Atal Bihari Vajpayee is #madeofgreat

Do you know someone who is #MadeOfGreat? I do, and his name is Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Who doesn’t know Atal Bihari Vajpayee? Arguably India’s most famous Prime Minister, the man is a legend.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001. Image credits EditorMarkJameBenson, released into the Public Domain, available on the Wikimedia Commons

I’m not going to go into his background, for that is irrelevant for us here. I’m only going to focus on one major section of his life. The one section that had a profound effect on the entire nation. Yes, it has everything to do with transport. I’m referring to Atalji’s second and third terms as Prime Minister. It was during this time, that he did three major things relating to transport:

  • The National Highways Development Project
  • The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana
  • Delhi-Lahore Bus

Let me start with these, and explain exactly what they mean to us as Indians.

The National Highways Development Project [NHDP]

The National Highways Development Project, the crowning glory of the first NDA government in India consisted of two main sections at that time:

  • The Golden Quadrilateral
  • The North South East West Corridor
The Golden Quadrilateral
The Dehu Road - Katraj Bypass at Pashan in Pune along the Mumbai-Pune-Bangalore National Highway.
The Dehu Road – Katraj Bypass at Pashan in Pune along the Mumbai-Pune-Bangalore National Highway. Image copyright Amit20081980, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The GQ was envisioned as a set of four lane highways connecting the four metropolitan cities of Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi. It also included India’s first major Expressways; Mumbai-Pune, Delhi-Gurgaon, and Ahmedabad-Vadodara. Barring a few stretches such as the Udaipur Bypass and the Hubli-Dharwad bypass, it was mostly four-laned, with a few sections being six laned. The net result? Travel time to between various cities shot down by 50%. Subsequently, the UPA government decided to six lane the GQ, while several state governments initiated similar programs for four laning their State Highways. The impact of the Golden Quadrilateral was felt immediately as sections were completed. Nearly 95% of the project was completed before the NDA government left office, and one must congratulate Major General BC Khanduri, then Minister of Surface Transport with the Government of India and Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Public Works in Maharashtra till 1999 for laying the groundwork for future projects. The bulk of the project was funded through a 1% cess levied on fuel and recovered by collecting Toll. The GQ also saw the construction of India’s first and so far, only National Expressway, the Mahatma Gandhi Expressway, connecting Ahmedabad and Vadodara in Gujarat. The only major non-National Highway section on the GQ is the Yeshwantrao Chavan Expressway, built by the MSRDC, connecting Mumbai and Pune in Maharashtra.

North-South and East-West Corridors

Another major project initiated under the NHDP by the NDA government, this project aimed to connect Srinagar in the North to Kanyakumari in the South and Silchar in the East with Porbandar in the West. The connected major Indian cities that were not covered by the GQ, such as Hyderabad, Nagpur, Jabalpur, Coimbatore, Cochin, etc. It also laid the basis for the Port Connectivity Projects, Sagar Mala, Bharat Mala, etc by subsequent governments in the centre. Again, it also spurred several state and city funded projects to provide connectivity between National Highways and others towns as well. Two notable projects include the four laning of the  Bangalore-Mysore State Highway connecting Mysore to both the GQ and North South corridor at Bangalore and the six-eight lane Hyderabad Outer Ring Road that connects the two arms of the Sringar-Kanyakumari, Pune-Vijaywada National Highways apart from numerous state highways passing thru Hyderabad.

Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana [PMGSY]
A PMGSY Road marker in Jalandhar.
A PMGSY Road marker in Jalandhar. Image Copyright Gopal Aggarwal of http://gopal1035.blogspot.com. Image available on the Wikimedia Commons under a CC 2.0 Attribution Generic licence.

The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana [PMGSY], literally translating to Prime Minister’s Village Roads Project, was initiated by the NDA government in order to provide all weather roads to villages that were hitherto unconnected. In 2010, it was reported that the PMGSY started changing the lifestyles of villagers in the North Eastern Parts of the country. A very noble plan, it has impacted villagers massively, offering them connectivity which has in turn boosted trade and helped villagers deal with others without middlemen as well.

