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Newly elected government must focus on transport to fuel growth

The ministry of housing and urban affairs has already launched the ambitious Smart Cities Mission. It is also supporting the development of the Metro rail in a big way.

gurgaon Updated: May 29, 2019 07:58 IST
Amit Bhatt
Amit Bhatt
government,transport,fuel growth
The election is finally over, and the Modi government swept the polls with an unprecedented vote count. (Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

The election is finally over, and the Modi government swept the polls with an unprecedented vote count. The people will now have even greater expectations from the government. A lot of this expectation is centered on the mobility front. This is because if cities are the engines of growth, then transport is the wheel of the engines. This is also important because as per a United Nations report, around 55% of the world population lives in urban areas. This is expected to grow to 68% by 2050. India, China and Nigeria will account for more than a third of this projected growth.

Yes, a lot has happened on the mobility front, but a lot needs to be done for our cities to become competitive and offer the quality of life we want. Therefore, let me highlight three important areas that the three national ministries need to focus on, in order to improve mobility.

Support more buses

The ministry of housing and urban affairs has already launched the ambitious Smart Cities Mission. It is also supporting the development of the Metro rail in a big way. However, one of big missing pieces is the support to urban buses. 85% of passenger demand is catered to by road transport in the country and two third of this demand is met by buses. Therefore, buses are an important part of India’s mobility strategy. In fact, one of the most successful programmes run by this ministry, which was earlier known as Ministry of Urban Development, was the bus-funding scheme. Under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) programme, 15,000 urban buses were funded in various cities. The success of the programme was not uniform. Nonetheless, around three dozen cities got a formal public transport system for the first time due to this programme. In fact, major counties around the world have some kind of national program to support public transport. Therefore, it is the right time for the government to launch a similar national programme on supporting public transport that in our case should focus on buses.

Create safer roads

Indian roads are the most unsafe in the world. Globally, countries that have done well on road safety have always had an effective legislation. The Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) of 1988, the central piece of legislation, is modelled on the MVA, 1939. When the MVA came into existence, the motorisation in India was in its nascent stage. Therefore, policies were needed to give this sector a boost. Hence, most of the provisions of the bill revolve around the movement of goods and passengers, while the safety aspect is mostly missing. The ministry of road transport and highways did try to amend the legislation by first developing the Road Transport & Safety Bill and then coming up with the amendments to the MVA, 1988. The bill was passed by Lok Sabha in April 2017. It is stuck in Rajya Sabha as states are opposing certain transport reforms proposed in the amendment bill. Therefore, the government needs to restart the process, carve out road safety provisions and create a separate road safety act, which will be much easier to garner support.

Electrify transport systems

Just before the announcement of the elections, the Union cabinet finally approved the second phase of FAME India (FAME 2). Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (hybrid) and Electric Vehicles in India, also known as FAME India, is the Government of India’s scheme on promoting electric and hybrid vehicles. The scheme is expected to boost electrification of passenger transport in India. The first FAME scheme had limited success. In fact in a reply to a question raised in Rajya Sahba, it was revealed that till February 2017, out of the 1.11 lakh vehicles supported under the first FMAE scheme, fully electric vehicles were only 1%. Therefore, it is important that the second FAME scheme follows the right trajectory. The government has increased the allocation to ₹10,000 crore under FAME 2 for a three-year period, which is a highly welcome news. It is rightly putting the focus on buses, taxis, auto and two wheelers as the priority modes for electrification. However, the success will depend on the implementation of this scheme. Therefore, the department of heavy industries under the ministry of heavy industries and public enterprise needs to focus on the implementation. One way to do it would be to take lessons from the bus-funding experience under the JNNURM programme.

For far too long India has neglected the reality of urbanisation and the issues that crop up with it. It’s time to give due attention to urban areas to make them work. One way to do it will be to make our transport system work for all.

(Amit Bhatt is the director- integrated transport, WRI India)

First Published: May 29, 2019 00:47 IST