Car Culture

Traffic mumbai

A.R. Kardar was one of the biggest personalities of the Hindi film world. He was also very versatile as a writer, actor, producer, director and studio owner. His Kardar studio in Parel in Mumbai is now reduced to a big motor car repair garage, a fact the glamorous film world is not aware of. His daughter Yasmeen reminisces that the studio was the first to have air conditioned rooms for make-up.

I saw the site last week during a visit to working class areas. And apart from the loss of a heritage structure, what the development shows that the glamourous motor car culture is dumping all its dirt into working class areas in Mumbai.

I noticed that several roads, footpaths including those around the government veterinary hospital in Parel and in gentrified textile mill areas grabbed by luxury towers have been reduced to sites for washing of cars and motor cycles. Owners proudly stand around watching how their vehicles are wearing a fresh look.
Water is stored in huge black containers kept on the footpath and water is sprayed on the vehicles. So the car culture thrives at the expense of common people, ruining their lives in many ways, including polluting their environment and causing congestion.

The ugly culture created by the motor car remains invisible to rich owners. The collateral damage is paid by ordinary people. Their areas are converted into roadside garages which have sprouted all over Mumbai. One whole road in Juhu is a big garage, it can be seen on the right if one comes from Juhu Tara road towards Linking road.

While denying public transport its due, the government promotes car manufacture and sales and the authorities spend crores of rupees on providing infrastructure for car parking. But there is no planning whatsoever for garages. Lakhs of cars have been added to the city in the last few years and many more will be added. A cement concrete jungle of high rise luxury towers is sprouting everywhere. All those people living there are going to buy more and more cars and this will add to the mess. The Metro railway will not solve such problems one bit. Has the government ever thought where all these cars will be repaired ? There is a constant clamour for more car parking space by vested interests but they are not even aware of the damage the cars cause to others.

The budget proposals presented yesterday provide for a policy to scrap motor vehicles which are more than 15 years. This again is meant to serve the interests of the car lobby even while the Western world increasingly turns away from motor cars.

It is meant to boost the sagging motor car manufacturing. But this policy again betrays a total lack of understanding of the car culture and urban space. Where will all those scrapped cars be dumped ?. Already abandoned, dirty cars are adding to congestion, they make our streets look very unattractive, the authorities are at their wits’ end about this problem and they are adding to these without any planning, any thought.

Act first and think later seems to be the policy. It is evident from the way the Metro rail culture is being promoted without any planning for funds, required space.

• The new policy will allow owners to scrap their 20-year old vehicles and avail incentives on the purchase of new personal vehicles.
• For commercial vehicles, the scrappage policy will be applicable for 15-year old commercial vehicles without a fitness certificate.
• While it hasn’t yet been specified, but private and commercial vehicles over 20 and 15 years old, respectively, will be required to undergo a fitness test at government’s automated vehicle fitness centers.

Unfortunately, highways minister Nitin Gadkari hasn’t yet shared the details of the incentives, though he did say that the entire policy will serve to take old, polluting vehicles off the road and also improve sales of new vehicles that are much less polluting and come equipped with improved safety features. The Ministry noted the scrappage policy will lead to the scrapping of 51 lakh Lightweight Motor vehicles (LMV) older than 20 years and 17 lakh medium and heavy commercial vehicles older than 15 years. As a result, air pollution emission is expected to be reduced by 25 per cent.

The new vehicles may be less polluting than the old ones but they will still cause some air pollution and add to road congestion.

It is absurd and deeply anti democratic to invest thousands of crores on Metros rail in small cities when a few crores on bus transport will help ease urban mobility, without causing any dislocation that the Metro monstrously causes.

It is clear that government decisions are dictated not by public interest but by vested interests in Metro manufacturing and tunnel digging machinery lobby.

The allocation for bus transport is pitifully inadequate considering the big need for more buses. A proper infrastructure for buses and pedestrians needs highest priority. But the government is giving them the lowest priority.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking a more democratic urban transport environment



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