Since the Corona crisis is grave, the government’s decision to stop train services throughout the country till March 31 cannot be faulted. But this has grave implications for the poor. They are going to be stranded and worse, many will lose their livelihood as they cannot reach their work places.

Train services had been hit in 1974 during a prolonged railway strike. But that was an entirely different situation.

The impact of the new decision will be felt most severely in Mumbai as the it accounts for a very high percentage of commuters in relation to the entire country.

On the other hands the affluent are going to have fun. Not only there are no restrictions on the use of cars, motorists are going to have a free run on roads as there will be fewer people on roads in the coming days. Many poor people have fled from urban centres in overcrowrded trains as they cannot live here any longer as their jobs are suspended. There were disturbing scenes of people being crammed into trains which poses even more health hazard to them. The poor are left to suffer, either way, whether they are in urban centres or fleeing to their rural homes.

The poor gone, bus services reduced drastically in urban centre, that is a scenario the motor lobby has always dreamt of. Free roads . Motorists love that so they can drive with abandon and then plunging car sales can go up. The car manufacturers now in crisis will look forward to this. The situation is totally against the spirit of the national urban transport policy and comprehensive mobility plans of various cities which seek a greater role for public transport and reducing the number of cars on roads.

Despite the curfew today, I just heard a motor cyclist making a deafening noise this afternoon and driving at breakneck speed. Such monsters could have never been able to do this during the day though they do this all the time at night disrupting peace and with little check from the police and with a very supine civilian population. Now these anti social elements will have more access to roads.

I can see several motorists on the road in Guwahati today, despite the curfew. The morons are wearing masks, reported journalist Teresa Rahman on facebook today.

We need to learn several lessons from the Corona calamity and take steps to improve our environment in the coming stressful days. Taking a lesson from today’s curfew we could start introducing a car-free day every month or so. A car-free day is observed in several parts of Europe on September 22. So that makes it exactly six months from now. We could start well before that and have such curbs more often. A movement can be started on this and it will be difficult for any sensible government to say No.

The benefits of reduced car travel today had immediate benefits. The air was cleaner, the birds chirped merrily not only early in the morning but much later. This had never happened in the last few decades. So there are multiple benefits of curbs on cars, less pollution, less congestion, saving of fuel and foreign exchange, better health and so on.

Mr Ram Naik, former railway minister, welcomed the government move on the railways today saying we were facing a health emergency. That is true. But the Indian masses have been facing a mobility emergency for decades because of utter and deliberate neglect of public transport. It is compounded, multiplied by policies supporting the interests of the car lobby

That is because we have been following the worst model represented by U.S. in terms of transport. The utter neglect of public transport in the U.S. is so bad that the New York governor declared a state of transport emergency in 2017 because the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) running the metro rail service was in such a bad shape. Instead of giving it more funds, the authorities had siphoned off funds from it.

We are witnessing a situation similar to the Catrina disaster in the U.S. in 2005 when there was clear discrimination against the poor. The British Medical Journal reported that in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, Americans have been shocked and shamed to realise that they still don’t have enough lifeboats for all of our citizens. Live images of uncollected corpses and families clinging to rooftops made vivid what decades of statistics could not: that being poor in America, and especially being poor and black in a poor southern state, is still hazardous to your health. There is also the example of the sinking of the Titanic in which upper class passengers enjoyed priority in saving of lives, the poor were left behind to sink.

There is need today for urban planners and all other thinking people to come together to demand a complete reorientation of several policies regarding urbanization. Urbanisation today is driven entirely by capitalist interests. The system wants more and more people to come to urban centres where it is much easier to exploit them and increase corporate profits. Mr R.A. Rajeev, commissioner of Mumbai Metropolitan regional development authority, for example, made it clear recently at a seminar in Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai that the government is planning more urbanization, more influx of people.

We need to demand that more job opportunities be created in rural areas. But the rulers do not want to do that as they want to grab most of the rural hinterland by forcing people into urban areas.

In urban centres workers are being farther and farther flung away from the city centre where most jobs are located. That is because of the property market which wants to displace the poor from prime areas and capture that land. The rich are creating jobs for themselves near their places of residence while driving the poor far away. This phenomenon has to be challenged.

There is also a desperate need for redistribution of urban water. Since the importance of washing hands is now so crucial, the rich must give up their vulgar consumption of water with their bath tubs and private swimming pools.

If they want health security for themselves, they must be ready to make such sacrifices. There must also be an equitable distribution of urban land, the vulgar rich must stop having more and more of their second homes and gated colonies.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking democratic urban governance


SIGN UP FOR COUNTERCURRENTS DAILY NEWS LETTER


 

Comments are closed.