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Mumbai traffic: Faster than the quickest Snail

Mumbai traffic: Faster than the quickest Snail
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First Published: Mon, Feb 04 2008. 10 58 PM IST
Updated: Mon, Feb 04 2008. 10 58 PM IST
Those who say traffic in Mumbai moves at a snail’s pace are engaged in a vicious misinformation campaign.
Archie, the garden mollusc that won the 1995 World Snail Racing Championship at the Congham Church’s annual fete in Norfolk, UK, covered a 13-inch circular course in 2 minutes.
That record, which remains unbroken, gave the plodding slug a speed of almost 10 metres per hour.
Cars and taxis in Mumbai, by comparison, are 1,500 times faster. Motorists are now zipping through town at a breakneck speed of 15km (9 miles) per hour, according to Bombay First, an advocacy group that still uses the city’s old name.
It must rank as a great success in urban planning and management that vehicular traffic in Mumbai, though it is 60% slower now than in 1962, is still nimbler than the crawl of a gastropod. It’s also three times quicker than the walking speed of some of the more agile Homo sapiens.
Sure, one hears a lot of moaning and groaning about the loss of productive time caused by the city’s inadequate road network. There’s much whining about how the Indian economy, if it wants to sustain its 9% growth rate, must break the gridlocks that slow people down.
All that’s just malicious propaganda with which heartless capitalists and their increasingly hedonistic middle-class followers are arm-twisting the government.
They’re saying, “Spend at least some of the money you take from us as taxes to give us better roads.”
Such greedy people. And not just in Mumbai.
Urban centres across India now want 24-hour water supply, uninterrupted power and protection from robbers and rapists. Last month, some people in New Delhi got together, cleared a few barricades, broke a coconut to seek divine blessings and simply began using an overpass that was yet to be officially opened.
Stealing photo opportunities from the poor politician? What could be more insensitive than that?
There’s no reason really for the rich in Mumbai to grumble. If the public works authorities are chewing cud over building new roads, they have their reasons. The Germans are coming with their fast cars. Porsche AG opened its first showroom in Mumbai last year, joining rivals Daimler AG and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, or BMW.
Now, Mumbai isn’t just India’s financial capital; it’s also home to the world’s largest movie-making industry. Celebrity status and responsible behaviour don’t usually mix well. That’s true for both Hollywood and Bollywood.
The civic authorities in the city are saving lives by ensuring that inebriated actors don’t get the chance to speed except late at night when most people are safely in bed. There’s this pending matter of how to extend the protection to the poor migrant workers from villages. Many of them sleep on the sidewalk. Overall, Mumbai’s administration is doing a fine job. Its heroic efforts will now be featured in a Bollywood movie to instill in people a greater civic consciousness, DNA newspaper reported last week.
Signboards on the streets of Mumbai warn motorists of a Rs1,000 ($25) fine if they wash their cars on the roads.
Presumably, the authorities have taken a dislike to slushy streets, for which potholes and clogged drains routinely take the blame when the real culprits are the people themselves.
In fact, the municipal agency ought to take further steps to deflect criticism: any resident who is found not to possess a garbage disposal bag in a public area must be penalized.
That’s the right strategy to deal with litter. Metals are so expensive nowadays that if the city started making available more bins for people to throw their trash in, it would only encourage theft and, if gangs got involved, organized crime.
One must also think of the beneficial impact of slow-moving traffic on the country’s strained moral fabric.
One-third of Indian corporate executives polled in a recent survey said they saw no harm in having an affair with a married colleague. With morals this lax, vehicle speeds ought to remain low. Imagine the social chaos if the commutes that currently take four hours every day are completed in one. The time thus saved won’t get allocated to the endangered institutions of marriage and family. It will be gobbled up by employers who are under pressure from investors to keep profit margins expanding in the face of growing wage bills, soaring office rents and high material and currency-hedging costs. Shorter journeys will see executives spending longer hours in the workplace, which will turn into a veritable hotbed of infidelity.
The Maharashtra government deserves applause for its tardiness in constructing a cable-supported bridge joining the island city with the western suburbs. Smoother flows will only encourage more people to shun the overcrowded commuter trains, especially now that Mumbai-based businessman Ratan Tata will soon start selling the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car.
Unfavourable comparisons with snails will increase; their tone will get shriller. The public, which never knows what’s good for it, will be misled.
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First Published: Mon, Feb 04 2008. 10 58 PM IST