Of course, the subsequent UPA government tried to hijack the project with Jairam Ramesh infamously stating that the Project was Atalji’s “Poem” but it was the subsequent government that gave it the wings. A fine way to steal credit, might I add.

Delhi-Lahore Bus
The Friendship Bus Delhi-Lahore at the Pakistan-India border.
The Friendship Bus Delhi-Lahore at the Pakistan-India border. Image Copyright Lorenz Khazaleh, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0, available on Flickr.

This was the most amazing thing that Atalji’s government did. A bus connecting two neighbouring countries that have been at war for most of their history. Officially known as the Sada-e-Sarhad, it was launched on 19 February 1999 connecting Delhi and Lahore via the Attari-Wagah border. A gesture of friendship between India and Pakistan, it continues on today, 16 years later. It is jointly operated by the Delhi Transport Corporation [DTC] and the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation [PTDC], who run buses on alternate days. It laid the basic framework for the introduction of the Delhi-Kathmandu Bus by the DTC and the Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala buses by the Tripura Road Transport Corporation [TRTC], West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation [WBSTC] and Shyamoli Paribahan [SB] a decade later.

In 2015, India was a signatory of the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement [BBIN MVA], for seamless movement of road traffic among the four nations. This achievement, combined with the launch of international bus services makes international road travel something every Indian can look forward to.

 

At the end of the day, one can say that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was certainly one of the best Prime Ministers we had. By laying a solid foundation in the transport sector, he effectively ensured that all other sectors benefited and the economy grew and that millions reaped rewards. So next time you take your brand new Tata car out for a drive and cross 100km/hr, remember that it was Vajpayee who made it possible.

This post has been written for a competition organised by Tata Motors because Football legend Lionel Messi has been roped in as their Brand Ambassador. For more details, head to http://madeofgreat.tatamotors.com/. You stand a chance to win a voucher worth ₹750 from Amazon if you are able to answer the following question: “What do you think of Tata Motors’ association with Lionel Messi?” in the comments below. Make sure you aren’t left out! Please post your comments by 25th November 2015.

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World Toilet Day – #WeCantWait in Transit

19th November, World Toilet Day.

Toilets are very important as far as Transit is concerned. One reason, is to maintain cleanliness in public.

Whether you are traveling long distances, or going for a short trip, a toilet is important. Imagine, you have been running errands all day, and need to use the toilet. A blog post on the Wall Street Journal states that India has the worlds longest waiting line for using the toilet. While providing  toilets to people who don’t have one at home is out of the purview of this post, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government and the Narendra Modi Government have done a lot to change the ground reality. Now, the rest of this post deals with sanitation and related issues while traveling.

It is humanly impossible for BEST, or BMTC or any transco to provide toilets on every bus. Toilets on buses have been there for several years now, most notably in KSRTC’s Airavat Bliss and SETC’s Classic series of buses. The former was a Volvo B9R, while the latter was a custom-built non-AC coach on an Ashok Leyland chasis. Both had the same issue however: Foul odour because of people not using the toilet properly, not washing properly, or flushing something that wasn’t meant to be flushed. While it helped in a non-AC bus to have open windows, you can imagine the situation in a closed to air Volvo. If this is the case with long distance buses, one can only imagine the magnitude of how bad things can be if there were toilets in a regular bus running trips inside a city.

Now, it is impossible for BEST to provide toilets at each bus stop as well. The issues are plumbing and water. It would be nearly impossible to get the plumbing to each bus stop. However, here, I’d like to talk about something interesting that the Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation did in Coimbatore. They set up stainless-steel booths on top of manholes which connected with the sewage lines and made them urinals. These urinals were interesting, but the main issue was that they were only meant for men. However, the issue would be less complex at BRTS stations. On BRTS systems like the Janmarg or Rainbow, the stations are at the centre of the road. Here, a toilet can be built, with a little less complexity. While I haven’t seen any Janmarg station with a toilet, I know that the Mukai Chowk terminal at Kiwale has toilets.

