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Concrete highways

Contradictions within

I fear, one day, the globe will have a concrete cover leaving no space for anything else.

I have been a highway traveller, by hobby, for some time now.  Yet, I haven’t travelled by road to such places as Mumbai to Ahmedabad, Pune to Satara, Bangalore, etc. I have not seen heavy traffic rush in many north Indian stretches. I have been wondering why we need so many highways everywhere.

The government says it is for future requirements, travellers’ comfort and for fuelling employment generation through increased industrial activities. On the other hand, many small but highly travelled roads look shabby with too many potholes making commuting a chaotic experience. But no government is giving much importance to those things; instead, they are busy making more highways, which are currently not required.

Investors are ready to invest when they are assured of good returns. The public will have to bear the cost through tolls and taxes. There is no other way to return the investors’ money with profit on it. Finally, people pay their money to buy the toxic impact of pollution.

Recently, the Prime Minister inaugurated Phase 1 of Samruddhi Mahamarg in Maharashtra, the longest operational highway in the country. The 700-km Samruddhi Mahamarg connects Mumbai, Nashik, Aurangabad, and Nagpur. The highway is said to boost the State’s economic development. It passes through 10 districts of the State. With grids of expressways connecting it, the State will meet its dream of a 5000 Km express highway. After spending over Rs 55,000 crore, in the next two decades it will connect nearly 36 districts in Maharashtra. But this prestigious Mumbai-Nagpur highway will not lift many districts of the state from impoverishment.

The government chants the development mantra by tuning the longest and biggest roads in India. India has the second longest road infrastructure after the US. Russia is five times larger than India.  China is three times larger and more populated than India.  These countries have a road network smaller than India.  Do we need such long highways for overall economic development? Everywhere there is a road.

At present, India has a road network of 63,71,847 Km, out of which national highways constitute 1,40,995 Km. The State has 17,725 km of national highways, 32,423 km of State highways, and 94 km of expressway between Mumbai and Pune. Maharashtra tops the list of States with 22.14% of the roads built in India. It still requires more roads!

We know more cars with an internal combustion engine would cause more problems. We encourage sales of vehicles for the growth of the automobile industry, one of the major revenue spinners for the government. At the same time, the government promotes public transportation. This will have a good connotation only when the rise in private transportation is arrested only with exorbitant road taxes instead of tolls. That will discourage the private ownership of high-emission passenger vehicles.

There are tolls everywhere as a road user-charge. The road tax is the token charge for ownership. Tolls are collected to meet the cost of the road and building. Over a period the toll revenue reaches four-fold the cost of the road building. No one questions the mechanism of enormous toll collection.

The toll payers never become the owner of the road because the government keeps milking the infrastructure, which is completely built at the cost of the riders. Private toll plaza manages to have a field day.

Chandragupta Maurya was the first to build roads in India to connect different places and increase connectivity. However, he intended to destroy the natural resources.

When we build more roads, we harm the environment. Our leaders go abroad to address environmental issues. They assure the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the creation of more green fuels.

More roads and more vehicles only mean more unpreventable pollution. It seems what we do in the name of a safe environment goes against environmental safety as we target more vehicles and longer roads.




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By Heart - Sajikumar Nair

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