Bullock-carts Continue To Baffle Economic Sense

Updated: May 31 2002, 05:30am hrs
You cant miss it! Be it across the zebra lines near Connaught Circle in New Delhi or on the bustling Brigade Road in Bangalore or the umpteen traffic islands dotting Mount Road, Chennai, not to mention the vastness of rural India. For many, it looks like an Orwellian fallacy or a Marqusian imagery. Some others consider it as yet another Indian irony or Oriental anachronism.

Once a means of transport for royalty and now known as poor mans chariot, bullock-cart, like Aryabattas zero, is an original contribution of ancient Indian wisdom to the rest of the world. The relic of a cart was once synonymous with the Indian economy, caught in, what the late Raj Thappar called, the Hindu rate of growth.

Many find it hard to explain how it survived the test of time. An explanation to the survival of bullock-cart even in the metros is not easy. But it should make economic sense for those who use it or else why do they use it, asks Prof K Pushpangadan of Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. Whatever it is, no theory of average cost or marginal cost or the theory of poverty explains it, he added.

According to some others, bullock-carts survived the onslaught of transport revolution due to the duality of Indian economy. With an increase in industrial activities in rural areas, the bullock-cart is being used more and more, says another expert.

In Tirupur, the knitwear capital of India, many firms use carts for ferrying yarn, fabric and the garments. The reason given by the firms ranges from cheap cost to easy availability and flexibility. For instance, a small firm manufacturing 2,000 or 3,000 garments a day does not require an LCV or a truck to transport its products, explains Dr M Vijayabaskar, Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore, who has done his doctoral thesis on Tirupur knitwear industry.

If you approach a typical bullock-cart owner, hunching in his makeshift seat atop the cart for an explanation, the answer would be rather simple. It gives us (the bullocks and the cart owners family) enough to eat twice a day.

The mother of all vehicles has also got some touch-ups over the years and her good old wheels gave way to rubberised ones, giving her a smooth roll.

Like many Oriental puzzles, the relic of the cart may well live long along with the Internet and supersonics. It may still have some more promises to keep, before passing into history.