Contradictions within

Jan 14, 2023

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

I frequently travel, and since I have no choice but to take highways that pass through cities and states. I always use my travels to discover new places, like forests, which inspire me to write more.

On numerous occasions, I have travelled by road to many locations, including Mumbai to Ahmedabad, Pune to Satara, Bangalore, etc. But many north and south Indian stretches do not have heavy traffic. Then why do we need so many highways everywhere?

The government says it is for future requirements, travellers’ comfort, and fueling 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 a 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 in 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 building 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? There are roads everywhere.

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 the sale 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.

As a road user charge, there are tolls everywhere. The road tax is the token charge for ownership. Tolls are collected to cover the cost of the road and building. Over time, toll revenue exceeds four times the cost of road construction. No one questions the mechanism of enormous toll collection.

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

This highway also passes through wildlife habitats, tiger corridors, and an eco-sensitive zone with three sanctuaries: Tansa, Katepurna, and Karanja Sohol. Recently, a herd of wild boars crossing this e-way got hit by a speeding vehicle. In this accident, 14 wild boars were crushed to death. Within 1 month, more than 50 wild animals, including deer, nilgais, monkeys, and stray dogs, have been killed.

Chandragupta Maurya was the first to build roads in India to connect different places and increase connectivity. However, he never 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.