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This beats even Hema Malini’s absurd observation in the wake of the fire in the Kamala mill compound in Mumbai last December in which 14 people mainly from affluent families were killed. She blamed it on the influx of people from outside for the city’s problems.

That was bad enough for a BJP MP and popular film actor. But at least she does not hold as important a position as Diwakar Raote , Maharashtra’s transport minister. He is a senior Shiv Sena politician, a former Mayor of Mumbai and Sena leaders habitually blame outsiders for all problems.

The wonder is that Mr Raote has now chosen to blame the influx for the city’s road congestion and rail overcrowding and all sorts of transport problems. This is a classic case of victim blaming . It happens in the West too but it is more cruel in India where the poor are victims of the system on a very large scale.

Mr Raote made the statement yesterday at the conclusion of a two-day discussion on transport issues organized by the Marathi daily Loksatta.

It is obvious even to a casual observer that road congestion is mainly caused by private cars in Indian cities and indeed everywhere. And train overcrowding is because of inadequate train services. But truth is the first casualty these days.

No wonder with such a mindset no real solutions are emerging and the traffic mess is worsening.

Perhaps it is appropriate that the most rational thought on the issue during the discussion came from an expert from outside the state government framework.

Buses should have a right of way on roads, they should have priority over private vehicles, argued Mr Vivek Sahai, a former chairman of the railway board of India, in Mumbai on March 5.

Why are buses not given the right, he asked with considerable concern. A very good question, he posed. It is significant that a railwayman should have raised it while those tasked in the government with improving the road sector appear to be least concerned about ordinary people’s mobility.

Unfortunately, far from providing a right of way to buses, the civic administration and government are creating problems for the BEST Undertaking in Mumbai driving it into a crisis. The future of BEST is now under such a serious threat that a number of concerned citizens took out a morcha from Dadar to Wadala on March 5 to focus on the issue. It is for the first time that citizens have come out on the streets in this show of solidarity in a completely peaceful way. They were joined by trade unions and other sections.

While government officials were talking in glowing terms about urban transport projects in Maharashtra, something happened in the Prime Minister’s home state Gujarat which showed how poor the governance actually is when it comes to passenger transport.

Thirty people were killed and 45 were injured when a truck carrying people for a wedding fell from a bridge near Bhavnagar. One can imagine the overloading , carrying of a minimum of 75 people, and different kinds of violations. Humans being transported by a truck and it was so overloaded. Surely, this is not something which happened beyond the view of the police and transport authorities ?

People travelling by trucks is now so common that it is all taken for granted. A total neglect of public transport, state transport undertakings nationwide is utterly inexcusable.

The authorities are so busy in providing top amenities to the rich that they have little time for the common man. So we have this astounding story of the Mumbai and Delhi international airports being awarded the first place in the world among all airports for the best service to consumers.

Yes, inside it is all right in the Mumbai airport. But in a way the award to Mumbai is almost laughable considering that there is virtually no public transport link to the island city. All decent airports the world over have a good link, either by a train or bus, apart from other means of transport. And even the skeletal bus link outside the Mumbai airport is in a shameful state. Delhi airport has some public transport connectivity, though even the Metro rail link is quite some distance away , not easy to access.

The authorities are obsessed with expensive, mega projects , not low cost solutions to provide relief to the common people. So at the seminar we had the Mumbai Metro chief Ashwini Bhide making a presentation on her project, Mr Sanjay Mukherjee, additional municipal commissioner, waxed eloquent on the coastal road and union transport minister Nitin Gadkari, announced a highway that would reduce travel time between Delhi and Mumbai by road to 10 hours. His proposals about water transport are more acceptable and environment-friendly but one doubts if they will receive the same priority.

Mr Mukherjee in his great enthusiasm for free market policies cited the example of Houston in the U.S. for being free from the constraints of regulations. Market decides issues there, he said. O.k. but then at what cost ?. One wonders if there is another city in the U.S. which has failed so utterly and whose working has come in for such criticism from experts if you see its flooding due to lack of proper planning. The failures are so visible.

Our politicians and bureaucrats who treat bus public transport with such contempt, need to realize that the world is changing with greater support for public buses. An article in the Los Angeles Times last week argued that the bus, the humble mule of urban transport, should be given priority to get out of the mess created by the automobile. The bus is also very flexible, it can reach different areas, unlike the Metro. Will our rules listen ?

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book supporting the cause of public transport, walking and cycling

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Election time is nearing and Shiv sena wants an issue to rake up controversy and put bjp in a fix. The ‘ expansionist ‘ policies of bjp are ‘ engulfing ‘ sena bastions in Maharashtra. By citing ‘ outside ‘ people, it wants to gain popularity through the route of ‘ regional pride ‘ ….!