In the name of decongesting Delhi
Recently, I was witness to a Facebook post being ripped apart for no particular reason. In a matter of half an hour, the online discussion completely changed my perception of a report to decongest Delhi roads, prepared by a high powered committee of the Union Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD). It made me question the whole intent of the report. Surprisingly, even though it has been prepared by “experts”, only the vision of the report aims to decongest Delhi-roads—it has allocated three-fourths of funds available to further congest the city.
Now let’s understand the interesting dynamics of the vision and subsequent funds allocation. It mentions “the feedback received through daily newspapers and data collected by various agencies.” “These show clearly that major road infrastructure such as flyovers, underpasses, etc. built over past several years have breached their capacity well before schedule and have, in fact, led to more delays and congestion on major corridors. Moreover, these projects have severed communities, making it more difficult for people to cross streets on foot, etc making them subject to accidents and shift towards private transport. This is particularly a huge problem for children, women, elderly and disabled people…… This is because more lanes make room for more vehicles which keep filling up the space and thereby adding to greater congestion, air pollution, traffic hazards, inefficient use of public transport and retarded development,” the document goes on to say.
The report also mentions that as per current estimates, only 25 per cent of the population use private vehicles (either two-wheelers or four-wheelers) and the remaining 75 per cent use only public transport or non-motorised transport (NMT) as their only mode of travel. The committee also says, “if focus is not given to public transport and NMT modes at this stage, then more people will shift to private vehicles, thereby, further adding to congestion.”
Most agencies of Delhi and people in general have this perception that once the Metro Phase-III lines are constructed, the congestion in Delhi will reduce because people using cars and two-wheelers will shift to Metro trains. The expert committee breaks this belief by stating, “it has been seen in the past that due to poor quality of buses/trams/ non-motorized transport, people have shifted from buses to Metro even for short trips, or opted to continue with their cars/2-wheelers - due to over-crowding on Metro. This trend needs to be reversed by improving bus services, so that car-users may also use Metro comfortably instead of their private vehicles.”
A recent study conducted by Centre for Science and Environment, gave shocking evidences of high individual exposure to air pollution. It clearly indicated that the exposure to the PM2.5 (particulate matter the size of 2.5 microns or less), is five to six times and in some cases more than 10 times the safe limit. The situation is so alarming that even indoor air quality has become extremely unsafe for breathing. As per CSE, the reason for this is the exponential growth in vehicles due to disproportionate expenditure on construction of flyovers, underpasses and signal free corridors, instead of improving conditions of walking, cycling and public transport.
After taking stock of the situation, the high powered committee sets out its vision by stating, “It was agreed unanimously by the Committee that the primary solution to decongesting Delhi is prioritization and promotion of public transport and inducing people to shift towards it, from their private vehicles.”
As per the committee’s recommendations, the “Prioritized Action Plan to Decongest Delhi” is a nine-point strategy:
1. Parking Pricing & Management
2. Multi-Modal Integration at Metro Stations & Railway/ ISBT
3. Bicycle Sharing System with bicycle tracks/ bicycle highways throughout the city
4. Road retrofitting as per Street Design Guidelines
5. Bus Service Improvements
6. BRTS Corridor Development
7. Integrated Road Network – new bypass/ elevated roads
8. Intelligent Transport System
9. Capacity Building Programme
The recommendations further outline specific time-bound tasks, with deliverables for each of the strategy. The recommendations are so specific that they have identified various individual location-specific projects for each strategy, allocated funds to them and identified agencies responsible to do the work. The report can be termed as one of the most comprehensive action plans to improve conditions of Public Transport, Cycling and Walking in Delhi. HOWEVER, the intentions of the recommendations need to be tested against the funds allocated to individual strategies. Out of the total Rs 41,095 crore set aside for decongesting Delhi, Rs 30,000 crore has been allocated towards more elevated Roads, tunnels and bypass roads. While it is clear that one of the biggest problems of Delhi is the increasing encroachment of streets, footpaths and public spaces by unauthorised car parking, the expert committee has recommended taking up only five pilot parking projects while recommending 19 flyovers and tunnels (15 short-term and four in the long term). The report has mentioned construction of bus depots, adoption of ITS for signaling, buying of high quality, air-conditioned low-floor buses, adoption of single mobility card and route rationalization of all buses, as some of the most important tasks to improve the condition of bus facilities. However, it has failed to allocate any funds towards the same. In fact, only five out of the 14-UTTIPEC (Unified Traffic and Transportation Planning & Engineering Centre)-approved BRTS corridors have been recommended for construction in the next few years. All of this leads us to question whether the high powered committee is actually serious about decongesting Delhi by suggesting implementation of its own recommendations or is the panel devoid of the “high power” required to demand requisite funds for implementation of its recommendations. The whole report now seems like a tool to silence all those who have been demanding better public transport, footpaths and reduction in use of private vehicles. DOWN TO EARTH