Dear KTR: Please take note of issues raised by the IT junta but don’t pander to their hubristic pride

Dear Sir,

As you might be aware, there is a change.org petition doing rounds on social media “demanding” you & our beloved chief minister “to build safe roads in 6 months or refund the road taxes paid by citizens”. While I completely appreciate the sentiment of the petition & can also empathise with the hassles faced by people on pothole-ridden roads, I implore you to take this opportunity to fundamentally alter how we think about roads and urban planning.

Because, the IT crowd of Madhapur, Kondapur, Gachibowli & Kukatpally are barking up the wrong tree here and it’s high time we all call their bluff. Your Twitter replies are full of snarky comments on “unfulfilled promises” & references to how good the infrastructure is in big cities like London, Singapore, NewYork, Dubai & Tokyo. It is easier for people to extol the virtues of these cities without totally understanding how these cities function in the first place.

Setting aside the fact that all the aforementioned cities have excellent public transport facilities(albeit packed at rush hour), with extremely high occupancy ratios, disincentivise private transport(read private car) by imposing tolls on city roads(not just highways) and also by imposing extremely high parking fees. In addition to these, cities like London, Milan, Singapore & Stockholm and even smaller English towns like Durham impose congestion charge/tax at peak hours for better traffic management.

Hyderabad & “IT junta of Hyderabad” cannot aspire to have infrastructure like these developed cities without enduring some of the restrictions the maintenance and management of such massive infrastructure brings with it. As this excellent piece explains, private car ownership is already heavily subsidised all over the world & more so in India where it’s still a tiny minority with the financial wherewithal to own a car and use it as a means of daily commute. All over the world, megacities introduce a wide variety of disincentives to make owning a vehicle extremely expensive(Singapore also has something called the Certificate of Entitlement which makes owning luxury cars & SUV’s very, very expensive).

Hyderabad, and most major Indian cities, face the same problems faced by the aforementioned cities and it would be a big mistake on our part to not look at these models and instead look at U.S. cities which don’t have a culture of public transport. Also, given that we are a low/middle-income country, isn’t it the government’s responsibility to provide affordable transport to the legions of lower/middle income people without imposing a burden on exchequer? The government cannot be wooed by a vocal minority which has nothing but its self-interest to serve and amplifies it on social media to create/manufacture a feeling of “speaking for everyone”.

No, they are not speaking for the greater good of Hyderabad. Are they ready to make sacrifices like the people of London, Shanghai & Singapore pay for public parking & pay tolls for using city roads? Given the widespread support for demonetisation from the IT junta everywhere, there is hope. But, the government cannot pander to the tyranny of the minority(Nicholas Nassim Taleb explains here in great detail) and cannot indulge them so that they can bring their massive SUV’s on to congested city roads without a care about how they are a big part of the exact problem they are moaning about.

Hyderabad should, instead, look at a Bogota-style BRT project which combines rapid mass transport with taxes on usage of private vehicles. Bogota, also, has built excellent infrastructure for people who walk & cycle something which is non-existent in Hyderabad and every Indian city apart from being a PR initiative for companies for a couple of days every year.

A 2015 report by the Registrar General of India(summarised here) shows that a vast majority of Indians either walk or cycle to work. More specifically, the scenario in Hyderabad is as shown below.

How Hyderabad commutes

The same report also says that the average commute distance in Hyderabad is 4km. The question that arises looking at this data is: should the government care more about the nearly 62% who travel by foot, bicycle or a two-wheeler or the miniscule 7.3% who use a car. The answer seems a no-brainer to me.

Why not build a city which provides the respect the nearly 31% deserve with footpaths and dedicated bicycle lanes? Why not build a public transport system which eases the burden of the 31.4% two-wheeler users who would be more willing to shift to public transport than the 7.3% who cause more inconvenience than the former but continue to be subsidised by the government. Why should the government continue to subsidise these upper-middle class people with flyovers, arterial roads & special corridors? Why escalate costs to provide a comfortable experience to a tiny minority at the expense of the majority? Why not use funds to provide facilities the vast majority deserve?

The benefits of a vibrant public transport system also translate into a improved social fabric. This is absolutely essential in a country like India where there is a class divide in every walk of life. Over the last 15 days we have seen major announcements by the government-grand plans to improve the city’s infrastructure. A task force to rectify the situation of roads, a dedicated corridor from InOrbit Mall to Gachibowli & flyovers in Nizampet. The moot point here is: why build projects which serve a really tiny minority of citizens? Why subsidise travel for people who can afford a car? Will such vanity projects improve the conditions for the vast majority who continue to be neglected?

All said and done, it all comes down to this: If the “IT crowd” wants world-class facilities in a low-income country like India, they should be willing to make sacrifices. They were generous enough to make sacrifices when demonetisation caused great pain to them because they were willing to do it for the “greater good of this country”. I am sure they will be willing to make similar sacrifices to realise their dream of living in a “world-class Hyderabad”.

My earnest request is not to let the dictatorship of the minority cloud your judgement. You are a smart man & I earnestly hope that you do not get swayed by the sabre-rattling of the influential minority.

Regards,

Chaitanya(lvkchaitanya@gmail.com)

A responsible citizen