Monday, April 2, 2012

Some Wishful Thoughts On Public Road Transport System of India !

India's has nearly 4.5 million kilometers of road of which nearly half is paved. With 0.66 km of road for every square kilometer of area on the average, the road density is comparable or a bit higher than that of USA and pretty more than China, Brazil, etc.

But when compared to the road density with respect to population, India's performance is pretty poor. It has just about 4 km of road for 1000 people and if the paved roads are only taken it reduces to still lower at 0.07 km of road per thousand people which is one of the lowest in the world. The developed nations on the other hand have a paved road density to the tune of 15-20 km per thousand people.

[For more insight you may read the wikipedia article on Indian Road Network ]

Some of the areas where India performed lower than other nations in the world are literacy, health, road transport. Had the country concentrated in building and maintaining roads right from the time it became a republic, it could have achieved much progress in per capita GDP than what is achieved now at about $ 3,500. In comparison, USA's per capita GDP stands higher than $47,000.

The statistics clearly indicates that India has a huge potential with regard to road transportation and per capita GDP.

From the view point of educated Indian citizens, both the road networks and the public road transport systems in India are both not some to be proud of.

Some states and regions have better public road transport systems as compared to the others. Both the central government and the state governments are equally responsible for the good and bad show in road networks and public road transport systems in this country.

Most regrettably, the state governments have done pretty little in the past years to develop interstate public road transport systems.

While many states have good internal bus services within the states the inter state administrative coordination is extremely poor in this context. Many cities located geographically closer and separated by a state border do not have good public road transport facilities connecting them.

For example consider the Nagpur which is in central India in the state of Maharashtra and the cities like Durg, Bhilai and Raipur which are in Chhattisgarh. All these cities lie on the Grand Trunk Road connecting Mumbai and Kolkatta which is now National Highway No.6. Most regrettably the state governments in the past decades did not encourage public transport systems to connect these cities causing the border area neglected in development and transforming in to a Naxallite infected region. The interstate bureaucratic and political rivalry or non cooperation is such that these states do not even allow railway systems also to connect these cross border cities ! The citizens conveniences are totally neglected here and it continues for the past many decades.

Me and many of my colleagues used to travel the 265 km stretch of National Highway connecting Durg and Nagpur by car due to the pathetically low availability of public transport even after having a good road and railway system in existence from the British Raj. We used to curse the hopeless political and bureaucratic administrators responsible for this poor state of affairs. Even after three decades, things have not improved much in this sector !

I remember an incident in this connection which happened nearly two decades ago. I was travelling from Delhi to Raipur by Indian Airlines, the public monopoly on air travel at that time. There were some foreigners too in the flight which included a high power Malaysian delegation on a quick visit to Bhilai Steel Plant to finalize a big steel purchase deal. Due to some reason the flight got terminated at Nagpur some time in the evening at around 6.00 p.m. The Indian Airlines was notorious for such things.

Remember at that time there was no train or bus for us to travel from Nagpur to Durg which is about 50 km ahead of Raipur airport. The earliest train service was in the morning next day.

Some how the airline management by about 9.0 PM arranged a private bus for us to travel to Raipur side. The big deal was to get the Road Permit for the bus to cross the border between Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh (present Chhattisgarh was part of Madhya Pradesh state at that time). Finally by high levels talks between the airline management and the state authorities they got the permit and the Raipur bound air passengers were packed in the bus which was now 'deemed' as a 'terra-plane' !

We were all tired and soon were sleeping in the most uncomfortable way on the seats of the bus that was so arranged for our night travel. Some time midnight, I woke up to see that the bus was not moving, but stopped somewhere. Soon my co-passenger, a business man from Raipur also got up. It took us a few minutes to realize that the driver and his assistant were not on the bus. So we two got down and walked a bit in the night towards a place where there was some light. We traced our driver there. It was a police check post on the border and the police officer there, apparently drunk, was questioning the poor driver menacingly about his illegal activity of trying to cross the border on his bus with no regular permit for travel. The poor chap was trying to explain the permit that he had with him issued by a high authority such as the Nagpur collector and the officer was in no mood to listen !

Slowly all the passengers including the foreigners alighted and came to the check post station. We took up the issue with the officer. Perhaps seeing all the 'high profile' air travellers there the fellow finally agreed to allow us to travel on the condition that the driver would report to him ( perhaps to settle his cut of bribe money !) while he returns.

I remember the Malaysian delegation asking us about the type of authority that we have in India. Their simple doubt was if a lower official is not going to give regard to the order of a higher authority like in this case, how can they ensure a smooth movement of their consignment of steel from Bhilai ? We did not have an answer.

Perhaps the Malaysians had decided not to purchase steel from India. I do not know.

There are umpteen examples of this kind one can see in India. The borders of the states are manned by such unpolished policemen and state tax men that it is not advisable for any one to travel in the Indian roads, especially involving interstate border crossings.

Because the authorities do not encourage interstate bus travel, the only kind of travel that exist between these sections are trucks and few private car travellers taking the risk of travel. The state borders due to this neglect by the concerned state governments are therefore areas of the underworld or antisocial bastions.

In this context, I remember a private bus operator talking to me regarding the hurdles they have to face in getting interstate bus travel operator permits. On the other hand many state governments have shirked their responsibilities of running public sector state road transport corporations by closing those down because of their inability in managing those corporations properly under public rules and regulations.

Interstate bus travel is pretty good in the northern states bordering the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi. Hence, in this part of the country, the border areas are quite developed. It is pretty easy for a common man to travel from Delhi to neighboring cities like Chandigarh, Jaipur, Agra, etc by good buses.

Those decision makers in other states are like the ones trying to kill the goose which laid golden eggs!

If India got better road networks and road transport facilities which takes care of both intra and inter state road travel both by public and private travel systems, its economy would boost like any thing and the present naxal menace that afflicts some states would vanish.

Instead of becoming desolate regions the state borders will flourish with economic activities.

The affluent Indians with their most modern cars would dare to venture out with their machines exploring their country instead of those simply idling in their urban homes as show pieces !

Road side motels and resorts would flourish providing employment opportunities and comforts to millions of Indians rather than closing down like those ambitiously started by business groups like the Reliance in the recent past.

Living in India would be pleasure and not a pain as it is now.

Indians would be proud of their homeland and would not curse their political leaders and faceless bureaucrats like they do now.

For all that to happen what they need is good leaders with what is called 'vision' at the key positions. Because it is the decisions that matters. Implementation is not at all difficult. But in this country decision to move a mountain takes more time than to actually doing the work of moving the mountain.

Decision making in India are marred by various kinds of 'influences'. Good decisions are difficult to get through as some one will oppose it or does not allow it to happen. It is as if Satan influencing their minds ! 

It appears that they have to wait for some more generations. Wait till such times that their governments both at the states and the centre are occupied by fresh and saner minds who have ideas and wisdom to tap the potentials of this country for the overall benefit of its citizens !

In any case people like me have to only wish for the good things to happen in this country which in the common analysis are not that difficult to achieve !

Just like this Public Road Transport system of India !

[Read more on this issue in this blog : Infrastructure in India : Talking Much and Doing Nothing ! ]

[View the linked list of all Blogs of the Author Here ]

1 comment:

  1. Hello Rajan, well written. Very useful for Indian road transport.


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