Thursday, September 27, 2012

Infrastructure in India : Talking Much and Doing Nothing !

Perhaps Atal Bihari Bajpayee was one such Prime Minister of India who openly admitted to the poor state of infrastructure in India and launched the visionary 'Golden Triangle Highway Project of India' with much fanfare.

Prior to that the young PM Rajiv Gandhi initiated the dream project named the 'Ganga Action Plan' to clean the River Ganga from pollution.

Unfortunately and most regrettably, it appears that the country has failed miserably in fulfilling even the dream projects announced by the top most political authority. 

It appears to the common man that the political authorities are only interested in gaining some cheap popularity by announcing mega projects and not at all interested in seeing that what they announce gets materialized ever !

On the other hand, starting from a similar back ground a quarter century ago, the neighbouring country China has progressed enviously as far as infrastructural development is concerned. It has become the number one in the world in many things during this period and is progressing forward surpassing even the glorious developed nations of the past.

Just a couple of days ago, I wanted to visit Bhilai, the steel city very near to Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh state, which is just a bit over 600 kilometers away from my present city of residence, Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand.

The need was an urgent one and I had to spend hours together to formulate my plans to make the trip.

Both these cities, incidentally come under the steel corridor of India with the largest movement materials, both finished and unfinished. Both have airports and major railways stations. They are located on the so called trunk routes of India.

Yet there are no direct flights nor daily running trains with comfortable class of accommodation. The train journey takes hardly 8 hours provided there is a train with the accommodation and the reservation. Unfortunately there is none even after this country becoming an independent nation more than half a century ago. Incidentally the major railway infrastructure as existing are all developed by the British raj whom the Indians curse perpetually for their misrule !

So there was no choice for me except to make the travel to and fro by road which are prominently marked on the maps as national high ways.

If you search the google options you may find these two cities 'beautifully' connected by a number of roads most of them marked NH (the short name for National Highways !). Google may even suggest that you can perhaps make the trip by car within about 9 to 10 hours by travelling through a combination of NHs.

Believing google, I ventured to make the travel by an SUV and finished the up journey in about 16 hours. Trying a better combination of NH for the return journey using the prestigious NH-6, my luck was more miserable. It took me 22 hours ! Remember, the total time spend for taking some rest for each of the journey was not more than 2 hours ! Had the roads be of any reasonable standard, I could have accomplished my travel easily as suggested by Google ! But then Google doesnot maintain the Indian roads !

[Incidentally, this site Map my India is more practical. They had assessed the road conditions much more practically and predicted the time of travel at about 17 hours!]

These National Highways of India are only in the maps and physically they are just some barren spaces with some signs of paving by asphalt or concrete some time earlier for most of the stretches. These NHs of India pass through some regions which are geographically endowed with good natural beauty and not overcrowded. Perhaps these green regions actually showcase the natural abundance of India ! Had I been responsible for the administration of these highways, I would have seen that these highways are maintained properly always to make my fellow citizen take pride in the country. But thats' only a dream !

But I keep wondering. How can those fellows, who are entrusted with the upkeep of these National Highways which ought to be the symbols of pride for all Indians, can ever disregard their responsibilities to such an extent that they keep these highways a national disgrace ?

There are some more things I observed about these so-called national infrastructure roads called national highways which are obviously maintained so shabbily as national disgraces.

In most places, there are no sign boards. Even if they are there, they do not follow any standards. Especially of importance is the sign boards at the junctions of two or more roads. Sign boards to give proper direction to the motorists are practically absent. If you think that the GPRS navigation will help you, perhaps it could, provided the signals reach you properly. Again do not expect, the local people would be in a position to guide you always. If you take the wrong route, it could turn out to be hundreds of kilometers of extra travel. There are chances of you getting even totally lost for hours.

I noticed some sign boards that declare the same road differently with different NH numbering. Enough for a motorist who travel using the maps to get confused and lost !

If your car develops a snag, it could be the worst situation. There are no known help in the near vicinity. Neither are there any highway patrols who are entrusted to help the motorists. That is again the Indian way of managing things in this context.

