Cheating commuters and themselves with a false story

The media today reports that the Tamil Nadu Government ‘admits’ to a huge loss by running transport corporations serving millions of commuters in India’s most urbanised state. The Times of India’s intro makes it out as if a dirty secret has finally been acknowledged, that the cumulative loss run up by nationalised transport corporations in Tamil Nadu ‘tops’ Rs. 1000 crore. Later, the figure becomes ‘to the tune of Rs. 1,000 crore’.

This approach reflects the prejudice from which both the State Government and the media suffer – that transport utilities are a drain on the exchequer, and that employees retaining jobs in the sector are somehow sucking out the lifeblood of the state’s finances.

Before actually talking about the fallacy of transport losses, it must be pointed out that the the government and the media talk about car projects and road building for these new cars with a gushing pride. It never becomes a matter of concern that such road building activity funded by the average taxpayer is a huge burden on the exchequer. For example, the PWD recently announced that it had prepared projects worth some Rs.3,000 crores just around Chennai city, to help "widen roads" and improve traffic flow.

The blinkered view of transport coverage ignores the fact that it is tax funds from the same bus and rail commuters that go into building these costly pieces of infrastructure that primarily serve only private vehicle owners.

Moreover, no one has assessed whether the transport corporations are run on professional lines. Is it not possible that these so-called book losses are pruned, and income from operations increased through better management practices, a clampdown on corruption and by infusing fresh capital into the system? It would be reasonable, for example, to assume that expansion of new lines of transport supply, such as mini-buses in the congested interior parts of cities and towns, could augment revenue tremendously; even now, the Chennai monopoly operator, MTC, is able to turn a profit, going by the same accounting standards.

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