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I'll take the high road as well as the low

ht view Updated: Apr 01, 2014 23:30 IST
Indian roads

Some four years ago, my wife and I had gone for a walk to Nehru Park in south Delhi and, like a good citizen, I had parked my car properly. Upon returning, as is not unusual, I found it almost boxed in with scores of other haphazardly parked vehicles, leaving just a sliver of pathway to steer it out. No sooner had I begun doing it than someone behind me began honking furiously. Disoriented, I stepped out of the vehicle, folded my hands and proceeded to ask the gentlemen as to what I was expected to do under the circumstances. As if hit by a thunderbolt, he snatched his hands away from the horn and apologised repeatedly saying: "I wasn't doing anything … this silly horn started blowing on its own!" And this is just one of the perils of driving in India!

We also have a perennial national competition of sorts to acquire the loudest of horns and use them liberally. A BBC journalist, in her recent article 'Is this the city with the loudest car horns', discloses that in Delhi's horn bazaar she came across a powerful 118-decibel horn, which was "equivalent to a thunderclap. My ears throbbed for two days".

Vehicular traffic in India is growing hand in hand with the country's prosperity. Delhi had 7.45 million vehicles in 2011 (population 22 million), representing the highest concentration in the country, and adds half a million of them annually.

A related challenge in India is also to cope with the redefined 'Right of Way'. Here is a quick primer for the uninitiated. Pedestrians have none. The bigger your vehicle, the better your chances are to bully your way forward. And lastly, only trucks and buses, being the largest of all, have the right of way. Deal with it!

And next, one also has to cope with the VIP culture, comprising the ubiquitous red beacons adorning vehicles and motorcades. Granted, there are security imperatives for high dignitaries. However, these have mostly become power statements.

But all is not lost! I recall that in the 1990s, no one used the seat belt, which has now become the norm. In the late 1990s, the Supreme Court of India cracked the whip by prohibiting polluting vehicles from plying in Delhi. As a result, green vehicles, powered by CNG, have become the norm.

Growing public disapproval and media campaigns are beginning to make an impact, raising hopes that one day a respectable level of order will be manifested on Indian roads.

Vishnu Prakash is ambassador of India to South Korea

The views expressed by the author are personal