If Mrs Indira Gandhi had listened to Mr P.N. Haksar, her reputed principal secretary, India probably would not have landed in the mess in the automobile and public transport sector.
Mr Haksar, a staunch socialist, strongly opposed her son Sanjay Gandhi’s arrogant and ill-conceived Maruti car project and this paved the way for his exit as principal secretary in 1973 after six remarkable years of service in that role.
Mr Haksar, a former Communist, he was secretary of the CPI in Nagpur, in his early days, wanted priority to be given to public transport.
India is paying a heavy price for this neglect of public transport and promotion of cars over the years. Gurgaon or now Gurugram, the site of the Maruti car project and other automobile units, itself now suffers from a horrible traffic mess. It shows that it is not enough to have cars, you need a good public transport sysem.
The wisdom has only recently dawned on the rulers and it is now proposed to start a city bus service. Gurgaon is home to 200 out of some 500 Fortune 500 companies but it is so ill-planned it does not have proper drainage, water and electricity facilities. The rapidly growing city with lavish enclaves for the rich and miserable facilities for the poor, is a classic case of poor governance at the highest level since it is a suburb of Delhi .
Yet, Haryana’s chief minister Manoharlal Khattar, claims that Gurgaon will soon by a supersmart city, though city which currently does not have even a rudimentary city bus service. It recently set up a transport corporation for the city. Oddly, all decisions about local transport were all these years be taken in Chandigarh.But the new body is dominated by IAS bureaucrats, some nine of them. In Mumbai, the BEST committee is full of politicians and without any transport expert despite a legal provision for such inclusion.
So poor governance emanates from the highest levels in Delhi and has percolated down to the states. This explains the crisis in the pioneer and prime public transport undertakings in the country, both centred in Mumbai, the BEST Undertaking and the Maharshtra state road transport corporation.Both are suffering from numerous problems including heavy taxation by the government despite their crucial role as social service utilities. The S.T. in Maharashtra witnessed a wo-day strike by its poorly paid employees, the second in the past few months.
Every other state transport undertaking now seems to be doing better than S.T. in Maharashtra. The Uttar Pradesh undertaking even reported a profit of Rs 122 cr during 1917-18 after being on the verge of closure some years ago. A modern bus stand was inaugurated at Alambagh in Lucknow built at a cost of Rs 235 crore. Similar facilities are coming in in several state capitals and towns but Mumbai has not had a decent new bus stand in the last half century.
Chennai has its CMBT Chennai mofussil bus terminus spread over 37 acres built in 2002 with 160 platforms for bus operations which puts to shame Maharashtra. Another new bus terminus on 8 acres is now ready at Madhavaram in the metropolis.
The Central government is now busy finalizing an automobile policy to promote private automobiles and seems to have forgotten the national urban transport policy of 2006 which sought a greater role for public transport.
Mumbai’s municipal commissioner recently reiterated his contempt for public transport and condemned the BEST undertaking as inefficient undeserving of any subsidy. It is true that the BEST needs some improvements but day in and day out the inefficiency of various municipal and government departments is unfolded. By that yardstick every department will have to be closed down.
So bankrupt is the state transport department that its regional transport office in Borivali wants to encroach on four acres of land in the Borivali national park, a green lung of Mumbai, while the Andheri RTO wants to destroy mangroves on the sea coast which are very crucial for environment and prevention of coastal erosion. All this to acquire land for a test track for motor vehicles to test their fitness . If only the government had shown some imagination in the past it could have acquired so much land and kept it in reserve for the growing needs of the city’s infrastructure. The government has also shown its extreme bankruptcy in taking over public parks and forest land in Aarey for Metro rail projects.
And for whom is the Metro coming up really ? It is mainly to serve the upper class in the long run. Another idea is to drive away the poor from the city and the current attack on the BEST and doing away with several routes and causing great inconvenience to the people is seen to be part of this strategy. This is not some conspiracy theory. People have simply lost faith in the government machinery and see it as working in alliance with the vulgar rich and against the interests of the common people. So, Metro stations are now to be connected by a skywalk to malls to promote the business of malls. The government machinery works overtime to serve these interests.
Another instance of administrative bankruptcy is construction of multi storey car parks at great expense which are lying unused in different cities which means an enormous waste of public money and space. In Bangalore these high rise parks are being called ghost storeys. In effect, the government has created a nightmarish scenario in terms of urban transport.
Mr Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book stressing the importance of public transport