Public transport goes well with a political career
ONE message of the Congress party's victory in Delhi went unheeded in the Union government working on good public transport can be an element of political success, or at least it is not a reason for political failure.
The Sheila Dikshit government put itself firmly behind public transport in the shape of new buses and the Bus Rapid Transport corridor. While it did not make the corridor into a political issue--the uproar from the media and the car lobby had made it a hot-button issue--the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders had talked of scrapping the bus corridor. The city pages of newspapers were full of calls to scrap the corridor, leading to the impression that the Congress would suffer the consequences in the polls. The party did not mention any expansion of the bus corridor in its election manifesto, but it did not back away from the scheme.
It is not that the Congress victory is a referendum on public transport--elections are contested over a wide array of issues and their results are dictated by several factors. But bjp leaders, who tried to tap into the Delhi car lobby's anger, could not make a political millstone out of the corridor for the Congress.
The Congress-led Central government, though, showed more proximity to bjp's Delhi unit than the Dikshit government--the centrepiece of the economic stimulus package, announced by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, was tax cuts to make cars cheaper. Mounting scientific evidence shows the adverse health effects of air polllution, 70 per cent of which in Delhi is from vehicles. It is well known how air pollution kills those with respiratory and coronary diseases. Now comes a study that found attention deficit hyperactivity disorder linked to air polllution (See Air to lung to DNA).
In 2006, Mumbai had 30,984 road accidents and Delhi 9,189, according to government statistics. A sizeable proportion of victims are pedestrians and cyclists. Indian cities are becoming accustomed to a new kind of violence automotive terror. There is no political will to discipline killers in automobiles. While it could be argued that road accidents do not result from the motive to kill, surely every person behind a steering wheel knows the killing potential of hundreds of kilogrammes of steel moving at high speeds.
Given all these factors, a crucial way to improve our cities is to reduce the number of private vehicles on the road by providing effective public transport that offers its users mobility and dignity.
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