From Anil Nair in Mumbai
The makeover plans of the Maharashtra government for Mumbai city are getting nowhere. The power and water shortage in the city has made life even more miserable and there seems to be no way out. In the latest directive from the municipality, newly-constructed multi-plexes, buildings, malls, etc. will get only a limited amount of water just as the older buildings will face shortage for ever. Quite a way to attract investors to the state. And in the midst of all this was the attempt to change the transport system to give it an international look.
The train services are getting worse everyday. The millennium rake introduced in the suburban services is nothing but a scandal. The coaches are the same, there is no emphasis on the comfort of the passengers, what with wooden seats, no air-conditioning and a pathetic audio system to give information to passengers. At least Mumbaikars had expected something akin to the metro coaches in Delhi and Kolkata which are swanky and cool.
The new low-floor, good-looking buses introduced by best are only too late, too little. The majority of the buses are still old which look as if they have been made by cottage industry. The road transport service in Mumbai is creaking under the load and with inadequate road infrastructure the new Singaporean model for taxis is becoming a non-starter. The taxis in the city are such a disgrace that even Jeffrey Archer, a celebrated international best-selling author, in his book The Fourth Estate talks about Mumbai taxis with the disdain that they deserve. Archer talks about how the taxi he boards at the airport is old enough to have been decommissioned in any other country, the windscreen wipers don'twork and the driver does not know how to get out of second gear. But the taximen'sunion has such a stranglehold over the drivers that it has summarily dismissed the proposal to change the rickety vehicles to more comfortable, air-conditioned modern taxis. The opposition to modernising the taxis might emanate from the need to change the metering system which will stall all fraudulent means to overcharge the consumer.
But the taximen'sunion has a point when it says that modern vehicles in foreign countries like Singapore work well as the roads are good enough to ride them on. One has to take a cab from suburban Sion to Mahim to realise how scandalous Mumbai roads can be, even without a July 26 natural calamity striking the city. The other issue is that of the parking space that is available for the taxis. With the burgeoning number of private cars on the city roads parking space is at a premium. The taximen'sunion leader A.L. Quadros said that the drivers did not even get parking space during lunchtime and they would often skip their meals rather than be caught by the police for wrong parking.
The Singaporean model essentially involves taxi vehicles being owned and maintained by corporates but leased out to the taxi-rivers. Quadros maintain that the drivers would become slaves of the owning company and lose their identity, whatever that means. If the government insists on keeping private vehicles out of the city roads while allowing only public transport vehicles, it would help hugely to decongest the roads as well as parking space. But such measures are unimaginable in our ?socialist? country.