On a recent trip to India, I was amazed at the rapid speed to which the Indian populous have taken to the roads.  In major urban cities of Bangalore and Chennai, traffic jams composed of auto rickshaws, overloaded buses, motorcyclists, and small-sized cars struggle to get from point A to B quickly, efficiently, and safely. 

Mixed Messages

The development of the affordable Tata Nano, said to be available by March 2009, is projected to make car ownership accessible to millions in India.  Rising ownership of automobiles on the roads is a double edged sword for India.  While it signifies a progressive and robust economy it challenges India’s stance on its commitment to climate change concerns by perpetuating rising demand for fuel and increasing CO2 levels.  A large amount of money has been invested into the construction of roads and highway systems to link urban and rural economies and support the booming economy.  The “Golden Quadrilateral” highway project linking India’s megalopolis’: Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata- carries a Rs. 220,000 crores (approx. US$45 billion) investment price tag. 

As India begins to push forward with its National Action Plan on Climate Change the lack of a strategic plan to address the transportation sector seems counter-productive to India’s overall aim. 

Contrastingly, in the private sector and local scales action seems to be more evident.  the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) placed concerted efforts to promote voluntary fuel standards in 2008 alongside government collaboration.  Recently, Maruti Suzuki automakers received recognition as the first automaker to label its cars with fuel efficiency standards.  At local and regional levels, promoting energy efficient transportation systems has been one approach to tangibly address transport sector issues though lack national-level integration.  In Delhi, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) opened in 2008, as a response to growing concerns over Delhi’s air pollution and traffic congestion.  However, since its opening, the BRT has encountered numerous snags such as massive traffic jams due to failure in enforcing bus-only lanes and underestimation of traffic volumes.

The need to up-scale local action

In essence, the messages emerging in this arena are jumbled to both Indian citizens and international on-lookers.  While there is a recognition and support within government sectors in advocating a restructuring of India’s transportation systems, there is still a gap in implementing policies.  As Economic Times columnist Jaideep Mishra suggests, the Indian Government can benefit from focusing many of its broadly defined policy plans to project polices that are coordinated with each other alongside clear, definable objectives.  In particular, a plan and policy to integrate transport sector projects with climate change objectives can move India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change forward.

The reality is that India must promote energy security and environmental safeguards, while empowering a growing population that desires continued development progress in economic and social goals and the transportation sector is a critical juncture in which these goals are placed next to each other needing to be reconciled.

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