Thursday, January 10, 2008

Riposte to Enviro-critics on 1-Lakh Car

I liked this rebuttal given to the enviro-critics on the 1-lakh car, and thought it was worth posting. The critics expect India to take the heat for global warming, and that's just a bunch of crap.

PS: I'm thinking instead of calling it the Nano, they could have called it the Tera, except people would make fun of that name in Hindi.


Shankar said...

I agree that the intent is noble, like many things Tatas have done in the past. The idea of seeing nano sold on all continents excites me. Yet, I differ on the impact of further congesting India's roads. And this is not specific to Nano or to Tata Auto.

Unless we come up with tolls and parking fees to discourage private transport, it is a disaster in making. Space is a scarce resource in India and I would rather see it used for playgrounds for children than taken up by parking lots like in the US. Traffic will slow down further, unless you want to use the space that belongs to our children to build more highways.

Pollution is the other concern. A seven fold rise in pollution will make us a sick nation. I don't know about you guys but I am seriously considering returning to India in the next few years and I may be looking at this differently than you do.

Ghost Writer said...

I repeat once again - what would really excite is the production of a sub $5000 car that is independent of energy infrastructure (both oil & electric - India as neither).That leaves us with bio-fuel and solar.

The engineers at Tata must be saluted for the accomplishment of providing a safe and affordable means of public transport. They have truly excelled at applying what Rajeev calls 'lean engineering) - btw the NYT called it 'Gandhian Engineering'.

However, if oil prices go the same way in the next five years as they have the last five - these gains will be wiped out.

An energy infrastructure independent small car will do for Indian industry what Pokhran II did for our security

truti said...

People in India may some day trust mass transportation but not public mass xportation. The public sector is an untamed beast and everything it touches descends into sloth and inefficiency and a chintamani for money-grubbing votebank wallas. If a 100 E.Sredharans were to be put in charge of public mass x'port the janata would have no hesitation in using buses and trains.

Sameer said...

Well, the pollution, congestion aspects are roght, but is it not the responsibility of the government to provide good roads and also to encourage public transport, to have proper buses, wihch reach on time or atleast have a good frequency, or have local trains which have connectivity to other locations.
So long as such things are not developed, people cannot be blamed for going in for cars (cheap or not).
People are shouting about pollution... see how the government vehicles pollute, see how auto-rikshaws pollute, how much gas does a SUV guzzle, in front of them nano is a kid.
As said earlier, and as said by somebody earlier in the blog, I hope this car creates conditions wherein the government is forced to make better alternatives. (good roads, good public transport)

Rajeev, your article on rediff is great, I wonder how they allowed it (I mean they keep on deleting words from ur blog and delete pro-Hindu comments)

Shankar said...

Sunita Narain: The cities` car nightmare


Sunita Narain / New Delhi December 07, 2004

I recently visited Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai. The singular impression I have of all these cities, and of others I occasionally visit — and of course, the one I live in, Delhi — is one of noise, pollution, plastic, garbage and filth.

But what hits you most is the image of cities overrun by vehicles; cars and more cars. Traffic in all cities is now bumper to bumper. Even Bangalore, the sanctuary city, is a car-mess.

This nightmare has crept upon us insidiously. Most people living in cities cannot even comprehend, let alone contest, this change. When my colleague Anil Agarwal made presentations to the Indian Parliament in the mid-1980s about India’s environmental challenges, he found no reason to speak of urban chaos and its deadly impacts.

It was not there to see then. So this change is really the story of the past 15 years. In other words, it is an ecological history old enough for us to lament but, perhaps, young enough to still rectify.

Let’s stick to transport. Take any city’s data: the increase in the number of vehicles far outstrips the growth in human population. Chennai, for instance, has seen a 10 per cent growth in people and a staggering 108 per cent growth in on-road private vehicles in the past decade.

I do not think this is accidental. Private vehicle growth has paralleled the decline in public transport. In 1990, Ahmedabad had almost 800 buses, or roughly 23 buses per 1,00,000 people. In the early 1980s, the situation was better: 30 buses per 1,00,000 people.

But by 2003, the city had barely 400 operational buses. The ratio now: less than nine buses per 1,00,000 people. Only Delhi — because of the Supreme Court order that mandated 10,000 buses running on clean fuel — has substantially increased its fleet.

At this point, many might argue that population growth is inevitable; what can city planners do? But, while human population growth may be ordained, the growth of private vehicles is certainly not.