I was feeling empathetic to those hundreds of drivers who drive their heavily loaded trucks through these routes, day in and day out, helping the rest of India with the supplies. Their vehicles are always at the risk of going out of balance in these poorly maintained national highways of India. They are also at the risk of untimely breakdowns due to the uneven road surfaces for such long stretches in hundreds of kilometers. Imagine the truck owners spending such huge sums for their vehicles whose life span gets shortened by a few years just because of these roads! Imagine the more fuel they spend on the roads for transporting the goods as the roads are not energy efficient !

The roads are no private property in India. The state and central governments are the sole custodians and managers of the roads. I need not to stress then who is to be blamed for this national shame.

A few decades ago, I remember the Indian roads in a much better condition than now. There were not toll tax collectors at every 15-20 kilometers as the road managers of India has made it to happen in some of the trunk routes now.

The road maintenance was entrusted to the Public Works Department (PWD) of either the state or the central governments. The roads prominently displayed the concerned PWD officer who was in charge of the particular section of the road concerned. At least the people could have known the fellow actually responsible for maintaining that part of the road. If you travel by road, you could see hundreds of workers keep working to maintain the roads. The PWD authorities kept surveying the road conditions regularly and kept doing things on a war footing that no part of the road is in such a shamefully shabby situation.

I do not know what has happened to the Indian PWD now. I do not have any idea about the authority or authorities who are responsible for maintaining the roads and NHs of India now.

The governments keep taxing the new vehicles substantially in the name of road tax. Then some short segments of  roads with heavy traffic are auctioned for maintenance by private players who are allowed to tax the vehicles for decades making much more money than they had spend in making and maintaining those roads. It is a disgrace that the authorities have allowed such privatisation of roads in some of the roads, that too in small patches that pass through the cities, just as the portion of NH-6 which passes through the city of Bhilai forcing even the local populace to pay on a daily basis to use these roads for routine commuting.

Regrettably, Indians have long forgotten to protest. Because they know that their protests no longer carry any weights. They also do not know with whom they should make their complaints or register their protests. The ruling political parties and the opposition political parties are all at par in understanding or not understanding the woes of the people. Neither they, nor those at important positions seem to be ignorant on fixing the responsibility for such sad state of affairs.

Then comes the so-called fourth estate of democracy, the media. In India, the major part of media space and time is devoted to reports of mudslinging and other mundane things not of any value to the people or the country. They prefer to do little research and provide any concrete suggestions. Media also fail miserably in highlighting the actual cause of failure of the governmental systems. They do not feel it comfortable to get to the root cause of the problems by actual pondering about an issue of national importance.

Had they been responsible, their space and time would have been filled with the stories of success, failures and other related matters concerning various developmental aspects of the country including such major issues such as about the roads and highways. There would have been regular media follow ups on such issues. Unfortunately the noted journalists of the country are paid for being in the company of noted politicians always to report and make commentaries on what they want to utter publicly, even when their private opinions could be just the opposite. I found people no more are interested in reading or listening to these stereotyped media reports. Unless the media takes up things responsibly, their days in the future might be numbered !

Are we a nation of wide mouth talkers with absolutely no regard to what we talk?

Are we a nation not interested in actions any more ?

Is it possible to create roads, bridges and other major infrastructure only by issuing plans and policies and doing nothing for their implementation?

Will it be possible to implement any project in time when experienced people are in short supply to do such activities?

Would it be possible to develop people of the right experience and expertise when there are long spells of non-activity ?

Would it be possible to do all these things just by wishful thinking without actual planning and plan implementation ?

Incidentally, I read in the news papers that the Bihar government has realized that their projects are not getting shape because they do not have experienced engineers to make the project proposals properly, including the basic engineering.

Similarly the Jharkhand government has an acute shortage of experienced clerical staff to make the reports typed in order and maintain the files properly.

If that is so, the situation in other states would be no different.

What has happened to all our responsible departments like the PWD and their experienced engineers?

Who butchered those departments ? Who butchered the expertize of India that the independent India kept acquiring all those initial years ?

Any answers ?

Any suggestions ?

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