Transport is one of the fundamental requirements of business and the recent strike by diesel-run auto operators needs to be taken as a warning. Over 10,000 operators and drivers paralysed life for the relatively poorer populace of the tricity for over five days, before the administration did a volte-face and allowed 5,500 of these diesel-run autos with a specific type of engine (Bharat Stage III norms), registered from 2010 onwards, to run in Chandigarh till March 31, 2015. However, their entry has been regulated till then. As we heave a sigh of relief over the temporary truce, it will be in the fitness of things to go deeper into the issue and see if there can be a long-term solution to the way we transport ourselves and the city’s commercial wares.
One of the most positive points of living in the tricity is the outstanding mobility we are blessed with. Unfortunately, we have been taking it for granted far too often and make far too many unnecessary trips, solo, on our cars and bikes, adding to the pollution. As a journalist, the day it was announced that the state transport authority will not allow diesel-run autos to enter Chandigarh, I knew there would be protests. The administration’s failure to anticipate this and convince autowallahs to abide by the decision can only be termed puzzling. Did officials, in their wisdom, feel that 10,000 people would accept to be jobless, without a whimper? Even otherwise, in a city that is adding more than a 120 vehicles a day, at least 25% of them diesel, removing 10,000 diesel-run autos that ply on shared basis, carrying five passengers per trip on average (regardless of what the law says), could only be called a knee-jerk response.
The way forward
Transport, pollution and economic activity are interlinked and it is indeed a challenge to balance these conflicting objectives. For the tricity, especially Chandigarh, with little industrial activity, it could make sense to let pollution be the least of our worries, for the next five years, at least. We need mobility and better connectivity and the resultant spurt in business to further raise our profile. It needs to be remembered, though, that it is mobility we are after and not more cars or vehicles — to be bandied about as status symbols. The Metro Rail could well be an option.
The focus over the next year should be to evolve a policy that can keep the number of vehicles on the city’s roads within a reasonable limit. An idea that could work is drastically increasing the road tax for vehicles costing above `3 lakh. Progressive establishments would understand that this can only work to the advantage of all, as better roads and little pollution will only help increase car sales. Increase in fuel quality and efficiency will be important to ensure that commercial transport, especially, gets a leg-up. Research in this area could be crucial to who gets the rap first, the humble autowallah or the owners of private vehicles. Regardless of what happens with the Metro project, it is imperative Chandigarh takes the lead to come out with an original, rational transport structure when things remain relatively manageable.