Remember, the decline in public transport leaves people with no choice but to move towards private vehicles. In the jargon of transport planners, there has occurred a substantial modal shift in transportation in these cities.

I remember reading, many years ago, how the automobile industry of the US had deliberately bought out the railways and the tramways so that it could decimate its competitors.

In India, as usual, the story is simpler. Private interests have gained from the destruction of public service. But they have not had to invest in this destruction.

The wound is officially self-inflicted. The past 15 years are about neglect and apathy. And no interest that speaks for the public good any more. Another indication of the total collapse of government.

The problem is not that there are sellers of cars. The problem is that there are no sellers of public transport. Worse, even its “owners” have become its enemy. In most cities, bus fleets run not as transportation companies but as employment services.

Ahmedabad, for instance, has 8,000 employees to run its mere 400-odd buses. Its owner, the government, will not sack these employees.

And it certainly will not invest in improvements. In fact, what it will do is to argue, vociferously, that it has no money to invest in public transportation. It is, after all, a poor government of a poor country. But this would be more than complete falsehood.

Let me explain. First, every city reluctant to invest in public transport is busy building flyovers to take care of the burgeoning traffic — when it knows flyovers never solved the problem anywhere.

They are like the proverbial Internet, where points of traffic jam shift; even as you invest in more space, cars fill it up. The answer to congestion is not more road space, but less.

But more on misleading sarkari economics. Delhi, for instance, according to government documents, is building 42 new structures, which will cost the exchequer nothing less than Rs 500 crore.

Now we know that private vehicles control over 90 per cent of the road space in our cities. Therefore, this is a subsidy for this mode of transport. On the other hand, the same money spent on public transport would have substantially upgraded services for all.

Second, and more shockingly, private vehicles pay less road tax than public transport vehicles. So, let us be clear that this is a mockery of economics; here, the poor support the rich.

But in case these facts make you believe public transport is not used in our cities, let me correct this. It is true that private vehicles constitute over 90 per cent of all vehicles in our cities.

But it is also true that in many cities, public transport, however it may exist, still moves over 50 to 70 per cent of commuters. In other words, this is not the story of the US, where the car replaced the bus.

It is the story of poor cities — Bangalore, Chennai, Pune — of a poor country, where the poor have not become rich. They have only been neglected. Murderously so.

Sundar Lal Bahuguna said...

everything is the responsibility of the government, our responsibility is to act like 2 rupee cheerleaders in the consumerist circus, even if it leads to suicide

i think we have got the government we deserve, all 'their' sloth and inefficiency is actually 'ours', and we are destined for it, ALL of us

truti said...
This article by dr. Mrityunjay Mohanty is a better argued case for the Nano. But a big-big surprise is the edit in today's fifth column rag out of Madras.

Less edifying was the breathless chatter, in the run-up to the launch, of those appalled at the thought of the congestion such a cheap car would bring on the city roads and the pollution it would contribute.

Make what you will out of that.

Sundar Lal Bahuguna said...

mrityunjoy mohanty, sitting in the cloistered confines of his iim campus has little or no touch with reality, like many other professors.

He has tried to analyze the entry of low cots cars from the standard Porter or some other model that he is familar with. All this jargon about 'disruptive innovation' and what not,too much theory without takingng into account other, more pressing realities.

The issue here is not innovation but the impact of innovation on our environment. Are we aware that our urban transport is in a mess, and what step are we taking to address it. Building more highways and 'infrastructure' is not going to solve even a part of our problem. Also assuming from a very patriotic perspective that we are going to be even bigger economic powerhouse, our tranport needs may increase 10 folds, so what is the solution Ratan'innovator' Tata, or the government has for that.

These are the issues that the government need to answer. Shouting down 'environmentalist' is not going to help. No one is an 'ist' here.

Mohanty's piece is full of flaws. He compares per capita cars in US and India, but forgets about comparing per capita road space.
He compares it to gas guzzling Ford and says it is better. No one is singing praises for Ford. Kick it out.And then he self-creates enemies by using the term 'tax it like crazy' and himself answers it.Altogether it makes for very poor reading.

'Unedifying chatter'- I can call your talk unedifying chatter, but name calling is not going to solve anything. Coming from editors, it is shocking. The question is - forget tha tata and birla car- what is the government's response to the environmental concerns-or calling names and using abuses is enough?