Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Reflections and Rants from India - 2



















I have been travelling a lot in India on my current trip and it has been a pleasure on several sectors. One such sector where I have made several trips is the new Baroda - Ahmedabad Expressway, also christened as National Expressway - 1. The road surface is excellent, the National Expressway has definitely a feel of an American Interstate and you can routinely average speeds of 120 kmph without breaking a sweat (Unless you are in a private Volvo bus careening at 100 kmph and making you feel you would be airborne any moment !!) However, three things struck me on NE-1.

  • The toll on NE-1 is 61 rupees (@ USD 1.37) one-way between Baroda and Ahmedabad. What is the rationale behind having 61 rupees and not say 65 or 60 ? Someone indicated that is a formula based on the per kilometer toll calculated by the National Government. This sounds absurd to me. The rates on a toll road should be based on the local conditions. People travelling on a toll road in this sector have a choice of using the old National Highway-8. Additionally, the odd figure of 61 rupees one-way (Round trip tickets are strangely not issued, neither is a system in place for coupons for frequent travellers) means that there are serpentine queues at the toll plazas just because people are looking here and there for that elusive one rupee coin or haggling for change.
  • Approaching the toll plaza, at each toll booth, I noticed two people. One security guard would take the money from the driver and hand it to the toll booth attendant who would count the change if necessary and hand back the toll ticket to the security guard. The security guard would then foolishing ogle the ticket as if it was a winning lottery ticket and put some stamp on it and hand back to the driver.
  • The road itself is elevated but the adjoining communities don't seem to have a way of crossing over from one portion of the road to another. Hence, you freqently see people trying to cross the NE-1 on foot or pedalling along on the shoulder on a bicycle !! Luckily for everyone concerned, because there are concrete barriers on both sides of the roads, animals and other smaller vehicles are not see on the NE-1 yet.
Observing all this, I was stuck that even though people were traversing on a modern highway, the ways and means of operating that highway were still so 1980s Indian. Some of my relatives commented that the government has a responsibility of providing employment to people and that is why we needed so many people at the toll plaza. Then, I came across two excellent blog posts on the same issue, i.e why do we have an excess of manpower everywhere, why is that we still consider that in a cost benefit analysis between technology and labor, because labor is so cheap, it is better to use labor than technology?

http://ecophilo.blogspot.com/2006/01/status-quo-and-labour-surpluses.html
http://chocolateandgoldcoins.blogspot.com/2006/01/why-is-it-taking-so-long.html#comments

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