Lindsay Pereira: A 'ground-breaking' government

By  Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai | Posted  06-May-2017

Why is it that the more our government spends on awful beautification experiments, the worse our commute actually gets?

I started from Andheri and drove down to Borivli, stopping a little over 18 times — all because the new Metro is being built along this stretch. File PIC
I started from Andheri and drove down to Borivli, stopping a little over 18 times — all because the new Metro is being built along this stretch. File Pic

I did two things this week that I normally do my best to avoid, unless I have no other option. First, I drove down the New Link Road. Then, because I obviously like punishing myself, I took a local train. It wasn't the Central Railway, of course, because I don't hate myself to that extent, but it was on the Western line, which isn't necessarily an award-winning experience either.

These are fairly normal things for millions of people in my city, who do one or both of these regularly, and may have done so for years. I used to do it too, a few decades ago. What makes me avoid them now is not the fact that I no longer need to step outside my home and meet people. I avoid these tasks because they make me feel a little less human, and I blame our government for making millions of us feel like this almost on a daily basis.

Let me explain why the first task - driving down the New Link Road - hurts. Feel free to replace that stretch with any other major arterial road or highway or street that runs through Mumbai. To begin with, it's obvious to anyone with an IQ of 10 or above - anyone more intelligent that our average politician, I mean - that there is no real sign of common sense at work anywhere along any of these stretches, as far as traffic control is concerned.

We are told that science is involved, obviously, that it is routinely deployed to meet the needs of our ever-expanding number of vehicles, that there are now dedicated WhatsApp groups to track vehicular movement and sophisticated tools that tell us how to get from one place to another with the minimum amount of fuss. None of that is obvious when one drives down any of these streets.

I started from Andheri and drove down to Borivli, stopping a little over 18 times, and not always because of the presence of a traffic signal. The new Metro is being built along this stretch, and I shudder to think about what will happen to the people who live on either side of this construction the minute the rains sweep in. A distance of approximately 12 kilometres took me a little over two hours to cover, and it wasn't even rush hour.

I thought about the fuel that was needlessly wasted, the catastrophic levels of pollution along that stretch and its impact on the health of local residents, and the fact that I had wasted a large part of my day simply staring out a car window, and struggled to stay positive.

How could anyone do this on a daily basis and emerge with any amount of happiness?

The first Metro between Ghat­kopar and Versova swallowed an entire street, one that continues to be unusable and is now clogged with illegal hawkers. Will the new Metro ruin things as much as it makes commuting simpler? That appears to be the norm in our city; our government destroys as much as it creates.

The other thing I did was take a local train, this time from Borivli to Andheri, because I assumed the millions that had been supposedly spent on renovating railway stations along that route would make for a better commute. I was wrong. The stations had been given half-baked make­overs. Alongside new roofs and booking offices were truckloads of rubble, ancient wires hanging overhead at every stop, and almost no change in the sheer crush of commuters sharing space in a compartment.

It's astonishing, when one thinks about it - how millions are lost simply because our governments rely on the wisdom of ministers rather than the expertise of trained professionals to decide how we commute. Think about every major anno­uncement about a revamp, renovated stations, better facilities or new Metro lines, and juxtapose them with the same announcements made in the past. Why is it that nothing - from new booking offices to newly tiled platforms - ever appears to justify the cost? Why is it that the more our government spends on awful beautification experiments, the worse our commute actually gets?

I intend to avoid driving and take the train for a while, until I recover from the last ordeal. Unless that happens, I will rely on apps that make it possible for me to sit back and allow someone else to drive me to my destination instead. Then again, the government may have soon some problems with the apps too, so I live with fingers crossed.