PUDR welcomes the October 18 Delhi High Court judgment by Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Manmohan Singh on the Delhi Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. The judgement rejected a PIL filed by an NGO, Nyaya Bhoomi, that demanded the scrapping of the BRT system introduced between Moolchand and Amdedkar Nagar, a stretch of 5.8 kms and cancelling the 7 BRT corridors planned by the Delhi government.
We believe that BRT essentially addresses equity and a more equitable distribution of road space. Over 50% of the Delhi public uses bus transport. As the judgment points out, on an average, two cars carry three persons against 60-70 persons in a bus during peak hours. Indeed the number of persons transported along an average route would be as high as 200 per bus since different passengers get on and off. By rejecting the PIL, the High Court has supported a policy that favours the public transport system and stands for daily commuters.
We feel that the judgment stands opposed to existing policies of the state and central governments. Almost 83% of the central government grants under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) used by the Delhi government went in for road expansion and flyover construction. Fifteen percent went in for parking projects leaving an abysmal 2% for other transport projects. Its result is that the “the roads are bursting at the seams due to cars”. The Court observed that car ridership would increase by 106% by 2021, if it persists at the same rate, whereas bus ridership would increase by only 28 per cent. Although the judgment favours daily commuters, we cannot but marvel at the absurdity of a government policy which at the same time is geared towards an anarchic growth of private vehicles where sidewalks have disappeared, walking/cycling is hazardous and instance of increase in respiratory diseases caused by noxious gases brought down the quality of life further down.
Since the mid-eighties policies have favoured the rapid expansion of the private automobile industry turning India into a regional automobile and auto parts manufacturing hub. Bus manufacturing is not part of this growth story. As many as 3.7 million cars were produced in 2010. This will reach 5 million by 2015 and 9 million in 2020. Easy credit and EMIs have enabled a phenomenal growth of private vehicles. As a result, Delhi boasts of 7.3 million vehicles on the roads, whereas there are only 32,800 buses. It is therefore a welcome relief that the judgement upholds the principle of sustainable mobility and addresses the growing mobility crisis. We expect that all the initial problems faced at the time of introduction of BRT, such as accessing and alighting off the busses in these corridors, will be properly addressed while further expanding this scheme in other areas.
The judgement rightly says, “A developed country is not one where the poor own cars. It is one where the rich use public transport.” At a time of varied and deepening ecological crises, we hope that the High Court judgment will be followed in body and spirit. It can be a significant step towards a much-needed public transport system that is accessible to all.
Preeti Chauhan and Paramjeet Singh