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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The answer to congestion and pollution in a larger and more pertinent sense is that it is for state to improve and expand road networks in towns and countrywide, mandating parking facilities as part of city planning.

Hooray For Nano!

What Nano proves is that India too can dream and innovate. Now wait for the multiplier effect.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald/Tribune, 22 January, 2008

Many will argue over which was the greater triumph of the New Year, Ratan Tata’s unveiling of the much awaited Nano that certainly grabbed world attention or the Indian cricket victory at Perth. The latter will surely go down in cricket legend but perhaps the Nano will impact more lives and more profoundly.

If the Maruti 800 transformed the automobile scene in India, bringing a whole new segment of would be motorists on to the road, the Nano is likely to repeat this phenomenon on a bigger scale in view of the a very much larger upwardly mobile cohorts evident today , especially in small towns and the countryside. Pride and hope lie in the fact that the Nano is not merely the cheapest car in the world, admittedly without frills, but is indigenously designed and produced. Further, in this day and age of crowded cities and global warming it could revolutionise how more people live and move around just as the Italian bug and German beetle did a half century ago. 

Critics have said that the Nano will add to congestion and pollution and could endanger safety. Certainly it is going to add exponentially to the number of vehicles on the road, along with other small care competitors. But it is has Bharat III emission standards, with a boast of causing less pollution than many existing two-wheelers and the promise of high fuel efficiency at 23 kms per litre. A small, light car is always exposed to danger on India’s highly unsafe roads but it was Ratan Tata’s dream that there should be a safer and more appropriate ride than the perilous journey young family foursomes currently undertake on a scooter today. The two-wheeler will not fade away but the Nano is likely to be a transitional option and a liberating choice for millions.

The answer to congestion and pollution in a larger and more pertinent sense is that it is for state to improve and expand road networks in towns and countrywide, mandating parking facilities as part of city planning. More importantly, it needs to increase and improve public transport such as buses, tramways, and mass transit systems like the metro. More efficient and cheaper connectivity will alter the way  people live, decongesting cities and encouraging dispersal or living and working spaces into suburbia and smaller towns, especially in combination with the satellite, computer, internet, mobile telephony and the amazing transformation in communications.

Low energy mass transportation systems would have an added enhanced edge were the present level and range of open and hidden subsidies on electricity and petroleum products as well as water and other public goods to be reduced if not altogether eliminated. These merely subsidise the rich at the cost of the poor and encourage avoidable waste, extravagance, congestion and pollution. Despite oil prices pushing towards $ 100 per barrel the Government, cultivating populist electoral politics, has been in no hurry to adjust fuel prices, with the Left, as always, huffing and puffing in the name of the poor who ultimately pay the price.

It was sad to see sundry protestors demonstrating in Singur while the Nano was being unveiled at Delhi’s auto show. These misguided people are still being instigated to demand more jobs and better compensation for their acquired lands thus impeding the very process that will in due course ensure them better prospects. The Nano should be on the road by autumn and will generate some jobs at the Tata plant but far more, directly and indirectly, in ancillary industries and related services across the country. There will be a huge multiplier effect that critics are prone to ignore. With training, local youth will find increasing avenues of employment and expansion of the local market will open up new off-farm and agricultural opportunities making it a win-win situation for all. Why prevent or postpone that day ?

Nandigram will surely rue the day it was misled into scuttling its own future. The same is happening in Orissa and elsewhere where mines steel plants and other large investments are being thwarted. In some cases, it is clear that greed for ever more compensation for land is becoming an obstacle to rational choice. Landowners and other stakeholders are certainly deserving of a fair and even generous deal. But wholly exorbitant demands can only delay or deny project fruition t nobody’s benefit. It does not necessarily always happen, but well done and with good planning and forethought, the incoming tide can indeed lift all boats.        

What Nano proves is that India too can dream and innovate. Innovation and entrepreneurship must be encouraged within well defined social and environmental parameters so that sustainability is ensured. More billionaires with a sense and, indeed, obligation to show individual and corporate social responsibility may not be a bad thing provided that this is not just accompanied by but outpaced by an improved quality of life at the base. Widening disparities matter far more when deprivation rules high. 

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