Sunday, July 20, 2008
The Great Indian Journey 7
BOMBAY TO BIHAR - A ROAD LESS TAKEN
THE GREAT HIGHWAY ROBBERY
By Manuwant Choudhary
Huen Tsang, the great Chinese traveller, was robbed several times on his journey in India but thankfully I wasn’t.
Of course, we saw a cavalcade with beacon lights and police escort overtaking us at great speed and stopping at every hamlet on the roadside, descending into the huts and getting back into their cars, never wasting a minute. They all wore white kurta-pyjamas.
Yes, you got that right. They were the Indian politicians at work.
I can tell you it was menacing. Imagine, what India’s voters have to bear with.
And today as parliament debates the 123 nuclear deal and other deals in a free for all where even one vote could bring down a government, our democracy is neither mature nor healthy.
Yet, ever since the Golden Quadrilateral Project to connect India’s four metropolitian cities Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai was begun I had hoped this would change India.
It was former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s dream project.
But this was the first time I got to travel on this route and all I can say is that it’s a great highway robbery!
But when I drove I could not help but remember Satyender Dubey who was killed in Gaya for daring to write to India’s Prime Minister exposing corruption in the highway project.
In fact, recently even the main accused in the murder escaped from a Patna court and that too for a second time. He is still to be arrested.
Howver, after my journey I would like to report that not just in Gaya, across India this project is mostly incomplete and ill-conceived.
In most places its just a two-lane highway. On one lane you have autos and the other has trucks so even if you have car that can travel at higher speeds its just not possible on these highways. You’ll have to brake every few minutes.
It should have been eight-lane, four on each side.
And some stretches are just incomplete, and with just a few labourers I saw it could take a hundred years to complete this project. Of course, Mr. Vajpayee is long gone and now our current Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is also on his way out, yet I see no urgency in completing this project. Wish Dr. Singh was as concerned about this as he is about India’s nuclear deal. (we would have saved 6 per cent energy just because there would be lesser traffic hold-ups)
Besides, there is no barricading. Animals, people, just about anything could step on to the motorway. Wish Mrs. Maneka Gandhi did something for the sake of the dogs whom she cares about so much.
Worse, on a one-way highway you could have vehicles appear suddenly from the other side, no traffic rules or signs, it’s a free for all and you better be careful. Just drive carefully.
Finally, we were at Kanpur, and I can tell you it represented a forgotten, decaying industrial town. With great difficulty we got ourselves a hotel for the night – Hotel Bliss. Hardly.