Sunday, March 19, 2006

Highway to Hell

I was reading Kamzee’s post on the road passing through his apartment and as a result started exploring the need for the most wasteful new road projects. Roads created problems long before the invention of cars, as the villages lost their self efficiency when they became dependent on trade and travel. In more recent times, roads are the precursor to the so-called development, that has lead us to the peak of self-destruction. Time and again, the roads have trashed the Garden of Eden; cutting through the villages, forests and rivers.

India, with a total road length of about 5.0 million KMs (excluding the Golden Quadrangle Project), has one of the largest road networks. The condition of most of the rural roads is deplorable due to the neglect and negligence of the officials and the politicians. District and State authorities are responsible for the construction and maintenance of roads, but large scale corruption has led to this sad state of the roads. Due to the contractor-engineer-bureaucracy nexus, the common people have to suffer a lot while commuting. We have got too many roads already and close to half of the urban space is paved to accommodate automobiles; more land is converted to cars than to housing and agriculture. There was a proposal to build an alternate road to connect Kodaikanal and Palani, which would cut through the endangered shoal forests and some pristine rivers on the Palani Hills requiring resettlement of villages, agricultural fields and the fauna. Thanks to the efforts of PHCC, to halt such proposal. Resettlement - They say human beings and the organisms should be resettled. But, where? Where is the land? Has someone invented a land-manufacturing machine?

All these roads cost money. The expenditure on highways and major roads is of a great magnitude when compared with what is being spent on the basic needs of the people including education. The most powerful reason why road building dominates our infrastructural budget, even when it makes no fiscal or ecological sense: those earth-moving machines, trucks, rollers and the plants cost lot of money, and their owners are not going to let them rust. Another reason is the belief that the roads have become a reflex article of faith and the faith in them is impervious to arguments and hence serves as gold mines for the politicians, bureaucrats and the construction industry.

And perhaps, the only genuine reason can be cited is that we want to get from here to there directly, without going around, which means, we have got to have another road. There was a time when I also agreed to that. I used to think; more roads are good because they would allow people to reach the destination soon through a more convenient angle with minimum fuel. I disagreed, on seeing the fact of the study conducted by Ivan Illich that revealed that: If we divide the distance we travel by the number of hours we spend not just sitting behind the wheels but also working to pay for our cars and fuel or doing other things in some way associated with our cars, our net speed comes to around 5 miles per hour!

People should realize that motor vehicles are the largest single source of atmospheric pollution worldwide and 65% of all carbon monoxide emitted into the environment comes from vehicles. Carbon monoxide, besides being poisonous, contributes to global warming by promoting the buildup of methane, a powerful green-house gas. In a world threatened by global warming and cancer epidemic, we keep accumulating pollution. A certain amount of pollution is inevitable; but, we can at least examine our conduct on an individual level and try to cut down to a minimum damage.

A new highway means worse air and water quality, less money available for road maintenance and public transportation and more burden on the tax payers, Tax payers’ money is being hijacked for unneeded roads that cause sprawl, damage the environment and hurt local communities. We are destroying some of the most pristine wilderness in this country for outdated, short-term solutions that won’t solve traffic problems.
It is not logical just to state the problem and leave the solution unattended. A few recommendations would be
1. Enhanced and Attractive Public Transport System
2. Work Near Home or Work from Home
3. Utilization of Inland Waterways using ferries - A resurrected Koovam in Chennai!
4. Pedelling Vehicles
5. Efficient Traffic Management System
6. Horse Power ( I apologize if you are from Blue Cross! - Menaka Gandhi muje maaff karo - It's apt for our IT geeks riding on a horse with their laptops crossed- helmet compulsory)
More suggestions and recommendations are welcome:)


Kamal Aanand (Kamz) said...

Your solutions to road problems seem to be the final solution towards which everyone will be heading some day or the other. :)

- Kamzee

Anonymous said...

Nice suggestions... especially liked the horse ride idea :)

Shiva said...

KK: It is the most corrupt insitution I have encountered. Exactly like how Shankar has portrayed corruption in Indian. If not horse, bicycles should become a commonality in india.

priya said...

Just loved that picture:)

I see the fire and anger on how it welcomes a road from the picture.

Wish villages remain green with its own beauty and innocence. What our ancestors preserved is getting vanished. Wonder why ther is more scarcity in our resources?