Monday, May 26, 2008

Environment: Traffic Snarls In Delhi

Delhi is wailing. Ask me why. No. it is not the shameless double murder at Noida, nor the incessant rains for short durations of time which caused traffic jam due to water logging and flooding, but because the Automobile lobby in India is having a whale of a time, filling up every inche of the roads in Delhi to the extent that the common man has no place to walk or even catch a bus. Writes Sumana Narayanan in Down To Earth May 26, 2008 issue, “On April 21, a small stretch of road in a congested corner of south Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world, turned into an epicentre of chaos, confusion and downright indignation. The 5.6 km stretch was where the pilot phase of a public transport system that allows buses to operate on a right of way separated from other traffic, was opened. As vehicles strayed into wrong lanes and cars piled up in long queues for the first few days, the media unleashed relentless criticism, calling the project corridor of chaos, ill-conceived, a blunder and demanding that it be scrapped. Car users and residents’ welfare associations of colonies along the stretch also attacked the new system—Bus Rapid Transit (brt)—aimed at improving traffic flow. It did not ease traffic; instead it caused more traffic snarls, they said. People in cars and riding motorcycles felt road space had been “stolen” from them by creating a separate dedicated lane for busses.”

This is truly against the common man. Not only in Delhi, but across India, majority of the people travel by public transport (mainly buses), bicycle or on foot. In Delhi, the masses follow the same pattern. But due to unruly traffic and no rules whatsoever, the roads are full of cars, busses, cycles and motorcycles, not to mention the occasional pedestrian as well. What can he do, the poor pedestrian? If the pavement which was built for him, is crowded by motorcycles whizzing past and cyclists, where is he to walk? In fact talking of cyclists, many cyclists die on the way and are sometimes not even noticed, because they are on the road and are caught in a hit and run case. Their names you would not read in the Newspaper next day, as the capitol of the country with its pseudo show and lopsided value system, does not consider their lives important enough to mention. But, pushed by relentless crusaders like Sunita Narain, the Govertment is waking up to the need of BRT in Delhi and elsewhere in the country.

Why BRT in Delhi?

Sumana Narayanan writes – “Delhi needs a dedicated bus lane because 60 per cent people in the city travel on buses. With Delhi’s population growing at the rate of 3.85 per year, only a robust public transport can ensure mobility. There is a limit to the number of cars roads can accommodate. Already 21 per cent of Delhi’s area is under roads—a high percentage compared to other cities worldwide. brt is also a step towards cleaning Delhi’s air. According to the Economic Survey of Delhi, the city had 1.60 million cars and 3.34 million two-wheelers in 2006-07. The number of city buses was only 8,000. Every day, 1,000 vehicles are added to the city’s roads. Where will it lead to? Due to the spurt in cars, Delhi has already squandered its gains from switching to cng. Air pollution levels that had dropped from 140 microgramme per cubic metre (µg/cu m) in 2002 to 100 µg/cu m in 2005 due to the introduction of cng, are again on the rise. In 2007, the pollution level was up at 155 µg/cu m. With increasing traffic jams and rising pollution what choices does Delhi have? Personal vehicles are part of the problem, not solution.”

But Delhi’s commuters are not happy. They are not comfortable to cross three lanes to get to a bus stop.

“People have no lane discipline. Even as this reporter was talking to one of the marshals regulating traffic a man parked his scooter right in front of the marshal, Ajay Kumar Singh, to get some water. When the marshal admonished him, his answer, as he hurried away, was that it was just for a minute. The marshal shrugs, “There is nothing I can do.” The marshals have no power to book anyone. At times they get abused by people for enforcing lane discipline.!”

“Motorcyclists and car users say brt has made traffic snarls longer. Some, however, feel it is good to move buses out of the regular traffic. Pradeep Kumar Yadav, who has been driving an autorickshaw for the past two years, says brt is a good idea. “I don’t agree jams have become worse. The traffic flow is better and it is nice not to have to deal with buses,” he says. But sitting in her chauffeured, air-conditioned Innova, Vineet Bammi is irate. “The idea is terrible. It takes forever to travel down this stretch of road,” she says.”

“Shopkeepers along the brt corridor are not excited either because parking is not allowed on the corridor. This, they think, will affect their business. “Parking is a problem for my customers. They end up parking on the pavement,” says Himanshu Bansal, a stationery shop owner.”

The Scary Story

By 2010, urban India’s population is expected to reach 410 million from 300 million in 2000, which means more cars and motorcycles will be unleashed on the already vehicle-choked roads.

The number of cars in Delhi alone has gone up from 0.7 million in 1997 to 1.6 million in 2007. Infrastructure is just not keeping pace with vehicle growth. Between 1996 and 2006, road length in Delhi increased by 20 per cent, while the number of cars increased by 132 per cent.

Under that threat, the Government is on the right track, both with BRT and Metrorail, we can hope to avert the oncoming disaster in air and traffic, health and the lives of the millions who travel by bus. Or cycle.

