Citizens question transport department’s policy draft

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It isn’t everyday that a state’s draft transport policy is discussed in humour. Well, but that is exactly what happened at ‘Mobilicity – an unconference on sustainable transport’ on November 21st at the Indian Institute of Science. Organised by online community Praja.in and Centre for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning (CiSTUP), the event was held to discuss issues on sustainable mobility for Bengaluru.

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(From left) Gaurav Gupta, Shankarlinge Gowda, Krishna Byregowda, Praveen Sood. Byataranapura MLA Krishna Byregowda says, “People ask me about BPL cards, drains and street lights. Nobody asks me about transport”.

The unconference, a participant-driven discussion with no rules or structure like a usual conference, kick started with a panel discussion on the draft transport policy for Karnataka. The policy has been formed to plan and implement a sustainable transport system. It puts together a basic framework to develop a transport system that can foster economic opportunity, protect the environment and reduce the social disparity in connectivity.

The panelists included Bhaskar Rao, Commissioner for Transport and Road Safety, Vishwanath S, Founder, Rainwater Club, Gaurav Gupta, Managing Director, Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), Shankarlinge Gowda, Principal Secretary, Transport Department, Krishna Byregowda, MLA, Byataranapura constituency, Praveen Sood, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Dr Ashwin Mahesh, Urban Strategy Advisor for the Government of Karnataka and Member of the Agenda of Bengaluru Infrastructure Development (ABIDe) task force, and Prof T G Sitharam, Chairman, CiSTUP. The discussion was moderated by V Ravichandar of Feedback Consulting.

There is a cloud over the draft transport policy. While it has been put together by the state’s Transport Department, it has not been made public. It is all thanks to the ‘Mobilicity’ event that the policy seems to have come out into the open. CiSTUP received a hard copy of the report from the Transport department, which was then scanned and uploaded on the Internet. It is still unavailable in Kannada or to the general public in the form of hard copies. Neither does the Transport department’s website have the draft.

Even as Shankarlinge Gowda said that this is the first time in the country that a state has drafted a transport policy, questions were raised about when, how and who drafted the policy. The Principal Secretary, however, refused to divulge details on the author of the draft and said, “I take responsibility for the draft, it’s the transport department’s”. He did not say when it was drafted, though. Vishwanath retaliated to this saying, “Openness, transparency and public discussion is important. You can’t have a policy where we don’t know who prepared it”. He also questioned the fate of feedback that the public gives to such policies. “We are good at producing policy documents, motherhood and apple pies. But this needs to be translated”, he jibed.

V Ravichandar moderated the discussion on the Karnataka draft transport policy. Transport Commissioner Bhaskar Rao and Rainwater Club Founder S Vishwanath look on. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal.

The contents of the draft policy itself were met with bouts of laughter, both from the audience and panel members, as they pointed out to inconsistencies in the draft.

Take this for example. Under the ‘State Transport Institutional Structure and Proposed Roles’ section of the draft, it states, “In order to provide expertise in transport in Karnataka, a Centre for Sustainable Transport and Urban Planning (CSTUP) at the Indian Institute of Science could be established to improve institutional capacities in transport in the long run”. Ironically, the ‘CSTUP’ mentioned in the draft is the same ‘CiSTUP’ which partly organised the very event where this policy was discussed. CiSTUP was inaugurated in January 2009.

The moderator Ravichandar remarked on how the policy could do with some improvement but also required more detailing on the governance structure and implementation challenges section. He says the policy does have statements of good intent but “chooses to ‘marginally’ tinker with the current system – I feel we should be overhauling the current system”.

Referring to the draft policy, ABIDE’s Mahesh said that the policy does promise a lot of good things. He explained that policy must reflect choices like what are the kinds of transport or movement we want to promote and what are the kinds of transport or movement we don’t want to promote. Commenting on people’s attitude towards policy, he said, “Many people in the police and general administration say, why do you need a policy? We’ll conform what we do to policy”.

 

Ravichander also pointed the sword at the “outdated” Motor Vehicle Act, joking that it may have been written even before the Holy Bible. Transport Commissioner Rao responded stating that suggestions will be called to amend the Act. Rao admitted that it is the Transport department which is the main cause for road accidents in the city. (At this point, Ravichandar joked pointing to Sood, saying he could arrest Rao. To which Rao said, I’m a police officer too and everyone laughed.)

Rao also accepted responsibility for the way driver testing is carried out today. “We have the best laws. But poor enforcement”, he said, as he also stated the achievements of the Transport department like smart cards and LPG autos.

On asking Shankarlinge Gowda if another draft for the city of Bangalore could be prepared by the online community Praja and submitted, he said, “Why not use this draft? You can send your suggestions on this”.

Praveen Sood expressed his concern about how 95 per cent of demands of the public are nullified because when some agree to a particular project, almost an equal number of people are against it. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal.

The sole politician on the panel, Krishna Byregowda, was asked about where transportation fits in on the agenda of a politician, to which he said, “People ask me about BPL cards, drains and street lights. Nobody asks me about transport. So where’s the time for me to look at transport?”, adding that he is only dealing with the consequences of a broken system, at the end of which he is exhausted. “There needs to be a redefinition of what we ought to do. That can happen through public participation”.

Transport is not traffic

Though the unconference was held to primarily discuss sustainable transport, other issues like Bangalore traffic, lack of inter-departmental coordination, public participation and so on, were also raised. Both Shankarlinge Gowda and Sood reiterated that traffic and transport should not be mixed. Gaurav Gupta of KSRTC voiced a point made in the draft on how road widening and flyovers alone will not help the current crisis. However, no definite solution to this was voiced by any of the panelists.

Even as heated points were made about Bangalore traffic, ABIDe’s Mahesh outrightly stated that it wouldn’t help to discuss Bangalore traffic at the forum, as it would not lead anywhere.

Sood expressed his concern about how 95 per cent of demands of the public are nullified because when some agree to a particular project, almost an equal number of people are against it. “I’m not undermining the role of the public. I’m only worried about the I-me-myself syndrome”, he said. Sood also said that the traffic department is the most victimized as they are the most visible point of contact in the city. He also said that there was no traffic department representative in CiSTUP.

The discussion concluded as Shankarlinge Gowda finally promised to ‘look into’ redrafting of the policy. You can read the draft here. Suggestions and comments can be sent to office[at]cistup[dot]iisc[dot]ernet[dot]in[dot]

Road design

The unconference also included a session on ‘Road Design Standards’ with representatives from the BBMP and BDA on the panel. The broad areas discussed here included pavements, storm water drains and the need for a lane-based system on major roads in the city. Members of Praja and the audience gave their suggestions, which were noted by BBMP Chief Engineer (Major Roads) T N Chikkarayappa, BDA Engineer Thyagaraj and Executive Engineer of the BBMP’s Traffic Engineering Cell Basavaraj R Kabade. Some of the suggestions included access ramps for footpaths, consistent lane width on major roads and so on.

Other discussions included ‘Multimodal Transportation’, ‘Simulation of Participation and Planning in the Evolution of Bangalore’ and ‘Urban Planning and Sustainable Transport’.

Citizens’ groups also held separate discussions on design thinking, role of private sector in public services, urban ecology, and Bangalore Metro. 

What is sustainable transport?

A sustainable transportation system is one that:
• Allows the basic access and development needs of individuals, companies and society to be met safely and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, and promotes equity within and between successive generations.
• Is affordable, operates fairly and efficiently, offers a choice of transport mode, and supports a competitive economy, as well as balanced regional development.
• Limits emissions and waste within the planet’s ability to absorb them, uses renewable resources at or below their rates of generation, and uses non-renewable resources at or below the rates of development of renewable substitutes, while minimizing the impact on the use of land and the generation of noise.

Source: European Union Council of Ministers of Transport

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About Vaishnavi Vittal 139 Articles
Vaishnavi Vittal is a Bangalore-based journalist.

1 Comment

  1. Very good article and the update on the conference held. What can be of concern is that these guys should do and act over the points discussed. If not, It will be a just another meeting!

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