Railways stations almost always have toilets, though they are mostly in deplorable conditions and not fit for use. Ideally, Indian Railways should hand over the maintenance contracts of toilets to accountable contractors and make them answerable, otherwise we will always have people sitting on railway tracks or taking a leak at the end of the platform. Metro stations, mostly because they are new and relatively modern, usually have better toilets. The Airport Express line on the Delhi Metro has some clean toilets. The rest of the Delhi Metro, especially the Yellow and Red lines, feature Sulabh Shouchalayas. The Bangalore Metro on the other hand decided that it would be toilet-free with the justification that one would not need a toilet with such short trips. Utterly stupid, in my opinion. However, they have now partitioned the employees toilet into two, and made one half a Pay and Use toilet. Better late than never I guess. Mumbai did the right thing by ensuring that all Metro stations have a toilet in the paid area, that was available to users, free of cost. A fine decision I must say, given that Reliance has ensured that it earns maximum revenue possible at each station.

Now, the most important of them all: Bus stations. Bus stations usually have a toilet, especially the long distance ones. It is unfortunate that while most BMTC bus stations, atleast the larger ones feature reasonably clean pay and use toilets, no BEST bus station has one. I personally feel this needs to change immediately and BEST needs to provide loos in bus stations. All KSRTC and MSRTC bus stations have toilets, with the former being superior in terms of hygiene an cleanliness. While one may expect them to have clean toilets, atleast for Shivneri, Airavat or equivalent users, the situation isn’t the same everywhere. Tamil Nadu meanwhile has toilets at all bus stations, these are usually just a wall that can be used as a urinal. They are filthy, with the only clean toilet I’ve seen being the one in the Mettupalayam Road Bus Stand in Coimbatore, and also the most expensive.

But wait, aren’t we forgetting something important here? Yes we are. What about the bus conductors, drivers, railway engineers, et al? While most Metro operators have staff restrooms at terminal stations, the situation may not be the same with buses. Bus drivers and conductors with BMTC, KSRTC, MSRTC use the same rest room facilities as the passengers. While MSRTC normally doesn’t charge for urinals, the other two do, and this is why, I have seen a BMTC Volvo driver and conductor stop the bus near Bannerghatta National Park, go out, take a leak and come back. Similarly, due to lack of clean facilities, you’ll often see drivers of Haryana Roadways buses take a leak on the service lanes in Gurgaon. BEST meanwhile, has restrooms and sleeping areas for its staff at all depots. It has canteens for them at bus stations as well. Among all, the recently rebuilt Kurla Depot is supposed to have really good facilities for staff and being attached to the once dreaded Kurla depot has now become a privilege.

So, like I said last time, littering in public is a sin, but defecating, is a bigger sin. I just hope all transcos take a note of each other and provide proper facilities for both passengers and staff at all depots, stations, major bus stops, etc.

The answer to a lot of these problems lies in the eToilet. What is an eToilet, you ask?

e-Toilets are unmanned toilets which work on a sensor-based technology. The self-cleaning and water conservation mechanism in the toilet makes it unique. 

If India can adopt eToilets on a large scale, it would truly help our nation. All one needs to do is to set it up, and let the system run itself. Investment and operational costs can be recovered thru advertisements around it, or by putting a coin entry system and charging all users ₹1 to use it.

The problem is that very few people are willing to shell out that rupee. Most would prefer to take a leak elsewhere.

It is right now, the age of Digital Technology. Apps drive our world. When we can book a cab, buy groceries and provisions, even find a person to date with an app, it should be easier to find a loo with an app no? It is! Download PeeProvider, an app that helps locate the nearest clean loo!

PeeProvider
PeeProvider

On an unrelated note, today is International Men’s Day, World Toilet Day, and also the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi.


World Toilet Day IndiChange Participant


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The Laws of Waiting for Buses

Ever waited for a bus only to get frustrated? Well, let’s have a closer look at it shall we?

Before we jump into this madness, let me keep two random statements in front:

  1. Murphy’s Law

    Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

  2. The Peter Principle

    In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

Now, the above two statements are just there for the sake of being there. But, they will make a lot of sense after reading the rest of the article.

So, while waiting for a bus to arrive, you will observe some irritating and painful occurrences.

