Monday, March 23, 2009

Folly

This post relates to India, specifically to the news I heard today that Tata is prepared to begin sales of the world's cheapest car. This could someday be looked back upon as one of those genie out of the bottle or Pandora's box kind of moments.

The news report I heard explained that some analysts see the introduction of this very affordable car as leading the way to an environmental nightmare in India. Just imagine the millions upon millions of cars that could be added to India's roads within a few years' time.

Will road infrastructure possibly be able to keep up with this? Imagine the amount of additional air pollution this would create. The most striking statistic was a comparison of the percentage of cars owned today in India with that in very developed countries. Maybe I misheard the statistic--7 in 1000 people own a car in India today, compared with 600+ in a thousand in, say, the US, for example.

Correct me, someone, if I heard this wrong. If this is true, however, then introduction of this affordable car in India could mean an increase in the number of cars by 10, 20, 30, 40 times or more in the coming years. I can only imagine that this would create a nightmare scenario that would cause any existing problems in the country to fade to insignificance by comparison.

Congestion, parking nightmares, pollution and worst of all increased traffic accidents--the $2000 car in India could really become one of the most unfortunate developments that any industrializing country has ever experienced. If we look at this in today's terms, this is a case where government needs to sternly regulate free enterprise and say NO to Tata--for the greater good of the larger society.

As nice as it is as an individual to be the owner of a car, the value of that possession only exists where there is suitable infrastructure, traffic rules and all the other things required to support it. In a nation with a population of 1 billion plus already, increasing car ownership by 10x seems to be a certain recipe for disaster.

India really needs to forge ahead with a different model of industrialization, one that develops public mass transit systems instead of going the one family, one car route.

The introduction of an extensive train network was perhaps an equally pivotal event for India, but an extremely beneficial one, which is perhaps one reason why car ownership is so low today. India is one of those lucky countries where there is a legacy of public transport, inadequate as it may be by today's standards.

I hope India's government officials, MP's or whoever is responsible for looking after the public well-being will see the folly in Tata's new initiative.

1 comment:

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