Minggu, 04 Mei 2014

How to make a mess of things

Elections have been over in Bangalore for a couple of weeks now and its a long wait for the results due in mid May. As is the wont in India, all government work comes to a standstill when elections are announced as the result of a "model election code" which is supposed to ensure that incumbents don't benefit by doing populist stuff just before elections. Indian love doing nothing and so all this freeze in activity is considered a good thing.

Consequently, when elections are over , it is also the time to do unpopular things.  By the time the next elections come, its all forgotten. In keeping with this tradition, the Karnataka government has been busy raising tariffs , leading to howls of protests. Vatal Nagaraj, a local character known for innovative protests  has remained true to form yesterday.

I want to pick on one such move - raising the toll on the road to airport as a perfect example of everything that is wrong in India about how we go after things.

First the facts. Bangalore airport is some 50 kms out of the city. There is a highway that connects the city to the airport. They have recently upgraded it with flyovers , avoiding all signals , etc etc and it is now a super smooth ride to the airport. All very good. Now comes the question of who will pay for all this and how.

The obvious solution is a toll. That's what the authorities have done. The problem is that in one full sweep , they have implemented a toll of Rs 115 (US $ 2) overnight.

Let's start with the amount itself. It is one of the largest (probably THE largest) single toll anywhere in the country. By Indian standards it is an astronomical toll. Still, that is probably the revenues required to offset the cost of building the roads and flyovers. But as with everything in India, there is little transparency. Nobody has bothered to lay down the facts of the costs and the economics clearly - if they had done it , many would probably consider the toll justified. As it stands, the sniff of somebody profiteering is very high.

Secondly, it would have been far better to prepare the public. Instead on one midnight it was just enforced. People catching the early morning flights suddenly found a demand for Rs 115. It is inevitable that there would be anger.

Everybody and anybody is protesting, irrespective of the logic.

The most galling protest comes from the cab drivers ferrying people to the airport. Their grouse is that it will eat into profits. Complete rubbish. It is the passenger that pays the toll. No cabbie returns from the airport empty.  Its a ridiculous protest.

The next constituency that is protesting is the lot going to the airport. The rich and pampered 0.001% who travel by air. They don't want to pay Rs 100 for the super smooth road to the airport to catch a flight that will cost Rs 5000. This is the same lot who were moaning about poor infrastructure and roads to the airport. Their solution is to abolish the toll and let the cost be borne by the government (read the poor non airport user). Fantastic.

The next lot who are protesting are the opposition politicians. I am not sure what they are seeking to gain from this - the rich using the airport road is a miniscule constituency and why defend them ?? On the contrary I would have expected them to protest saying the toll should be doubled.

The next step is very predictable. A few toll booths will be vandalised. Some old foggy with nothing better to do will launch a public interest litigation in the courts. Thee wise courts will immediately issue a stay on the toll and take the next 74.63 years to issue a ruling. Meanwhile the idiot who invested in the road will go bankrupt.

And then we wonder why infrastructure is so poor in India.
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