Friday, 22 July 2011

“Bad roads—so, what’s the deal with them?”

Walking in the roads is a huge pain these days. And so is driving. And so is the use of any form of public transport that runs on surface; except maybe the state transport buses—they’re a hazard by themselves, and right now, adding those to the equation would be the perfect recipe for either a colossal disaster, or perhaps, the best bloody ride of our lives.

Anyway, I suppose you get my point: this post is a ramble/rant against bad roads. I know it’s probably an old issue by now (well, Hindustan Times certainly has found a new issue for the second page; about time, I’d say!) but as with all other notes, I wanted to be sure of the, let’s say, gravity of the issue here. Suffice to say that after thirty-one near misses in the nearly two month’s abstinence from driving, and a month long campaign by HT, I have decided that the issue has sufficient gravity.

Bad roads. Hmm. So, where does it start? Well, while a section of the civil society would scream “politicians!”, “corruption!”, I, sir, would beg to differ. There is, I believe, a matter of great scientific inquiry involved—which thanks to the sorry levels of public intellect—is absent from all discussions of public importance. I would not talk of contractors and the BMC here, partly because of the scientific nature of my inquiry, and mostly because I know very little of it. What I will focus on, as always, is how we Indians adapt, or rather, should adapt.

Thanks to Anna Hazare and his “team” of civil society members, the people of India have lost one it’s most enshrined of virtues: adaptability. People no longer think it to be cool to duck, jump, side-step, run, and even sleep, while doing most of our daily tasks. Make no mistake; I am not equating adaptability with complacency here. The former is an active process, involving a high level of cognition and fine-motor skill dependency; the latter is, well, doing nothing other than not doing what I just described.

Let me illustrate. So, they say bad roads are dangerous. I concur, they are; but let’s adapt, shall we? The SAS and the Royal Marines are among the best military units in the world because they train in the harsh environs of moors in northern England. We have a Dartmoor on practically every station road, and during the monsoons, there is nothing better than cross-country training while on your way to work (the dirty clothes would irk many. But as of now, that’s the only glitch I see in my near-perfect hypothesis).
Yes, I agree that cars and other large vehicles are very clearly a hazard. So, I’d say, we should ban them from the roads. Sounds simplistic? Well, that’s because it is. Until you bring up that bit about political will and public apathy.

We’re so accustomed to the comfort of our cars, that we’d yell “bloody murder!” to any such proposition. Now that, ladies and gents, is complacency. I mean, we can all agree that cars and other vehicles are huge contributing factor to pollution levels in the city, and the abomination we collectively call ‘traffic jams’ (hmm, funny jargon; mental note for next post). Most of them have very low ground clearance, use a lot of fuel on account of driving on for miles in second gear, and frankly, they come in some very horrible colours. They are also, correct me if I’m wrong, a major contributing factor to the whole pot-hole scenario as well.

Any road has a carrying capacity; if a road is built with a carrying capacity of 50,000 cars in say, six months, then they end up carrying over two-hundred thousand in the same period in the real world (Note: I think my figures are maybe a tad bit exaggerated). The point being: our roads, no matter how corrupt the contractor is (Yes, sue me, Mr Hazare; or better still, go on a fast), are built to carry a certain amount of cars in a given period of time, as they are anywhere else in the world—except perhaps Cuba and some other failed Communist states. And if there’s a marked increase in the pressure on roads, particularly due to faulty driving (this is India!), braking and speeding (and not the mention, the state transport buses)—all of which we see plenty in India—the roads naturally would suffer. And here we aim to hang the poor contractors. Tsk Tsk.

Another thing most of us fail to see is the potential for rally cars and sports utility vehicles. Yes, those very idiotic, large, the all-brawn-no-brain, Sunny Deol type SUVs; particularly the Range Rovers and Land Rovers. What we need are more liberal policies and a reduction on taxation. Heck, they’re even coming up with the ‘green’ versions for the eco-mentalists (what an aberration, but still—).

So, bottom line: if India wants to figure on the global map for reasons other than its loud civil society and Mayawati’s spat with Assange, we seriously need to look into the potential bad roads have for us. And once again, we must prove to the world how adaptable we are. Adaptable, mind you, not complacent!

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