Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Indian Roads: Forgotten Fundamentals !

Indian cities and villages are getting developed in an unprecedented manner for quite some time. The agencies involved, the money spend and the methodologies adopted  are all unprecedented.

The governments collect road tax from all who purchase new vehicles. In olden days, road taxes used to be collected on an yearly basis. Now it is being collected in one lot for the entire useful life time of the vehicle at the time of purchase of a new vehicle. The road tax component has become a major part of the cost of a new vehicle now in India.  

But yet governments (central, state and local) do not seem to have enough money to keep the roads well maintained. Apparently the system of allocation of tax money for road construction and maintenance is not so transparent. 

Roads are a clear sign of development of any well administered and governed country. Even some of the good old maharajahs of the erstwhile princely states of India too used to maintain their roads properly. One can see those centuries-old remnants of Indian roads at some places even now. Fortunately, the Indian administrators have not yet applied their brains to reconstruct at least a few of those in their own haphazard manner!

There used to be a few agencies in the past who used to be the whole sole custodians of the roads of India. They are still in existence. They are the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) and the PWDs of the respective states. But apparently they all work in an invisible manner for reasons better known to them and their political bosses. Decades ago, the roads used to have some sign-cum-display boards giving some hints to the public about the officer or engineer responsible for the up keep of a particular section of the road. Now such boards are hardly visible. When they do not do their work properly, it could easily bring the people ire and they now do not want such a thing to happen! 

Now-a-days, there are additional agencies. The National Highway Authority and other works departments of the cities are all examples.

But when all these agencies are required to work together to achieve some road maintenance or construction tasks to the satisfaction of the users, it seems that such a thing is never possible for them now. Co-ordination of work and synchronization of their respective works now seems impossible. Thanks to the progress of the democratic systems of governance. In olden days, the national boundaries used to the no-mans' lands. Now the city boundaries, the state boundaries are all no-mans' lands in India. When the Indian democracy works truly as a federal system (authorities and responsibilities vested with many), the misfortunes of the people enhance many fold. Transparency and accountability also seem to be with none!

Every one has some excuse for not delivering what the people want. If the people's monies are pilfered, that was simply the result of the chaos that inherently developed within the complex system of governance. The illogical watch dog agencies added further complications to the already weak governance and administration in India in general. The roads too got affected adversely in this mess, just as many others.

The conventional democratic system of India run by seasoned political professionals and family politicians are proving their ineffectiveness in providing a proper administration and management of the public wealth of the country. The people of India are slowly realizing the folly of depending on these people for effective leadership and public service administration. 

As it stands today, the Indian roads are not a safe bet for any one to travel. Any thing can happen. But it could be a thrill for the adventure minded to travel in the Indian roads now. 

You try to travel some hundreds of kilometers in the Indian roads using the confidence given by Google maps and your new foreign designed Car or SUV, you would soon realize and repent over your foolishness, unless you are really a brave adventurist.

You speed off in a national high way which you felt as really of international standard when you started off. Before you could cover just about 5-10 km you have to come to a halt and be in the line to pay off handsomely to the private toll tax collectors. Paying for the good facility that the private investor had been allowed to create as an alternative to the public road facility may not be felt as a big problem. That is the way it happens in the capitalist countries like the USA. That is considered as an alternate way for faster economic growth. But remember, it is an alternative and not the sole and only choice!

In India, this aspect is seriously ignored. The toll roads created here and there are the only choice and not an alternative for those who are willing to pay some money extra for some better facility.  In India, the elected representatives of the people seem to forget about the common people and allowed a situation wherein the toll highways are the only alternative for travel in some stretches of the national highways. The existing road that had been there for decades have been handed over to the private investor in patches of few kilometers who in turn re-carpet it slightly better and collect huge sums from every one for decades. In some places, the private investor invested a few crores and recovered his whole invested money within months besides ensuring a potential for collecting thousands of crores of rupees in future with the tacit approval of the people's representatives of the democratic governments!

There is no common policy to determine the toll taxes either. It is simply as per the whimsical formulas of the concerned authorities. In some places, there are stretches of toll highways having lengths to the order of 200-300 km taking toll tax of just Rs.50 or Rs.80 for a motor car while there are also stretches of highways with lengths of just 15-20 km taking the same amounts. I remember paying nearly Rs.2000/- for my own car journey through the National Highways from Raipur-Nagpur-Hyderabad-Bangalore-Chennai-Vizag-Raipur. That was a couple of years ago, when the roads were just getting renovated. The toll could be much more now. Imagine the tolls the heavy truckers have to shell out ! Toll tax may not be a bad idea per se. But there has to be some transparency and justifiable policies which are digestible to the people at large!

