The latest increase in the price of petrol by Rs.1.80 (plus taxes) conveys the brutal realities of market-linked fuel pricing to Indians ever more forcefully. The periodic slamming of the commuter with a higher price for basic fuel is the outcome of a conscious policy followed by successive Indian governments to force people to use fossil fuel, and aid oil companies to sell at ever higher prices citing rising demand.
The question now is whether there will be speedy course correction by the UPA government, or further strengthening of market-dependence that favours the rich over the middle and less affluent classes. This reaction from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa with a predictable empty condemnation of the Centre, where she currently has no stakes, makes it clear that there are no out-of-the-box solutions coming from the AIADMK government to alleviate public misery.
After it assumed office, the Jayalalithaa government has provided a total of 196 buses to the various transport fleets in Tamil Nadu, including “36 buses on new routes in Chennai”. This is a pathetic performance by any standard. It is also not clear if these buses were ordered by the outgoing DMK government or were introduced at the instance of the AIADMK regime. The Centre has done nothing, to augment services on suburban railways, and increase MRTS service frequency. The UPA’s National Urban Transport Policy has been a dismal failure.
The commuter in Tamil Nadu, especially in the densely populated, sprawl-affected Chennai metropolitan area, has no choice but to suffer in silence and pay more for fuel, because of the policy paralysis of the AIADMK government on public transportation. As real estate prices rise, residents are forced to shift to suburbs for affordability, reinforcing the commuting spiral.
The Jayalalithaa government does not even have the vision to tweak the low-cost option of encouraging cycling improving footpaths that make walking easier. The more influential sections of the media maintain studious silence over such bread-and-butter issues, to avoid upsetting the government and the car industry which forks out millions in advertising and lobbying to obstruct policy change.
It is going to be a long wait for alternatives, including the Metro and Mono Rail, the latter being only a concept at present. How many more hikes will the citizen be able to absorb, before he revolts?