ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Distress of 'Automobilisation'

It is high time we reversed the processes of "automobilisation", urban sprawl, and uneven development.

Going by the number of visitors thronging the Auto Expo India exhibition, more than two million, and the number of new model launches, 25, the 2010 Delhi auto show was the biggest display on earth of its kind, surpassing its Shanghai counterpart of 2009, at least in the count of fresh specimens set in motion. The government is now aggressively promoting the industry as an “automobile manufacturing hub” serving both the domestic and international markets. Going by the publicity, the combination of low-cost and high-skilled engineering labour bestows India with a “locational advantage”, what with the domestic market expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 30%.

A caveat is, however, due. The car is not about to be rendered into the mass-consumption commodity that it became in the United States by 1970 when there were 1.9 people to every car. In India, there are still 110 persons for every car on the road, but yet, traffic congestion and vehicular pollution plague our cities. As between buses and cars, the latter occupy most of the road space, even as they meet the travel requirements of a minority of the cities’ residents; the lifetime road tax for a car is, however, a fraction of that for a bus. The car could become a mass- consumption commodity in the US because by 1924 the lowpriced model T Ford (launched in 1908) cost the buyer a mere 45% of the US per capita national income. It may come as a disappointment that the Nano is nowhere near that number in India today. But, vehicular traffic has assumed proportions far beyond the capacity of the available roads in most Indian cities. And, an automobile-industrial complex is taking shape, exerting its influence at the political and ideological levels. The upgrading of roads, the construction of flyovers and highways, indeed, even multilane freeways, are underway at breakneck speed with the appointment of one of the most adept political representatives of business as union minister of road transport and highways.

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