As soon as the Supreme Court delivered its verdict to ban sales of BS-III cars from April 1 due to excessive pollution, there has been a certain gloom in the auto industry. They had this coming, with BS-IV norms notified last year itself. Yet, since India is known to be lax in law enforcement, they did nothing while piling up inventory of BS-III vehicles.
Well, it’s not just the laxity in law enforcement that allows the auto manufacturers to blatantly flout pollution norms, it’s the culture of the land too, which cares two hoots for environmental degradation and has its teeth firmly sunk at the very prospect of buying a car if it can afford it.
Cars have long been considered a status symbol in India. A poor, socialist country could only sigh at and admire the crudely built Marutis, Fiats and Ambassadors of the era gone by. Only a select few could buy the same and strut about telling the world that they had arrived. Overtime millions of Indians became car-worthy. Had they arrived? May be, but not for long. The benchmark had shifted. It was now about having multiple cars, followed by having more expensive luxury cars, then diesel cars (see fuel economy never went out of question), then SUVs, then ever bigger luxury cars. An increasing number of Indians have been blindly focusing on, aspiring for and following these benchmarks, while accumulating more and more of what they can and cannot afford.
So why is it that Indians in general are so mad after cars? Here are 10 reasons:
- General poverty historically coupled with a burgeoning middle class: As discussed above, a large population has been poor for most of recent history, and any one with a car was a rich fellow. Who doesn’t want to be rich? So when they do become rich or are thereabout, people buy cars. That’s the first thing to flash. And even the Indian middle class is larger than most countries in the world. Couple this with the fact that buying a car on loan is ever more easy.
- Show-off mentality in some sections/communities: If my neighbour has one car, I will have two. If my neighbour has Honda, I will have Mercedes. Need I say more?
- Poor public transportation: Indian cities have been notorious for having extremely poor public transportation. It’s beginning to look up now, but there’s a long way to go. When you don’t find a suburban, a metro rail or a bus, you say f*** you govt, I’ll buy a car. Public transportation has been so bad, that mere predictability allowed Mumbaikars to claim that their suburban rail makes theirs a city with excellent public transportation. Talk about low expectations. Same for Kolkata with one metro line for over two decades, or Chennai with a smaller but similar suburban railway like Mumbai. When it comes to Delhi, poor destitutes didn’t even have that till the metro brought about a new dawn. Yet it’s just the beginning.
- Overpopulation: Everyone knows India is bursting at its seams. Our cities are some of the most densely populated in the world. This means less space per square inch in public transport. You don’t really want to squeeze yourself in the heat, dust and grime of this country.
- Conspicuous, in your face class divide: India lives in multiple silos, many a times oblivious to the others. There’s a big class divide economically. The middle classes do not trust the supposedly lower strata. They do not want to be rubbing shoulders with a labourer in a crowded bus. Some people have caste and impurity issues too, however they are a minority, at least in the cities.
- Safety issues: Actual and/or imagined safety issues permeate every class of people. Middle classes consider poor to be of low moral character and vice versa. Overcrowded-ness means pickpockets or lewd people can potentially get away.
- Lack of last mile connectivity: many areas have poor last mile links, forcing people to use their own vehicles.
- Ever expanding cities: Many would say it’s a great thing our cities are growing. I do not agree. We should have 100 more tier 2 cities, than only 8 tier 1 cities. Cities like Delhi-NCR are virtually limitless in scope of geographical growth. Poor planning has ensured that corners of the city are as different and as far apart as two banks of a flooded river. Geographically large sized cities call for more people to drive in the absence of viable public transportation. Large city area also means that office districts are far, forcing people to commute long distances. A more homogenized land usage policy which allows for office buildings in close proximity with residential areas could possibly help cater to this. A more compact city is the order of the day.
- Not enough taxation on parking: People park for free on the streets. Even paid parking is cheap by global standards.
- General apathy towards the environment: Indian home interiors are some of cleanest in the world, while outsides are left to fend for themselves. The same great culture which asks us to focus on internal piety than worldly concerns, unwittingly leads to a general apathy towards everything external that doesn’t impact us in obvious ways.
Featured Image Credit: trak.in