Presenting to you, my dear readers, The Laws of Waiting for Buses:

  1. As you reach the bus stop, you will miss as many buses possible and then none shall come.
    This law states that, ”As you approach the bus stop, maximum number of buses shall speed past you in the direction you intend to travel in, and shall cease as soon as you reach the bus stop.”
    Originally posted here.
  2. The bus you wait for shall never come, forcing you to take an alternative bus.
    This law states that, “If you are waiting for a specific bus number or a bus that follows a specific route, that bus or set of buses will not arrive till you are frustrated to the point of taking another bus, one that may involve multiple changeovers, or a longer route.”
    Originally posted here.
  3. When you give up on a bus is when it has the maximum probability of arriving.
    This law builds up on the previous law, and states that, “When you finally reach the frustration point and take the different bus, that is the moment in time when the bus you had been waiting for all along has the highest probability of arriving.”
    Originally posted here.
  4. When I was on the other side of the Road, a dozen buses sped by … Now I’m on this side, waiting, and not one bus is in sight …
    This law is similar to first one and states that, “When you are waiting for a bus that isn’t going to come anytime soon, you will see plenty of buses go by in the opposite direction.
    Originally posted here.
  5. The bus stops I choose have the least number of buses for my destination.
    This law states that, “When you reach a particular bus stop, it will have the least number of buses heading towards your destination.”
    Originally posted here.

So, in the end, the frustration builds up, and we end up taking an Uber, or an Ola. If you live in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, you will end up taking an auto or a train.

Note: Most of these incidents happen due to a phenomenon known as Bus Bunching. Bus bunching, also known as Bus Clumping, refers to a group of two or more bus, which were scheduled to be evenly spaced running along the same route, instead running in the same location at the same time.

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Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

– Doc Emmett L Brown, 27th October, 1985.

Fast forward to 21st October, 2015. Today. The day of the flying cars, Jaws 19, and Hoverboards.

Of course, there are no flying cars. Atleast not yet. I’m personally upset that while there was word of Nike’s Shoes with Powerlaces, I don’t have an auto-adjusting jacket that dries itself when wet. But enough of flying cars, we all know that’s still going to cause traffic jams, on the Skyway instead of the Highway. We have already seen a 100km long traffic jam in China, and with the number of cars being added to the roads each day, I won’t be surprised to see the same on the Western Express Highway. If flying cars did exist, expect a massive jam on the Western Express Skyway.

Now given that I am a Bus Aficionado, let us change our focus to buses. Right now, the closest we have got to Back To The Future is a Metro Rail, which is a railway line above the ground. Or, as they refer to the MRTS line in Madras, “Parrakum Rayil” [Flying Rail].

 

If Flying Vehicles existed in 2015, like BTTF predicted.

  • Western Railways and Central Railways would be plying flying trains from Chruchgate to Virar, or CST to Karjat and Kasara. Striking workers and rioters would have to tie themselves up to each other and suspend themselves, but the train would skirt them. Thankfully.
  • Idiots who drive like maniacs on the ground will do the same thing in the air. The impact of accidents may be worse because you’d fall a long way, but atleast people on the pavements won’t get run over.
  • BEST will operate them flying Purple Faeries on two types of routes: AS [AC Standard] and AExpress. AS-1 will fly on the Service lanes of the Eastern Express Skyway while A8Express will fly over all traffic. Don’t ask me how they intend to keep coming down to pick up passengers. Of course, they will continue to be loss making due to lack of passengers.
  • NMMT will continue to flood the Mumbai skyline with its fancy Volvo buses, introducing new routes from Worli to Navasari and Mulund to Dehu Road.
  • TMT will continue to operate it smokey, rickety rattle-trap buses, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear news of accidents caused due to the bus parts falling down.
  • The Bandra Worli Sea Link would become a place where homeless people hang out.
  • Thanks to technological advancements, the Metro tracks would be in a condition similar to that of IRs tracks with people using it as their personal loo.
  • Autos will fly and cause traffic jams. Some of them would be replaced by Tata Nanos. Don’t worry, Tata Nanos won’t catch fire in the air.
  • Jaywalkers will find a way to jump across the street, so high up.
  • MSRTC’s Shivneri will reach Pune faster. The Dadar (East) to Pune Railway Station journey will take 3 hours instead of the current 4 hour trip because of the sheer number of cars flying around Lonavala. Don’t forget flying cars selling Maganlal Chikki.
  • KSRTC’s Airavat will take 12 hours on the Bombay to Bangalore route. The Hubli Dharwad Skypass is still two lanes.
  • Ashok Leyland will flood the Skies with the SKiBus.
  • The Andheri flyover will be used by people on Hoverboards.
  • Dadar will continue to be a mess because of flying trains, buses, cars, taxis, everything. Kabootar Khaana would be the root cause of Congestion.

