The Indian Economy Blog

April 13, 2007

Notes On The Road

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Naveen @ 7:03 pm

So here I am, back in India after a couple of years, doing research for a project in the relatively rich rural district of West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh. Some biased observations based on the few data points here.

Train prices are increasingly affordable and hence demand outstrips supply. For the first time, I was ready to book First class AC Tatkal to catch a project deadline and yet tickets were not available.

Cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore have traffic bursting at the seams. Apparently, Bhimavaram, a rich district wanted its own airport but politics dictated otherwise. Increasingly different transport solutions will be sought and have to be supplied.

Main roads in West Godavari are very good. I wonder about the contracting system in place for their maintenance. Gautam Bastian told me some interesting road factoids. Highways are intentionally made curved so as not to have drivers sleep off. Some well maintained roads in Orissa are oddly ill-maintained at certain stretches along the road. Turns out it is so because the road contract was given based on points marked on maps. The slight difference on the map between the parts of the road provided to two different contractors translates into no-man’s land in reality and nobody maintains it!

Autos present a particularly blind-spot for policy-makers. Every city has had its share of strikes and passenger complaints because autos dont charge by the meter. And it is obvious why it will happen moreso. Meter fares are distance-based. In reality fares are hugely a function of getting “return” passengers. Which again is a function of spatial density of the auto-using populace. That is why sometimes it is difficult to take an auto from the Secunderabad station to Paradise (a commerical area) in the morning. Because all the traffic is towards that area and very little away from it. And similar problems for areas on the outskirts of the city. Moreover autodrivers will avoid traffic jam ridden areas because the fare does not cover the fuel costs and the opportunity cost. The regulation-imposed fare creates heartburn for passengers because they consider autodrivers violating the “law.” What do you think? Towns in rural India seldom have digital meter based fares. Can we learn something from the dynamics there?

The Hussain Sagar is a pleasure in Hyderabad. Having greenery or water in the midst of a city is thandak for sore eyes.

Greenery reminds me of the farms in West Godavari. Green fields everywhere, and relatively prosperous people … the gift of the river Godavari.

It is not odd to find statues of actors like Balakrishna in West Godavari district. However one particular statue of a foreigner kept coming up at odd places and it intrigued me. Curiosity unbound, I enquired about him. Turns out to be Sir Arthur Cotton, the man behind the prosperity of the West Godavari district. His entrepreneurial efforts in the 19th century led a famine-affected district turn into one of the most fertile parts of AP. No wonder some farmers invoke him before beginning their work. Read more about him here. And despair why his efforts have not been replicated for the drier parts of AP like Telangana.

Internet speed is so bad that the Reliance internet card for connectivity on-the-go seems really cool because it is something I could not do even in the US.

The decent hotel where I am staying in small-town Tadepalligudam has the clock faster by 20 minutes because the manager says it makes the staff more active!

It is a joy to see Shahrukh and Raju Shrivastava on TV instead of the YouTube.

It is increasingly becoming difficult to deal with the moral dilemma of whether to give or not to give to beggars.

It is a great time to be a teen. You can dream BIG!

21 Comments »

  1. “And despair why his efforts have not been replicated for the drier parts of AP like Telangana”
    Blame it on file pusher bureaucrats.Another legacy of British Raj

    Comment by con man — April 13, 2007 @ 9:16 pm

  2. “It is increasingly becoming difficult with the moral dilemma of whether to give or not to give to beggars.”

    In the US, we make lumpsum donations to charitable organizations who maintain a bureaucracy that first pays itself, then distributes what’s left to the end users. In India, you can eliminate the unnecessary distribution costs and “friction” by giving directly to beggars. Give freely, man. Donation to individuals on a one-on-one level, whether beggars or poor relatives, is the ultimate satisfaction of living in India.

    You could take a more macro view that funding beggars keeps them from becoming productive members of society, but that argument has a limit. Even in the most productive societies, a certain percentage of people are always going to be on some sort of welfare. So what’s the difference between institutionalized begging and individualized begging?

    Comment by Sarat — April 13, 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  3. [...] Naveen offers an alternate take on the claims of auto drivers. I do agree with his perspective but does this reason absolve auto drivers from their “atrocities”. What is the middle path? Any takers? Autos present a particularly blind-spot for policy-makers. Every city has had its share of strikes and passenger complaints because autos dont charge by the meter. And it is obvious why it will happen moreso. Meter fares are distance-based. In reality fares are hugely a function of getting return passengers. Which again is a function of spatial density of the auto-using populace. That is why sometimes it is difficult to take an auto from the Secunderabad station to Paradise (a commerical area) in the morning. Because all the traffic is towards that area and very little away from it. And similar problems for areas on the outskirts of the city. The regulation-imposed fare creates heartburn for passengers because they consider autodrivers violating the “law.” What do you think? Towns in rural India seldom have digital meter based fares. Can we learn something from the dynamics there? Post written by Krish [...]

