Mritiunjoy Mohanty, Assistant Professor at IIM Calcutta, writes in Rediff in an article entitled “Why criticising the Rs 1-lakh car is wrong“.
Whereas the author (selectively) makes a case for car from the economic and energy pespectives, he does not at all address the issue of India’s urban infrastructure, or the lack of it. Cars, as we all know, are owned by people who think they can afford them, and need fuel to operate. But they run on roads. And pray someone tell me which Indian city has the roads to withstand an explosion in four-wheeled vehicles.
As someone who has used Chennai’s roads for almost 7 years, years that coincided with Chennai’s IT boom, I can vouch that by 2005 the city’s roads were choking. Fat paychecks and friendly loans had loosened the purse strings of conservative Chennai, and the result was obvious on the roads. While I do not have the necessary data to back my assertion, anyone who has been in Chennai would know this to be true. The same can be said of Bangalore too; my friends from Bangalore would agree that their situation is worse.
Transport statistics for Chennai city on March 31, 2002 reveals that the city has about 2700 kilometres of road. Non-commercial motor cars on the same date in the city number 325000. One would not be wrong in assuming that the numbers today would reveal that the number of motor cars has gone up by a much higher percentage than the length of roads.
Throw in a 1-lakh rupee car into this equation. Welcome as it is for people who were unable to afford a car till now, it skews the balance even further. Not only does it mean cars for those who did not have one, it will also be ideal for families thinking about a second or a third car. Basically therefore, in the next few years, we will have twice as many cars on just the same length of roads. (To say nothing of the poor driving skills of these new car owners.)
In city after city whose roads are already at or beyond the limit, a more affordable car is not, as Mr. Mohanty thinks, a disruptive innovation. Whereas one cannot stop Tata Motors from selling a car, and one cannot stop people from buying it, one can only hope that it will at least bring about a retroactive thrust into urban infrastructure development projects. Not an elitist gag that labels all criticism as wrong.
Update: The car has been unveiled, and it is called the Tata Nano.
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