Those who know senior journalist Vidyadhar Date (66) know him as a soft-spoken man. But in the 1990s, when Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray poked fun at the slumdwellers defecating by the railway tracks, Date was seething with rage — because the poor, who had no option, were being ridiculed.
Date brings the same sensitivity to his first book, Traffic in the Era of Climate Change, published by Kalpaz Publications, Delhi.
In the book, he argues for a “more democratic” transport policy. Walking, cycling and public transport should be a priority, he says, not more space for cars. This would also help us reduce our carbon footprint.
“I decided to write this book,” says the Bandra resident, “because I am a determined walker. I do not own a car because walking is enriching. But of late, I have felt the humiliation that pedestrians feel as cars and automobiles take over our roads. There is this constant conflict between the haves and the have-nots.”
In his book, the product of seven years of research, Date describes how policy makers in India are driving pedestrians off the roads at a time when even car-crazy nations like the US are creating space for walkers and cyclists.
“New York’s Time Square got more space for pedestrians and cyclists when Janette Khan, a cycling enthusiast, took over as transport commissioner,” he says.
Date also describes how urban planning is geared to benefit automobile owners. The international airport, he says, has ample space for cars to park, but of the two BEST bus stops there, one has a very bad seating arrangement and the other has no roof.
“Date is absolutely right,” says transport expert Sudhir Badami. “We do not have a democratic transport policy, and this is compromising the dignity of the common man.”
Referring to the July 5 Bharat Bandh by the Opposition, Date says: “A more constructive approach on the fuel price issue would be to demand a policy shift from private to public transport.”
He does not spare filmstars and sportstars either, reprimanding them for their fascination with cars.
But to describe Date’s book as a set of well-researched complaints about the city’s transport system would be missing the woods for the trees.
The common man pays the price for the increased congestion caused by more cars because, where he would once have walked, he must now take a vehicle because he has been robbed of his road.
That’s a thought.