    Pingback by Krishworld Politics » Alternate Perspective: Atrocities of Auto Rickshaw Drivers — April 13, 2007 @ 11:12 pm

  4. hey man,
    I’m from palakollu, west godavari district
    how long will you be there?
    if you stay some more time, do visit palakollu and bhimavaram…you can see some places of attraction…like the pancharama temples in the above mentioned locations…

    Comment by santosh saladi — April 14, 2007 @ 1:56 am

  5. I think begging too is (what else) a demand-supply phenomenon. Yes, I have been ‘guilted’ and have donated (relatively) generously more than a few times before when I was back in India, but the more I think about it the clearer it becomes that I was wrong – with a few caveats applying. These individuals, like all those on the labor market, have reservation wages, and begging clearly begets them higher ‘wages’. I refuse to believe that the majority of these people cannot join the unorganized economy – as domestic help, physical laborers etc. – yes they will have to work hard and under-cut existing wages.

    The caveats are simple. Their psychological inertia (especially painful to see this in children): which is not their fault but does stop them from being hopeful and ambitious – like having a roof of their own, however decrepit. NGOs have a role to play in that and we should financially support such organizations . The second caveat is more concrete – some of these beggars are handicapped, naturally or well you know it. These people definitely have to be provided for through institutionalized welfare (public or private), and no – it is not the same as ‘individualized’ welfare. Reason: There are negative externalities because of their (beggars) living on the streets for the city’s commerce (let us for the sake of human life and dignity not consider aesthetics – except when aesthetics can be ‘accounted’ for in terms of potential tourism revenue).

    All this ‘begs’ the question: Over and above the SEZs and land-grab controversy, why are high rises so tough to build (bureaucratically) in so many of India’s cities. These could be subsidized and (really small) apartments could be sold (through financing – try avoiding renting out to avoid future political controversies) to ‘better-off’ slum dwellers, and beggars etc could move in and within these slums – social mobility at the bottom of the pyramid. Just an idea.

    PS: Btw nice narrative style, Naveen. I am 20 and trust me all of us are dreaming big – the dreams are different, but they are all big.

    Comment by Harsh Gupta — April 14, 2007 @ 5:23 am

  6. [...] Read more at Naveen [...]

    Pingback by Street talk and opinions » Notes On The Road — April 14, 2007 @ 8:06 am

  7. here is a mail i wrote to The Hindu, chennai :

    Traffic Problems and Solutions

    Phenomenal rise in private vehicles has resulted in
    traffic congestion.Due to an acute shortage of buses
    (especially during peak hours),commuters tend to buy
    two wheelers or cars as soon as they can afford to own
    one. Until 1980 it was normal for most middle class
    people to travel by buses.

    Nationalisation of buses in 60s resulted in creation
    of goverment monopoly and corruption in this sector.
    Mis-management, pilferage and lack of transparency and
    accountability of government bus transport
    corporations resulted in huge losses and acute
    shortage in bus services to meet the growing demand.

    The argument against privatisation that the private
    operators will not service remote and loss making
    routes has yet to be proved. Government MTC services
    in loss making areas are curtailed. For example
    many routes in Nanganallur, Chennai has been
    withdrawn citing lack of patronage.

    The existing private bus routes are now sold in black
    market for crores of rupees. Yet private buses are
    better maintained and profitable. There is a vested
    interest lobby of existing private bus owners (permit
    holders),bureaucrats,politicians and trade unions of
    govt corporations who oppose deregulation and
    privatization of bus transports. Even mini-buses are
    not allowed to expand service areas. Share autos are
    opposed by regular auto drivers union.

    If, instead of nationalization of buses, free
    competition and low taxes were encouraged since
    independence, then there would have been an excellent
    and efficient public transport system. The culture of
    owning private vehicles for commuting would not have
    grown this much. A single bus can carry upto 60
    commuters while lack of bus forces these 60 commuters
    to own and travel by two-wheelers, there
    by shrinking road space and increasing pollution.

    Private bus stands and parking lots (bus stops along
    main roads and highways) can be permitted and
    encouraged. Two wheeler taxis can be allowed in
    suburbs and remote areas.

    Decentralisation and delicensing of transport sector
    will result in better services and reduce traffic
    congestion.

    Comment by K.R.Athiyaman — April 14, 2007 @ 3:54 pm

  8. The following article from Business World (March 06) describes the
    plight of the ricksaw pullers in Delhi and the license raj that
    exploits them :

    http://www.businessworldindia.com/MAR2706/invogue02.asp

    Comment by K.R.Athiyaman — April 14, 2007 @ 3:58 pm

  9. for every 1 govt. bus, they can allow 1 private bus in any route.
    first route needs to be from the govt.
    so both are making money and keeping healthy competition..
    there’s no reason for not increasing buses as its always going to be filled to capacity.

    Comment by thirupathi — April 15, 2007 @ 12:49 am

  10. [...] Even the rest of the post is an interesting read. Ofcourse I don’t know either Naveen or Gautam. [...]

    Pingback by Roads, infinitesimal and the judiciary « Epistles — April 16, 2007 @ 12:19 pm

  11. [...] Even the rest of the post is an interesting read. Ofcourse I don’t know either Naveen or Gautam. [...]

    Pingback by Indian judiciary, roads and infinitesimal humor « Epistles — April 16, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  12. It is interesting to note your dilemna about whether to give to beggars or not. I can imagine the problem since the beggars in Andra are exceptionally persistent. They grab your feet and you end up paying out of embarassment.

    On another note…. There was an interesting study report that I had read about beggars. Apparently the beggars classified people into two categories.

    First, and one they liked they most were ones who gave them money / food / clothes (in that order).
    Second were ones who did not give them anything. However, there was a further split in this category.. The beggars HATED people who not only did not given anything but who IGNORED them completely. Their feeling was that ‘you may not give us something but for God’s sake dont ignore me.. I am a human.. wave me away.. shoo me away.. abuse me … but DONT IGNORE me’…

    So next time you meet a beggar… Dont give her / him anything but make that clear through words or gesture while looking at her / him..

    Comment by Makarand — April 16, 2007 @ 1:45 pm

  13. [...] Naveen shares some interesting observations. [Hat tip: Navin K] [...]

    Pingback by DesiPundit » Archives » Notes from West Godavari — April 16, 2007 @ 9:38 pm

  14. [...] Naveen shares some interesting observations. [Hat tip: Navin K] [...]

    Pingback by DesiPundit » Archives » Notes from West Godavari — April 16, 2007 @ 9:38 pm

  15. My wife and I travelled for 10 days in Kerala last year and the only beggars we saw were from Andhra Pradesh. The locals told us with pride that Kerala now imports beggars. I am not sure whether this is due to greater drive among Telegus (their poor beg in tourist spots in Gods Own Country) or to the impact of billions of dollars of remittances from hard-working Keralites outside Kerala to the clearly less hard-working Keralites inside Kerala.

    Comment by Blue Sky — April 16, 2007 @ 10:25 pm

  16. Good post. Btw, the factoid about roads being curved to prevent drivers from sleeping is a myth. And you are hearing this from a transportation engineer and planner.

    Comment by reader — April 16, 2007 @ 11:53 pm

  17. Thanks for the clarification.

    Comment by Naveen Mandava — April 17, 2007 @ 8:41 am

  18. Naveen,

    I’m from the lush green (not in summer, of course) Paschima Godavari zilla and I’m curious what project you are working on?

    Also, Chandrababu Naidu expanded and repaved most of the roads few years back when GQ was being constructed. My grandfather, a farmer, also talks about Sir Cotton when the talk turns to rains and farming and irrigation. The southern region in Andhra Pradesh, Rayalaseema, is dry too, and NTR initiated a Telugu Ganga (thankfully, not Ganges) project to connect Krishna with Cauvery (it’s a mini-version of connecting real Ganga with Cauvery, which unfortunately isn’t being pursued because of silly politics) to improve irrigation in Telengana and Rayalaseema while supplying water to Chennai. I think the project is complete but I am not sure if the irrigation plans came to fruition. Bhimavaram probably needs a right MP, ie right party in center, to make the airport come true – a government controlled projects creating scarcity and surely works not based on local need.

    And it’s Telugu, not Telegu!

    People sleep while driving because they are sleepy and tired not because roads are straight. Is that why there is occassional local traffic, going both ways, on both sides of the road? We’re just very good at making up stuff :)

    Comment by Chandra — April 17, 2007 @ 7:16 pm

  19. Begging in India is an organized profession in most of the places. And the beggars earn comfortable ‘incomes’ too. They have their ‘targets’ and incentives – believe me..

    Sure, we all feel like helping someone in need. So what do you do when a beggar approaches you? Offer to buy food, instead of just giving money. If they are really needy, they will accept.

    Comment by Prashant — April 19, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  20. Nice to read something about home sweet home :) I was born and grew up in the godavari delta area. It is very green and prosperous, as you have said. Also, the people are very friendly and humble.

    Comment by Kiran Varanasi — April 20, 2007 @ 5:45 pm

  21. Mandava,

    I remember reading that auto fares were originally calculated on the assumption that the auto (or taxi) would return empty to the starting point.

    If that is true, the claims of those !#$1`2%@$^@# (auto drivers) that they’d have to return empty become irrelevant.

    Unfortunately, I have forgotten where I read this. And such few people I tell this to know of this that I worry it’s become forgotten with the passage of time. Or, worse yet, it’s a myth…

    Comment by Perakath — April 21, 2007 @ 2:28 pm

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