Movement mires

Updated: Nov 22 2005, 05:30am hrs
In all the talk of consolidation and growth of the trucking industry (FE Insight, Nov 18), the underlying assumption seems to be that growth in road cargo will drive reforms in the maintenance of connectivity. That assumption might not be borne out in reality. India happens to be witnessing one of the worlds largest road-building projects, with a cumulative bill close to Rs 2 trillion. If the aim is a transportation system worthy of a large (our road network is second only to the US) and globalising economy, we need to pay far more attention to maintaining the assets created at so much cost. Congestion apart, our highways are ill-maintained, with one of the worlds highest collision rates and badly policed. The latter is a separate issue; meanwhile, we need to ensure the new/upgraded carriageways are maintained in a user-friendly condition. A review of the rules on speed and axle-load norms and their enforcement, besides better vehicle technology, is called for.

This is crucial for continued investment, too. If infrastructure is rapidly and excessively damaged due to overweight vehicles, the financial viability of BOT projects is hit. And the damage is exponential; a 10% increase in weight beyond the norm is estimated to result in a 40% higher damage to the surface. We need far more active enforcement on weight-axle norms and the operation and condition of a commercial vehicle tyre conditions, loading, brake adjustment, etc. Customised technology at toll barriers is another must.

We also need to ensure Indian Railways doesnt slip more on competitive capacity vis-a-vis the trucking sector. For this we need far more urgency in implementing the 2002 expert group report on a reform strategy. The group recommended moving from a ministerial to a corporate form of governance, recasting of accounts , rebalancing of rates between and within freight and passenger classes in line with costs and demand conditions and a rail tariff authority to insulate this process from the compulsions of politics. Social obligations, it said, must be funded by explicit government transfers. Sadly, there has been little action on any of these.