My dear friend Shrikant wrote a message on our WhatsApp group, which truly reflected his frustration. But It is not only his frustration but all of us have the same feelings. I will briefly write what he said. “Since I remember, I feel as if I am living in a vicious circle of development and expansion. First, the roads are broken, then later they are broadened because of capacity issues. Then comes tarring, and then the time comes to build flyovers! After that, the time for concretisation comes. All the time we have pollution and traffic congestion. Now at the age of 70, I am looking at the Metro project coming up. There are so much indiscipline and chaos that I am fed up, mainly because I have to go Chakan every day! I hope now at in this phase of my life I will sometime see everything going smoothly with regulated traffic and less chaotic life!”
He is right, and he has hit the bull’s eye with his thoughts. All of us have the same feelings. There have been responses saying that the development is a never-ending cycle; the fruits of work done by grandfathers are for the grandchildren to enjoy etc. These responses are also correct. The phenomenon of development cycle happens all over the world. But to me, Shrikant’s frustration has a different connotation.
British rule ensured that our infrastructure remained poor. In the US, highways were built in the 30s /40s of last century. Hitler built autobahns in Germany in 30s of the last century. In India, this cycle has started in the last twenty years!
We as Indians have diverse culture, 25 main languages, snow-clad mountains and lovely beaches; we are a nation of diversity. But we have one common culture that of personal and public indiscipline, and I care two hoots attitude! It is not only on the roads; you go anywhere in public place; things will be chaotic. We at heart have remained villagers from the time of Baba Adam! This attitude continues irrespective of whether you are rich or poor, educated or uneducated. One can give many day-to-day examples. In the cities or towns, one basic rule is followed, not to follow any rule. Shrikant was talking of Chakan. In Chakan and many towns, there is an excellent four-lane road. But the divider in between is sometimes breached “officially” under pressure from politicians, and at other times unofficially. For taking a U-turn, people do not want to drive a Km or two more! Cutting corners where ever possible is there in our DNA! Add to that indiscriminate parking in such towns along the roads. Driving on the wrong side of the roads is also very common!
If you drive on Mumbai Pune Expressway, which is like an expressway, anywhere in the world, we sometimes see people driving Motorcycles on the road skirting! The road is meant only for four-wheelers and multi-axle vehicles! There are two places where you pay the toll. Near these toll booths, there are washrooms. But we invariably see a few men relieve themselves in the open about 100 to 200 meters away from the urinals. In the main city areas, there is a thought process that vehicles used by the government departments can be parked anywhere, including on footpaths. Cutting the red signal is a norm rather than the exception. The police department tries to discipline, but when a significant % of people start breaking the rules, how many police can you deploy?
These aspects should be taught to children right from KG schools. But when their mothers break the rules, children grow up thinking the same way. I was waiting at a signal to cross the road in Montreal a couple of weeks back. My granddaughter Rhea was with me; she is six years old. She asked me a question, “Why don’t people in Pune wait for the signal to turn green?” I had no answer. When there is a traffic jam in Pune, we see people driving their motorcycles on the footpaths to move ahead! All of them are “busier” than the Prime Minister of the country and have no time to wait!
World over in most cities, there is work in progress for an extended period! In Boston, the tunnel work was going on for ten years. In Mumbai, flyovers were built over a few years. Same is true with Metro. But if the primary discipline is not followed, the indiscipline and chaos will never go away. The problem is not city-specific, it is India specific.
In today’s newspapers in Pune, there was a news item. A car used by an officer of the Municipal Corporation was parked on the footpath. It used to be at a specific place, with the driver sitting in the car. The driver was told to park it in the right zone. The driver said, “The car is used by Asst Commissioner!” The police were not impressed. After the same suggestion for a couple of days was ignored, on the third day, they put a jammer on the car and fined him Rs.2000/. The officer tried to pull rank on the policeman, but they were not impressed. He had to pay the fine.
As against this, I had read a story. Commissioner of Tel Aviv was found talking on a cell phone while driving his car. A police officer stopped him; he did not recognise the commissioner. He fined him but later came to know that he was their biggest boss! The next day, he was called to the commissioner’s office. The policeman was worried and was trying to find a way out of the situation. To his surprise, the commissioner received him in his office, and there was a two-minute ceremony. The Commissioner congratulated the policeman for doing his duty, issued a special commemorative certificate for performing his duties in an exemplary manner! It shows the difference between developed and undeveloped societies.
In India, we are lucky that because of the temperate weather we can do all our development work almost round the year. In cities like Montreal, because of the snow in winter, the road work can be done only during 6 to 7 months in a year when there is no snow. So, every year, on many roads, some repair work or the other is going on all the time. New development work is also going on during this period. Traffic gets choked, it gets slowed down, but no motorcycles are driven on footpaths! On the street where we lived, pipeline work was going on for almost four weeks. Car parking was not allowed from 7 am to 7 pm. Not a single car was ever parked during this period!
So Shrikant, it is about self-discipline, it is about the implementation of rules. Improved traffic rules have been created by the Central Government; hefty fines have been suggested. But the state governments don’t want to implement this because of expected public backlash. It is the will of the people, will of the government that needs to change. Development thing is going to be WIP all our life!
I am an absolute optimist, but I told a 25-year-old boy the other day, that if the primary self-discipline does not become our culture, India will be at the same place even after 50 years! (Of course, I won’t be around!)
But many good things are happening! Metros are made ready in ¾ years, ISRO is doing a great job, online payments, online railway bookings are improving day by day at breakneck speed! Many good things are happening, but people’s attitude is not changing. The problems we face daily are the result of this unchanged attitude! Let us hope at some stage this will also change.