A visionary leader of modern India very rightly declared the need for good roads in India and tried to propagate some thing called the 'golden triangle' concept of national highways. It was indeed a remarkable vision. But even after a decade it is an unfinished agenda. That is the efficiency of the existing subordinate bureaucracy and technocracy of the Indian federation to convert a leader's vision to action! Apparently, the Indian political leadership lacks the ability to create dynamism to the existing bureaucratic executive system for any appreciable actions recognized by the people as something good. I am not ignoring the good works that keep happening here and there in India. But on the whole, there are much things desired getting seriously affected  and the system lethargy is too visible for the common citizens to just ignore!

In many cities, some of the elected governments were so daring that they give permissions to roads running right through some populated cities to be converted as toll roads. They had even forced the citizens living in one part of the city going to the other part and returning to pay every time. Some of the democratic people's representatives of India were so daring that they simply did not care for the people's ire.

It is another thing that the people of India used their democratic power to over throw such fellows. But the fellows have any way made great fortunes in this game!

The Indian roads in some cities have fantastic road signs with glittering letters erected across the roads at some remarkable heights. It is indeed a glittering view for the visitors, but not for the drivers who want to take some lead from those for the right directions. On the other hand, on the highways of India, you do not find any such sign boards even where there is a junction or a crossing. Many drivers travelling in the nights on these high ways are bound to travel to some other direction covering scores of kilometers before they realize their mistakes!

The high ways in some parts of the country do not have any motels or resting places. Some corporate big wigs had made very good facilities in the past only to be dismantled later due to the un-supportive attitudes of the governments concerned or their greedy subordinate authorities. Another example of the people's representatives failing to deliver either for India's economic growth or infrastructural facilities or making the inherent administrative organizations to function under cohesive or transparent policies!

If you travel in the Indian highways making good use of the good horse power of your modern vehicle and the road surface you thought as apparently good and wide, there is a likely danger of you suddenly driving your vehicle in to some thing you never ever imagined to exist there. It could be a ditch or a sudden disappearance of the good road even! Indian road engineers apparently do not visit the road construction sites when the sites are far away from the usual travel routes of their political bosses. Such areas are purely left to the supervisors of the contractors. And why should the latter spend some extra money to place the necessary road signs at appropriate places to give warning to the drivers? The Indian law enforcers may chase the driver and the owner of the vehicle when a road accident takes place and are too efficient to put them in their lock-ups. But I have not yet come across the news of a case when some road contractor or road engineer of the government getting arrested for lapses in the roads leading to accidents! On the other hand, there are umpteen cases in India, where the authorities chasing and arresting some remotely connected persons holding similar responsibilities when accidents take place in some factories, cinema halls, hospitals, and the like! Road and Railway authorities in India are the fortunate ones in this regard!

I have written just some fundamental aspects concerning governance and administration with regard to the creation and management of just one essential infrastructure of the country responsible for the overall economic growth and prosperity. Apparently, our administrators and political leaderships seem to forget some fundamental aspects. That is the fundamental of people first. If that is ignored, the people might some day rise to set things right.

This is what the conventional political players seem to forget. This is what the government servants seem to forget. When they forget people, they are bound to become arrogant. And when they keep showing their arrogance and disregard to the aam aadmi (common people) movements like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would rise to make those arrogance to humility.

Am I telling some thing wrong ? 

Correct me if I am.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely put. The last year we traveled from Pune to Hyderabad, we paid close to Rs 500/- toll, the roads were good only for 2 hours and the rest of the time, it was only a single lane road with pot holes every 200 meters.
    Oh, by the way, roads are not only the issue, people don't know how to drive. Every other fellow seems to be in a hurry, honking his horn at full blast and trying to squeeze past every other vehicle. The other day, I was in a busy road, trying to reverse my vehicle. Not one guy had the patience to wait, for me to finish my maneuver and then go. Instead, people were just honking and trying to squeeze past me. According to me "I consider almost 90% of the road users in India to be equal to cattle, they don't have brains just brawn". I don't know how RTO is giving licenses and what kind of road tests and others they are doing, even the traffic police turns a blind eye to offenders. Indian roads are the most unsafest roads in the world. period.

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