We are happy to endorse wholeheartedly the pro-pedestrian and pro-cyclist views expressed by Professor Dinesh Mohan of the IIT Delhi on the programme Uncommon Ground on NDTV 24X7 on Sunday night. As Prof. Mohan told industrialist Rahul Bajaj and moderator, Rohini Nilekani, there is urgent need to strengthen the right of this large segment of the population.
In particular, Governments and advocates of unbridled car-ownership must take note of the fact highlighted on the programme: that 40 per cent of the population of the country is below 18, and hence ineligible to drive, even if they otherwise have access to a vehicle. Similar, 10 per cent of the population is above 70 and hence not eligible to drive. Also, the basic and elegant economics that a bus ride cannot cost more per kilometre than what it costs to travel one km by a motorised two-wheeler (currently about 70 paise a kilometre).
Looking at the present situation, we come to the distressing conclusion that policy makers and neo-liberal industrial advocacies (ironically including the Indian Left parties, starting with the CPI-M) are neglecting the rights of half the population to use roads and to have safe, reliable, inexpensive and healthy forms of mobility, of which walking, cycling and public transport are the best examples. They are instead pushing an incompatible vision of motorisation. To that list we must add the disabled and women, who are also invariably car-deprived and hence without any rights.
While we welcome the strong advocacy of the rights of walkers and users of public transport we take this opportunity to condemn the attitude of the Tamil Nadu government of building more and more bridges that are hostile to the rights of the average road user. We are equally vociferous in deploring the car-supportive attitude of the Chennai City Traffic Police, which has all but washed its hands off regulation of vehicular traffic. The CCTP has come to treat road safety as a matter of statistics, quibbling on the number of people killed and maimed, and doing little more to ensure that the roads are made safer.
The Tamil Nadu Government, currently bound hand and foot by the ideologues pushing a “Detroit” in Chennai, would do well to change course and devote itself to its traditional constituency of the less affluent road user. We need broad footpaths, pedestrian subways to cross the arterial roads at the rate one every 200 metres and in the short term, signals for surface crossing of pedestrians with camera-based enforcement.
Without these, the leading city of Dravidasthan will only be a standing example of motoring madness, governmental indifference, and even incompetence.