Tata’s new 1 lakh rupee( $2500) car made enough of a splash to be written about in the San Jose Mercury News( either a testament to the Tata media machine or the growing India sensitivity of the newspaper). Having just returned from a hectic trip to India, I thought I should put in my 2 bits on the subject.
I visited 3 cities in my 3 weeks in India and it can be fairly said I spent most of my time gazing out the window as the car I was in slowly inched its way to its destination. The pace of life turned languid as maybe one or two things from a long checklist got accomplished, if at all. For someone who is in India purely as a tourist who wants to sightsee and shop, it is a jolting reminder to stop and smell the exhaust. The traffic situation in India is so extreme that it is a miracle that anyone wants to add a car to the whole smoggy mess.
Will the cheap car just make things worse?
If the cars are just incremental to the existing overcrowding of the streets, I foresee a day when it will take the same time to travel from the US to India as it does to travel from any major metropolitan airport to your home there! Already many car owners are ceding the stress to hired drivers and the driver-for-rent business is just booming in Chennai. Added pollution will drive up asthma attacks and road rage will migrate from the volatile north to the rest of the country.
But my New Year’s resolution having been to look at the world through rose-tinted glasses, I’d like to take a stab at an optimistic POV. Say the car, instead of being an add-on is actually going to replace some of the 2 wheelers on the road. This may add to the gas consumption and pollution overall, it might actually improve the state of traffic. Improving traffic by adding of larger vehicles to the mix may soun counter-intuitive, but my brief look at traffic patterns suggests that 2-wheelers are a real menace to society. Unconstrained by size issues, they duck and weave through traffic, making it impossible to maintain lanes, give any wedge room for manouevering and making it very hard for car drivers to follow the road rules( where there are any, of course). Chennai roads were in a state of permanent gridlock thanks to the antics of these motorists with the typical Indian attitude of “If I let you have an inch of space, more fool me”. Whereas in South Bombay, where there are much fewer types of vehicles on the roads, the traffic kept moving , even though there were many more cars than in Chennai.
My optimism may be unwarranted and the Indian government and populace has not shown any particular signs of being traffic-friendly or rule0respecting, but there’s one thing the Tata’s can do that can mitigate the environmental impact of their new product- have easy conversion to CNG or LPG modes of fuel consumption. In every city I visited, air pollution levels are significantly down because taxis and autos have converted to one of the above fuels and if people do have to spend an extra hour in traffic because so many more of them can now own a car, at least they can do it with relatively less impact on their physical health. Now about their mental health, bhai Tata hi jaane.