchase will remain muted for some time.
“Most people still cannot afford a car for personal use. The Covid pandemic came as a double whammy for Kerala. The lack of demand and employment resulted in a natural recession. The draining of Gulf money became acute with 14 lakh people returned during the pandemic. Various studies show that it will take more than five years to recover from the economic impact of Covid,” said Dr Prakash.