Delhi Government’s Transport and Road Policy: Urban Planning for Whom?

- Ardhendu Roy  

The Delhi government’s sudden attempts to change the face of the nation’s capital at the cost of the city’s poor have exposed the anti-people character of the Congress. The beautification drive with the slogan of ‘Clean Delhi, Green Delhi’ has created islands of greenery that remain cocooned amidst sprawling shopping complexes and mega malls, multiplex theatres and big flyovers, sky buses and fast track cars where the common man has no place. The visual pleasure of the international community and benefit of the elite echelons of society is the only consideration at the present moment as the nation must gear up for the grand show of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. How does it matter if the face of the urban poor is simply obliterated from the very map of this city? If the multinational corporate magnates can be wooed in to bleed the nation dry, some trickle down effect of profit can surely be within the grasp of the ruling conglomerate.

What matters then that the city’s have-nots are pushed to the margins of existence with little or no basic amenities like water and power; and suffer a transport system and road policy that has taken the lives of as many as 488 people in the last three years? After all the government has plans for introducing air-conditioned as well as low floor, high-capacity buses with the new logic of ‘corporate co-operation’ and metro railway as the future bed-rock of the city’s transport network even though the facilities would be restricted to the better off commuters of the city alone. While we have witnessed what havoc a private bus transport system can cause as the city’s Blue-line services go berserk with their maniacal need to run for profit, we have also seen the kind of paralysis into which the city can be thrown when these same operators take their vehicles off the roads to ‘protest’ against the administration’s attempt at regulation.

Public Transport: Urban Lifeline

At present Blue-line operators run roughly 4,596 CNG buses excluding 4000-5000 contract or chartered buses, 3000-4000 Rural Transport Vehicles (RTV’s) ply both on rural as well as urban Delhi roads and the DTC representing the public sector has 30% market share only owning 3413 CNG buses with 3100 of them being road worthy in which again 1100 buses are reserved for school. The present transport scenario indicates the pivotal role that bus transport plays in an urban context. If one goes through the available statistics one finds that less than 1% commuters used trains in Delhi in 2001 owing to the weak suburban railway network while nearly 60% used buses (DTC and private buses). DTC caters to the needs of around 48 lakh commuters and this proportion has remained more or less stable over the past decade. It should be further noted that even after a fully developed rail based mass rapid transit system comes into operation by 2021(with 244.86 km in length that will cater to 20% of the city commuters), the bus transport system will continue to play a dominant role in Delhi’s Public Transport System. If one makes a comparative analogy one sees that all over the world the public transportation system plays a major role in the urban transport network. Cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and Beijing are public transportation-oriented as more than 70% of the people rely on them and in Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila, the modal share of public transport varies between 40 and 60% of total person trips.

Privatising DTC

Despite the pressing need for a public transport system like DTC, it is being progressively dismantled through blanket privatization. The State Government started the process of privatizing DTC way back in the early 90s. In April 2002, the process was accelerated by disallowing DTC from hiring private buses and operating them under its control, and issuing permits to the private operators to operate bus service in Delhi. The declared policy of the State Government “is not to privatize DTC but to restructure and revamp it”. The Delhi Government had announced a transport plan for the city in September 2002. The action plan was targeted mainly towards the existing public bus transport network and it aimed at the rationalization of bus routes, bus lanes for selected corridors, introduction of premium bus services, time table integration of bus and metro and providing parking facilities as its short term objectives. The medium and long-term plans included running a high capacity bus system (on five selected corridors to begin with), electric trolley buses (on two selected corridors to start with), and feeder bus routes for the metro and finalization of proposals for bus lanes and bus-only routes. The suggestions for DTC-level reforms interestingly are based on promoting DTC to the status of a business organization, reducing excess staff, use of contractual workers (currently hundreds of contractual bus drivers are recruited by the DTC authority and the transport authority directed them to hire more contractual drivers to run the existing fleet of DTC) and granting concessions only from the reserves. Measures like recruiting contractual bus drivers, giving free hand to depot managers with the ethos of ‘run to earn’, sending maximum buses to the inter-state routes, etc. has been already implemented. The Delhi Transport Ministry has also created another department within DTC to manage and run the low floor buses that are to ply on the special corridors. These buses will be kept now in six depots and the maintenance work will be done by the TATA, who incidentally is also the manufacturer of these buses. The six depots, all of them situated in the heart of the city like Hauz Khas, IP Estate, Vasant Vihar will be handed over to TATA on 1 August 2007. What would be the role of DTC in the future is a question that the State Government is not clearly answering. When a delegation of the Jan Parivahan Morcha met Mrs. Shiela Dixit after the spate of fatal accidents and asked her to publicly announce the transport and road policy of her government she merely indicated that low floor/high capacity buses would be the future life line of the city and the DTC’s role would be defined by it.

Campaign for People’s Transport

DTC Workers’ Unity Centre affiliated to AICCTU has been actively campaigning against the privatization of DTC and under the banner of ‘Save DTC’ or ‘DTC Bachao Morcha’ formed in 1993 it had tried to organize workers not only within DTC but also take the issue to the common. Jan Parivahan Morcha (JPM) was formed subsequently in early 2007 as the issue of ‘Citizens’ Right to a Cheap, Safe and Secure Public Transport System and Hazard-free Roads’ with DTC representing the public sector as the only alternative became an imperative one. On 7 March 2007, JPM organized a peoples’ convention on the transport issue at JNU City Centre, and people from different occupational and social strata like workers/employees primarily from the transport sector, social activists, teachers from IIT Delhi specializing on road transport and urban planning and students from JNU, DU and JMI joined the proceeding. To strengthen the voice for an alternative transport and road policy and demand that the Dixit government take effective measures against reckless driving leading to several deaths due to road accidents, the JPM organized a day-long dharna on 12 July 2007 in front of the Police Headquarters at ITO and met the Delhi Chief Minister the next morning. The meeting was inconclusive and the JPM has decided to intensify its campaign:

* To make DTC   the pivotal public transport system in Delhi that would run as a government department and thereby directly undertake the responsibility of city bus service planning;
* To create a level playing field for DTC whereby STA should issue permits to private bus operators on the advice of DTC;
* To raise the demand for immediate investment for increasing the fleet size of DTC to the optimum of 10,000 so that it reaches break-even point;
* To demand the immediate recruitment of driving/non-running staff in DTC;
* To demand for an immediate ban on all types of contractual employment in DTC and ensure a secure working environment conducive to effective performance;
* To create a movement for people-centred, pro-poor urban planning geared towards a democratic allocation of road space to non-motorized modes of transport including walking whereby apart from constructing pedestrian subways, separate bi-cycle and cart lanes as well as footpaths should be made with effective security banking;
* To raise the demand for road safety insurance coverage for the working population of Delhi earning Rs. 3000 or less in a month;
* To create public opinion against the Dixit government’s hobnobbing with the Corporate Sector (and in this particular instance TATA) and demand to make all corporate dealings of the Delhi Government transparent.