The long-pending proposal to establish a unified body for framing and implementing policies for public transport in the National Capital Region (NCR) was again revived last week. Like most recent shake-ups, the move was triggered by the December 16 gang rape of a 23-year-old woman, who eventually succumbed to grievous injuries.
The chartered bus used by the rapists, registered under a fake Delhi address by a transporter living in Noida, was impounded as many as six times for permit violations in the past two years. Every time, it was back on the road, taking advantage of the multiplicity of the policing and security system in NCR.
A formal recommendation for the new metropolitan mass transport authority is likely to be made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport soon. Three years ago, a ministerial panel headed by P Chidambaram, announced the plan to modernise the transport system of the NCR by setting up a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA). It failed to take off. Neither did the plans for an integrated policing system and seamless travel between Delhi and the suburban townships.
In the past 10 years, when Delhi’s population grew by 21%, NCR towns registered a growth of 55%, making Delhi-NCR the world’s second largest urban agglomeration after Tokyo.
Yes, the Metro does connect Delhi to Noida, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Faridabad. But to get to the Metro, one still has to depend on rickety eight-seaters, unmetered autos and cycle-rickshaws. Radio taxis have been the only convenient option but the service is plagued by limited availability of cabs. The Noida Authority says it will launch a 200-strong bus fleet in two months. Gurgaon has just 65 public buses for a city of two million.
Old proposals on NCR integration die in files even as new ones are announced. Planners talk about high-speed train networks to ferry people from Meerut to Delhi, under an hour but one still cannot travel by a three-wheeler across the NCR, without having to change autos, even three years after an agreement to start seamless travel within NCR was signed.
Even within the same district, one cannot take a three-wheeler from Noida to Greater Noida. Noida and Ghaziabad have been waiting for authorities in Lucknow to frame a policy to regulate autos that now operate within a 16-km radius and charge randomly. Except for 200-odd autos run by private companies in Gurgaon, no three-wheeler in the NCR has fare meters.
Centre-state and inter-state quibbling have meant that the NCR has too many barriers. Three of the four neighbouring states - Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan - have Congress governments, who should not have found it difficult to agree on basic uniformities in the physical and social infrastructure such as - transport, housing, law and order, water, power, telecom for the NCR.
Not that there was lack of planning. The Centre set up the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) back in 1985 for inter-state coordination, and execution of projects. But poor funding mechanism and no enforcement powers have crippled the board. No member state listens to it.
There will be more people living in Delhi than in Australia by 2030. The city needs the NCR to offload more of its pressure. Today, Gurgaon and Noida are much more than commuter towns, generating 47% and 25% of the total revenue of Haryana and UP. They couldn’t have flourished if it was not for their proximity to Delhi. To realise the full potential of a seamless NCR dream, it is time the neighbours broke down the barriers in their minds.