Crossing the road on foot to reach the venue of the international conference on public transport in Delhi was a near death experience last week. Every one knows this is the deadliest spot in Delhi, but the situation is getting worse over the years, I have personally experienced this having attended conferences here in the past as well. Nothing is being done about it as most delegates are highly privileged bureaucrats, equipment manufacturers and others who come in the cars.
The irony is that the annual conference is organised by the central government’s urban affairs ministry in the sprawling, posh Manekshaw Centre in the guarded cantonment area so one would expect discipline and concern for the common people here.That is precisely what is lacking.
The irony is that reaching even by car is not easy, the venue is the most strange location. One can only, repeat, only reach there through an underground circuitous road which involves at least three km of excess, roundabout travel. So much for all that talk of saving fuel and curbing pollution and in a conference inaugurated by the petroleum and urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri. So much for fuel saving with all the modern technology they boast about.One cannot be more removed further from reality than him, he is an ex foreign service officer, has held ambassadorial posts and has no experience of public transport in India. His entire bearing is different.
Now reaching the venue on foot from across the road is far more dangerous than in the past, formerly, one had to contend with only one wide highway lane now there are three, yes three and with horrendous, continuous rashly driven cars and no traffic signal or pedestrian passage.
Over the years those in power in Delhi and in many states are showing in reality more and more contempt towards public transport even while delivering platitudes in conferences.
The crisis is becoming worse, thanks to utterly misplaced policies. A very good report by Somit Sen in today’s Times of India in Mumbai makes it clear that the BEST bus undertaking has the fewest number of buses now than ever before in the past 15 years. A growing city needs a galloping increase in buses, not a drastic fall. How can this happen without extreme neglect from higher ups.
And this at a time when more buses were needed on the roads to provide relief to commuters on the Western railway suburban network where services are drastically reduced due to track expansion work. So a double blow to ordinary people even while the authorities continue to pamper the automobile lobby.
And imagine what the central urban affairs minister was doing in the North East today ? Opening a multi level car park in the tiny capital of Kohim, just 20 sq km in area and with a population of just 100,000 people. This is in absolute contempt of the urban transport policy of the government.It shows how utterly grotesque and wrong are the priorities of the ruling class. So we face more and more congestion in the coming years even if the atrociously expensive Metro rail system draws crowds. The problem is people in the know simply refuse to speak the truth, they are crawling when asked the bend.
Urban affairs minister seems to be obsessed with Metro rail projects, the dangerous part is he is in such denial, shows such disregard for bus transport which is far more important for urban transport than Metro can ever be. It is so elementary. So, at the inaugural function he made a farcial comparison, Kolkata Metro, he said grew from four km in 1972 to just 45 km as of present while the government at the Centre since 2014 has made such rapid progress. He completely overlooks his government’s completely anti bus, anti people transport policies.
While speaking at the valedictory session, Secretary MoHUA, Manoj Joshi underlined the importance of smart cards as a convenient and efficient means of payment for commuters.He said that the government is working on adoption of National Common Mobility Card (NCMC) which has potential to enhance the interoperability of various modes of urban transport.Fine, but first we need more buses, more trains. Tickets can come later.
Highlighting the importance of effective fare collection system, he said that the good fare collection is paramount for a viable transport system. He also talked about harnessing the potential of real estate around roads for better financial viability of these projects.
The financing and viability of urban transport projects were explored in depth. He stressed the need for innovative funding mechanisms and public-private partnerships to meet the growing demands of urban transportation infrastructure.
It was all a grand exercise in avoidance of reality, real problems.
Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport