Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tata's Rs 1-lakh car: Boom or curse?

Today, Tata Motors unveiled the much talked-about Rs one-lakh car, called Nano, at the Delhi auto expo exhibition. The reason why so much buzz has been about this car is its price tag. Nano's price makes it the cheapest car to be available in India and breaks more than a decade old record that was earlier set and maintained by Maruti 800.

Boom for industry.....
The car makes great economic sense. It automatically gives an impetus for bike and two-wheeler owners to upgrade to a car by paying marginally high cost. Reports say that car is comfortable for four large people. Besides, it's great for the Indian automobile industry if cars can be produced and sold en-mass for such a low cost. With Indian aspirational values on a high and still rising, in simple words many people now would be now able to afford a car, as against, say five or 10 years back.

....but a curse for the cities
Having said this, I have no doubt in my mind that Tata Rs 1-lakh car is a CURSE for Indian cities. India's infrastructure was crumbling up till two years ago; today the infrastructure has crumbled. There are potholes all over Bombay. Roads are first made or concretised and then dug up within less than a month, for a new project. Once these projects are completed, dugged up roads are filled up, only to be dug up, yet again, for a new project after barely 3-4 months. This is the state of Bombay's condition. It takes a half hour to travel from Nariman Point to CST what usually should take only about five minutes. Partly on account of a flyover being built outside the domestic airport in Bombay and significantly due to the increasing traffic on the western express highway, my cousin and her family recently spent an hour inside their car at that signal, to just cross it and take a right turn to enter into a hotel at that junction!

Few days back I travelled from my house to Lalbaug. I have been going to Lalbaug for the past 15 years and never once have I encountered bumper-to-bumper traffic, all the way from Chinchpokhli bridge to Lalbaug (Bharatmata theatre). Later, I am told this kind of traffic is a common and daily occurrence now. The traffic near and around Andheri, Andheri-Kurla road and Saki Naka areas is shocking and would tell you a thousand horror stories. My friend takes two hours daily by crowded BEST buses to return from work in Saki Naka to his residence at Lalbuag, late in the evening.

Now imagine, once Tata Nano hits the road. The sheer number of people who can afford to - and will - buy it will rise by leaps and bounds. What will happen to our infrastructure once the car rolls out, is anyone's guess. There are no signs of infrastructure improving, yet more and more cars are getting launched and choking our already-choked roads. The problem will become worse once Nano gets launched. Traffic will become absolutely horrible and unbearable, thanks to a zillion Nano cars that people now will be afford. I fear the traffic will become so horrible, that out of just frustration, road rage - that is already quite atrocious here - will become even more atrocious.

True that more and more people will now be able to own a car. And good for them. But do we have enough roads for all the cars? And do such roads have the capacity to accommodate this latest craze?

So, what's the solution?
Improvement in infrastructure is a must, to repeat a cliche. But drastic times call for drastic measures. The government must act quickly and expedite the various infrastructure projects in Bombay, as well as across the country.

Further, Tata's Nano car is not meant for cities. It may be good for villages and the rural areas, but our cities, especially Bombay, Bangalore, Poona, Delhi, etc are better off without cars like Tata Nano. If things are in my hands, no passenger cars whould be made available for less than Rs three lakhs, public transport should be upgraded and the bar here would be generously raised, so that people feel happy and glad to use it, rather than compelled, as is the current case.

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