Sunday, January 13, 2008

Will Nano Put Dear Old Rickshaws to Rest?

Ratan Tata’s dream project, the Rs.1-lakh Nano car, is likely to give a much needed rest to our dear old auto-rickshaws and cycle rickshaws that crowd Indian cities.

That would mean a revolution on Indian roads. Elsewhere in the word, the rickshaws are seen only in automobile museums but here even on Rajpath in Delhi and Kolkata’s and Hyderabad’s crowded streets they are a live presence. It was Buddhadev Bhattacharya, West Bengal’s chief minister, who recently decided that enough is enough and told the cycle rickshaws to keep off the roads.

It was a sad thing to see: A frail old man, his ribs jutting out, struggling to pull his rickshaw with a fat lady or a big family happily sitting behind. The auto-rickshaws are much more respectable, as drivers in front maneuver these three-wheelers often violating all possible traffic rules in busy streets giving jitters to the passerby and other vehicle owners.

Now that the Nano is coming to the Indian streets, it is most likely to be the favored vehicle for quick and short-distance travels, replacing the rickshaws. They are fuel efficient, can hold up to five persons and can move about even in small alleys as our rickshaws do.

And they are sure to compete with the auto-rickshaws in prices too. The Bajaj and Piaggio auto-rickshaws that ply in the Indian roads cost almost as much as a Nano. Thus with some prodding from the government and easy finance from the banks, it is likely that the rickshaw drivers may opt for Nano taxis that would bring them more money, more passengers and more prestige.

That means the fears expressed by western analysts like Andrew C Revkin of New York Times, who wrote in his blog, Dot Earth, that Nano would be India’s contribution to the vehicle explosion on world’s roads, are misplaced. Revkin says that by 2020, the world’s roads would be full with over a billion cars, most of them coming from the new economies like India, China, Mexico and other developing countries. That, as he says, would mean disaster for the environment.

He quotes his colleague Tom Friedman who wrote after his visit to Bangalore about the Indian way of development: No, No, No, Don’t Follow Us, he screams as India and others are revving up their engines.

No one claims that the new vehicles coming to the streets of developing countries would not pollute. They would, as any other vehicle using fossil fuels anywhere in the world. But what is the solution? Return to vanaprastha as suggested by ancient Indian rishis and heartily recommended by post-modern western analysts like Revkin and Friedman? But even the rishis advised to take up vanaprastha and sanyasa only after enjoying the life and the world in grihasthasrama, or the life of the person with a family.

That goes true with young economies too. Let the United States and other rich countries enter vanaprastha as they have had enough of the worldly goods. The developing south needs its own grihasthasrama now.

That apart, it is also wrong to say that these new cars would only add to global pollution. In fact, when they conquer the roads and displace the highly polluting, less fuel efficient
Ones like our auto-rickshaws, they would actually be helping to reduce pollution.

(Cartoon courtesy: Sudheernath, New Delhi.)

No comments: