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Monday / June 24.
HomemitwocentsA Liberal Dose of Political Perspective

A Liberal Dose of Political Perspective

As we Australians cry out for instant solutions to traffic turmoil, Geoff Lawson suggests as we consider this year’s budget, to spare a thought for those in India who daily do battle with a wall to wall, poly-laned, donkey carted, taxi strewn road system.

I am currently spending some more time in my region of greatest influence…. South Asia, more accurately India. No prizes for guessing my reason for the sojourn of a couple of months…. Got it in one. Cricket.

I had the wonderful experience of being in India when the host nation won the World Cup. India ground to a halt on the evening of 2 April as M S Dhoni and his blue brigade overcame their tenacious south east neighbours, Sri Lanka, in front of 40,000 in the Mumbai Stadium and another TV audience estimated at 600 million. There was no room service available at my hotel, credit card enquiries around the globe went unsolved as call centres went unmanned (un personned??), passengers arriving at the Cochin airport on the 9.30 flight had to wait patiently for their baggage. The handlers were not moving from the TV set until Dhoni launched the championship deciding six deep into the crowd.

Once the nation’s tears had been dried and the heterodox population thanked their multifarious gods, life got back to normal, almost. The fireworks outside my hotel were exhausted around 4am, I slept at last until 7am when the drums and chanting recommenced sans crackers.

..Barry O’Farrell and Julia Gillard have the mandate, the responsibility and the opportunity but perhaps only a short time to create the venerable lasting legacy

In Mumbai the Christian Sabbath was scarcely observed, but at least the public transport system coped on a Sunday. The Commonwealth Games held in Delhi resulted in millions of crores (one crore is 10 million rupees, 45 rupes to the Aus Dollar, you do the math – it’s a heck of a lot of money) spent on infrastructure, especially the new metro rail system.

Traffic: No Comparison

As I travail the streets of Mumbai, the significant feature is the traffic. Right now the traffic is worse than ever. Peak hour on Sydney’s M4 is a stroll in the Madan compared to the wall to wall, poly-laned, donkey carted, taxi strewn chaos that serves as the road system. As my rickshaw driver replied when I asked him if there were in fact “any codified road rules,” his expression of indignation furrowed across a heavily perspiring brow (no a/c in the three wheelers except for the passing breeze); “Of course there are road rules, we follow the British system, but if you follow the rules you will never get anywhere!!!”

Point taken, but I’m sure he must have spent some time driving cabs in New York judging on which side of the road he favoured…

In Mumbai too, they are building a metro. The state finance Minister Mr. Ajit Pawar announced in his budget speech that the first new line “… would be finished by November”. Prudently, he didn’t mention the year.

The Mumbai metro is quite a time from being completed. It is late and well over budget, but it will be done. The current Mumbai overground system is the world’s biggest city transport, carrying around three million people every weekday (official capacity around 1.5 million!!). The construction for this new project disrupts traffic, obstructs businesses and frustrates many – well millions actually.

The carriageway is built above the existing roads not below ground as the London underground and other major city railways. It is visible and voluble, but when it is finished it will be admired and practical. Car journeys will be more efficient, and workers will spend less time churning up natural resources getting to the job.

Life will be easier and cheaper and the investment will be returned manifold to the tax payers who gave their hard earned to the government to make their lives – and the succeeding generations – considerably more comfortable.

In Kolkata the 17 km metro will take 15 years to build, 42 kms of work in Bangalore has been going for five years and is about half completed. All things worth having take time and money.

Instant Gratification Required

In Australia we continually harp about traffic jams and over population -hah!!! Everyone wants instant success and or gratification. In my home town of Sydney the local government spend millions on bike paths which have a few thousand beneficiaries at best, the successive state governments have procrastinated and pontificated and eventually put light rail and metro style systems in the too hard basket.

I still have the first street directory I bought when I moved to the big smoke. On it was marked the Eastern Suburbs line with the “soon to be completed” Bondi Junction station and the dotted red “to be commenced” stations at Bondi Beach, Prince of Wales Hospital; UNSW campus and the Sydney Cricket Ground. That was 1976 and NOTHING has been done except the trams, so wonderful in Melbourne, have been eliminated to make more room for motor vehicles.

There is a new government in the nation’s first state, they have an unprecedented opportunity to uncover the next sod at least. Julia Gillard’s first budget will no doubt be potted with cries of “surplus” and “hard yards” and “fiscal responsibility”. I’m betting the finger will be pointed at the States for the bulk of their own transport infrastructure funding. Political investments are so often about the short term, wise leaders understand why they are elected and the depth of their legacy.

The jumble of concrete, sparks, dust, steel and workers on Mumbai Metro may be a long way from our shores but the vision of Indian decision makers is light years ahead of Australian long term planning and leadership.

…Barry O’Farrell and Julia Gillard have the mandate, the responsibility and the opportunity, but perhaps only a short time to create the venerable “lasting legacy”.

Will they be content to make decisions that favour the party political whims of re-election and their own egos or will they be revered as true leaders… all it takes is a little imagination and a trifle of public courage… that’s not too hard, is it?