By sheer co-incidence, today’s press has reports about two contrasting transit-related issues – the subsidy willingly provided by Governments to car owners through road-building, and the vilification of commuters as a social burden.
The Tamil Nadu Government reported proudly yesterday that it has sanctioned road-building projects in different places in Chennai. These elevated roads and bridges and so on have a staggering cost to the tax payer. The biggest from Wednesday’s lot is a six kilometre highway on Poonamallee High Road, connecting Raja Muthiah Road to Pulla Avenue, at Rs. 3000 million (Rs.300 crore). Others involve expenditures of Rs. 500 million and Rs. 650 million, and they will come up at Velachery, Kolathur and Pallavaram. Read the report here.
What comes as a shock is another report that says the Government-owned transport corporations are making a loss of Rs. 20 million a day and bleeding the exchequer. This statistic, aimed at making all commuters feel guilty and beholden to government, is nothing but rubbish, although it was dished out in the state legislature by the Honourable Minister for Transport in the DMK Government, Mr. K.N. Nehru.
It is plain trash because the economics behind it is perverse. While Mr. Nehru and the Chief Minister are willing to put in the millions to subsidise car users, they find it depressing that the rickety buses built on World War II-model truck chassis are (despite being grossly overloaded in most cases) making a steady ‘loss’.
It should be apparent that Mr. Nehru has a poor understanding of economic fundamentals. To him, the passengers who pack themselves into the buses (and by extension trains) are producing no economic value, and only draining the coffers. The car owners for whom the roads are being constantly modified are just the opposite, and everything must therefore be done to encourage them. One dreads to think what the Minister and his Government think of people on foot, picking their around obstructions, slush and garbage on the road margins, on broken footpaths – that they deserve no consideration at all, because they don’t pay anything at all for mobility.
Needless to say, behind this pro-car philosophy lies the growing clout of the automobile industry located in the suburbs of Chennai. Conversely, it also reflects the lack of a commuter body in Chennai capable of bringing the Government to its senses.
What must be pointed out, at the risk of repetition, is that this hostile attitude towards the commuter adopted by the DMK Government flies in the face of the National Urban Transport Policy, which it is bound to follow. But then, no one in authority in New Delhi is ready to reverse the trend.