MTC headed for split, says The Hindu. Does it matter?

No money for new buses?
A poorly maintained MTC bus that has been in service for years is seen on Anna Salai in Chennai. The new Assembly-Secretariat complex is in the background.

The Hindu reported yesterday that the monopoly bus operator in Chennai, the Metropolitan Transport Corporation, is headed for a “split”. This means it will be divided into two administrative units, a situation that existed in the late 1990s until it was “re-merged” in 2001.

The moot question is about the utility of a bifurcated MTC for the commuter, who is the reason for the existence of the transport corporation. So far, there is no rational explanation available from the Government or the MTC on what commuter-benefits will flow from such a division. The only point being mentioned is that the corporation is now too unwieldy, with about 25,000 employees.

It is clear that the UPA Government has been unable to implement some of its core transport strategies in Chennai. For one thing, it stipulated that the State Governments should create independent regulatory authorities, who will review changes to public transport. As if to meet the Central requirement, the Tamil Nadu Government declared in March, 2008 that it had constituted a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority presided over by the Transport Minister, Mr. K.N. Nehru. The Hindu reported that development here.

The media has subsequently lost interest in this subject, and evidently, the Authority has apparently neither met nor transacted any business of public concern since. The UPA, which is heavily banking on the DMK crutch in Tamil Nadu, is not in a position to pursue this issue, even if it meant to do so.

Now comes this announcement of a split in the MTC ostensibly for administrative convenience. In the earlier iteration of a “split” corporation, MTC turned into an even more rickety entity than it already was, running a fleet of obsolete buses that were breaking down forever and causing physical injury to passengers with their protruding metal work.

It would be legitimate, therefore, to ask Transport Secretary Atulya Mishra what good will come of the present “split.”

He is quoted by The Hindu as stating that at the end of the current round of replacement of old buses, there will be nil net addition of buses. This is a reflection of the serious contempt with which successive governments in Tamil Nadu have been treating the Chennai commuter. Although there is considerable funding available from the UPA government, and the State can mobilise its own resources in a tearing hurry for several other costly projects, when it comes to giving the commuter a better deal, the DMK government is suspiciously taciturn.

In these days of modern transit provision, we must once again conclude that Chennai’s governmental culture and vision of transit will make the investment in the Japan-funded Metro rail far less productive than it should be. Civil society must now assert itself and demand change from the DMK and the UPA.


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