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If the number of cars is any yardstick for development, we are speeding. From about 12,000 vehicles in the country two decades ago, there are almost 68,700 vehicles in the country.

This is a huge number. We have one vehicle for every 11 people or 90 vehicles for every 1,000 people, topping the motor vehicle per capita in the SAARC region. But this is nothing to be proud of. While there had certainly been improvement is socioeconomic developments, we are experiencing a lot of problems related to motor vehicles.

Traffic jams is not a new trend. In fact, it is accepted as a reason for reporting late to duty. Parking spaces are becoming smaller or harder to find and pollution has become an issue. We learn that hundreds of people are killed in thousands of motor vehicle accidents every year.

Despite all these, there seem to be no concrete step taken to limit the vehicle number. The ban on import of vehicle, imposed a couple of years ago, was not to control the number of cars. It was a temporary solution to plug the hole through which scarce Indian Rupee was flowing. The government lifted the ban on the import of vehicle and imposed hefty taxes to control through taxation policy.

The result today is alarming. In five months we have imported vehicles to the 2011 level. Thirteen vehicles hitting the road is a concern.  The expectation was that higher duties would discourage people from buying. It has not. The problem, it seems, was simultaneously lifting the restriction on loans to buy cars.

Call it a populist decision, the banks managed to shake off the restriction. Cars are expensive, but bank loans make it possible to buy them. Electric cars, it seems is not fancying us. And dealers are selling more diesel cars than electric. The Prime Minister’s personal effort of promoting it by even driving one around has not changed the mindset.

The only positive thing we can take from the car buying frenzy is that our people are becoming richer, but that too is not sure with banks dishing out loans, encouraging more buyers. At the current rate, our infrastructure will not be able to safely carry or accommodate the rising number.

With all these problems, our decision makers are not even acknowledging that this is a problem. Establishing better and efficient public transport system, the best solution, has been talked about so many times, for so many years, but nothing has changed. Similarly, the mentality that the bigger and better the car, the greater the social status, and this is encouraging the buying spree.

Ironically, developed countries try to limit the number of cars on the road and improve public transport system. A clear sign of development will be the presence of cheaper and reliable transport facility. Not the number of cars choking the roads.

 

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