The AAUI President asks if air pollution and traffic is causing you to grow disenchanted with the automobile.
A drive through an average city market on a typical afternoon is enough to make you feel that something is not quite right with the scene – roads saturated with frustrated and aggressive drivers, and an atmosphere filled with a deafening cacophony of horns and engine growls. Once clear vistas of the sky are now obscured by a sickly, caustic haze caused by vehicular pollution. A few minutes in city traffic are enough to make your eyes water and temper flare up. It seems that the automobile – the very machine that once embodied the spirit of our dreams and technical advancement – has now become the very instrument of its destruction. On one hand, our infatuation with the automobile is increasing, and, on the other hand, our burgeoning awareness of the car’s wicked ways is forcing us to question our choices and ways of life.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not for banishing the automobile from the Indian landscape. I love my car too much to entertain such an idea even for a second. What I’m proposing is a way to discover a balance, a way for people and their automobiles to exist in some sort of harmony. It’s high time to initiate studies to find out how an average motorist really feels about the changes going on around them. What compromises are they willing to make in their driving habits? It wouldn’t be surprising at all if the studies reveal a growing disenchantment of people with the automobile, owing to its impact on their lives.
What’s interesting is that while people in general may show a sense of awareness regarding the deleterious effects of their driving habits, few are complaisant enough to do something discernible to bring about this much-needed change. Given these attitudes, one may – shrouded in grim hopelessness – walk away with little hope for the future of our cities. But the optimist in me thinks that all is not lost. We can still take corrective action. What we need is a lot of progressive urban planners, environmentalists and other experts at car companies to take these issues extremely seriously. The auto manufacturers, dealers and auto users together under right directions can propose solutions to the problems associated with the automobile. What we need to ameliorate the situation is to move forward with a sense of co-operation and a broad social outlook and not with animus and hostility.
There’s hardly any doubt that the ever-rising air pollution in metro cities – to a large extent – is a result of proliferating vehicles. Delhi, with the country’s highest number of vehicles – about 10 million – stands out as the most polluted city in the country. The number of vehicles per kilometre has increased with celerity in the last five years – it’s up by 50% – with no discernible change in road space. Mumbai leads other metros in this category, with 430 cars per kilometre of road.
Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Greater Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Kolkata are the top ten cities with highest number of car ownership, which are also amongst the most polluted cities in the country.
Another cause of concern is the alarmingly high accident rates on the overburdened roads of our cities, and still the bulk of vehicles produced in the country are sold in these cities. Delhi itself has more vehicles than the total number of vehicle together in Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. Given the overpopulated roads of our cities, it’s in the interest of motorists to not take undue risks while driving on the road.
Remember, your vehicle is a double-edged lethal weapon. It’s dangerous to both you and others on the road. Cultivating a habit of safe driving would not only help you avoid becoming a victim of accidents but also help you avoid becoming the cause of one. Another step forward in this regard would be a position of complete intolerance by the authorities towards the flexibility in the enforcement of traffic rules and regulation and any wanton or wilful disregard of road safety and traffic laws.
The idea of the automobile is to make life convenient, which is possible only if we take appropriate steps, in time, to assuage the concerns caused by it – directly or indirectly.
T.K. Malhotra is the President of the Automobile Association of Upper India (AAUI).