“The success of the Delhi brt cannot be judged in a few weeks. It will take time and discipline. One measure will be whether the number of private vehicles on the road reduces. And that won’t happen until various public transit systems are interconnected and parking facilities created for car users, so that they can take the bus. Making public transport score over cars in terms of comfort, speed, accessibility, cost and convenience is a tall order but not impossible. Giving buses a right of way is in everybody’s interest; it frees space for cars, for in unsegregated traffic buses block two lanes.Urban India has no choice but to board the bus.”

The present piece has been put together using information from Down To Earth, May 26, 2008 issue. Below are the links to the articles.

No Public Transport: Down To Earth May 26, 2008 edition

Caravan Disaster

Can’t Miss The Bus

Act Fast

Devil’s Advocate on
Karan Thapar Talks to Sunita Narain
'Ratan Tata will be a hero if he made a bus like Nano'

Other posts on Environment by me
Environment: A Look At On Road Diesel Danger

What’s New:
Green Jokes - Laugh And Green

Monday, May 05, 2008

Case Study: To Give Or Not To Give

Recently I read about some practical steps to take in Live-In situations as against the security of marriages.

The Do’s

1. Hold title to any major purchase in the name of the person/s who is/are actually paying for it
2. Keep finances separate if you want to avoid heated disputes
3. Keep records of your financial contributions to any property held by your partner
4. Keep the property you inherit or receive as gift separately. Any property given to both of you is legally owned by both of you – this also includes the gifts you receive irrespective of the fact that the person who gave the gift is a friend of just one of you

The Don’ts
1. If you want to avoid legal complications after a break up, you should shy away from putting your money in a common pool. So try and say no to opening joint accounts, incurring joint debts or making joint purchases
2. Don’t allow your partner to hold title to major purchases in his or her name alone if both of you are paying for that property
3. Don’t co-sign or guarantee debts that are incurred by your partner unless you intent to be equally responsible for paying them back, even after your break-up
4. Don’t become so financially dependent on your partner that you limit your ability to support yourself in the future. Keep your skills and contacts in the job market.
- Asha Nayar Basu in Your Rights in Marie Claire, May 2008

Having read the above , I began to ruminate on the plight of my mashi (aunt) who is in her early seventies, is living a retired life with her husband in Kolkata. They live in their flat in Kolkata with their only son, daughter-in-law and grandson.

In 1971, having returned to India, after years in London, pursuing a Masters and Ph.D, she married a man who was a good match if not better to her intellectual excellence. Both having, returned from abroad, in times when few heard of such things in our Bengali middle-class families, they decided to approach their marriage, with a difference. Both maintained separate Bank accounts. Neither was in any way curious about the salaries drawn by each other, properties bought even after their wedding was in the name of the person who paid for it. There were no joint finances in household management. Rather, they paid for different activities and expenses separately and having come to a consensus on who would bear the cost of that service. What was most important was the fact that, her husband never interfered in her continuous distribution, donation and financial help rendered to the less fortunate in our family.

Naturally, I was taken aback when a week ago, while speaking to her, she announced in some desperation –

“Julu, please send me *&%$#@ rupees. I will tell you all about it when you come…..”

My mashi is a very dignified person. She has always been a giver. She is blessed with both Bank balance as well as a big heart. And everyone knows about it. The house help are the beneficiary of much kindness, in words, deeds and finances from her in their hour of need. Including me, who is forced to receive, because she begins to cry if I don’t!

Naturally I was shocked to hear that statement from her. If she had said it without agitation, I would not be surprised, but her tone sent out warning signals…

I rushed to credit her account with cash. Then I called her son and told him that he is to withdraw the money from the account and give it to her, and allow her to spend the money in whichever way she liked, without any hold. It was not supposed to remain in the account collecting interest and under his supervision.

Yes, his supervision!

All the fabulous partnership principles with regard to finances had gone to the dogs! All rules of the house broken. There was one account into which money from all quarters were put. As far as I know, pension accounts cannot be joint accounts. So, how was it that my mashi had her account joint with her husband and son on either or survivor basis?

Touchy questions cannot be asked. Hence, I maintained a stoic silence about it but guessed that once the pensions come into their individual accounts, my mashi and mesho probably withdraw the money from there and deposit it into the common account, which stands in the names of all of them, with my brother’s name as First Name Holder.

Hence, since neither my mashi nor mesho handle their account and have left such things to their son to do, my mashi has to ask him to give her pocket money! Which, since she generously distributes to her house help, whenever they need it, my brother has STOPPED giving her any money at all.

My question is: Is this what any one can do, to their parents? After all, the money is hers, she is earning it from her pensions. Does he have any right to what she can spend or not spend from that amount? Should parents encourage such behavior? And coupled to that question, the most important one, should parents give their finances, property, jewelry and other precious goods to their children, while they are still in their living bodies?