Note. I was originally intending to Photoshop a Cerita in the sky over the Western Express Highway, but it would have looked way too tacky. I’m laughing as I type this.

 

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Travelling with your television

So, I was randomly going thru the internet when this one thing stood out: Tata Sky Transfer. I couldn’t resist, so I went thru all the possible search results and came across this video:

It is a very interesting thought and I personally feel this would work wonders to provide a comfortable mode of transport for us. As you know, we spend quite a lot of travel time to work. Now imagine this scenario, I work at the World Trade Centre in Cuffe Parade, and I live in Thane. My work times are such that I am unable to catch the A8Express, so I end up catching AS1. Now I have to contend with sitting on that bus from 8am to 10am to reach work and sit from 7.30pm to 10pm on my way back as it makes its way thru Sion, Dadar, Parel and Byculla. I’m spending close to five hours of those in a bus. Now, I, for one would be happy because I love buses. But what if you wanted to do something else?

Let us assume that I want to catch up on my Television viewing instead. Now I’m a fan of Mash, Knightrider and Scooby Doo, and I hypothetically imagine that Comedy Central, Star World and Cartoon Network are playing the three of them respectively. So, I decide to record the episodes in the morning while I catch up on my sleep. I wake up, refreshed, and head to work. I finish my days work, and head back to Backbay Depot, from where I board my AS1. I want to unwind, so I pull out my phone, and turn on the latest episode that I recorded earlier in the day. What if one morning, I decided not to sleep, I could watch Scooby Doo instead. Or maybe, I recorded an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Present the previous night and decide to catch up on some intriguing mystery before I get to work? Imagine, one day, there is less traffic, and I reach home before I can finish my episode. I get home, and finish viewing it on my large screen TV. Or what if there is crucial Football or Hockey match that is going on, and I need to watch it, but don’t have the time, or am at work? I simply hit record, and watch it in the comfort of my AS1, and maybe even my home; that too with the added benefit of pausing and rewinding whenever I want.

Overall, I think #TATASkyTransfer seems to be a good deal. Go for it, and if you take A8Express or A13Express, ditch those for an AS1 so you could spend more time watching the Telly.

 

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Public Transport and Cleanliness

They say Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Well, I wouldn’t disagree with that. When PM Modi started the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, I, for one was really happy. Here was a mission, endorsed by the Prime Minister himself with half the parliament supporting it. Indeed, it would mean that we could soon progress towards becoming a cleaner nation. However, this movement alone won’t suffice, for a lot remains to be done. Here, I am going to have a look at how cleanliness affects us while commuting.

Commuting is a very sticky situation from a cleanliness point of view. Lakhs of people use Public transport, we do not know where they come from, we do not know what they have  touched, nothing.

Among various factors, germ transmission is very high in public transport. Among various carriers for germs, apart from the air, especially in air-conditioned buses and trains, are currency notes and coins. Due to their extremely long life, since they are in circulation for periods extending to several years, they are hotbeds of germ activity. Similar to bank currency,  are the reusable tokens that are used in modern rapid transit systems. However, that isn’t all. If you use a ticket vending machine at a railway station, like in Mumbai, or the automated machines on the Metro, you would still be performing germ transactions. Possibly, the cleanest mode of payment would be using the Coupon Vending machine, since you won’t be touching the Coupons, or, using the UTS app. In BEST, I carry my prepaid card inside a small plastic packet, so if I buy a pass, I put it into that packet and keep it there behind the pass. Other sources of germs are the grab handles of course, since most people hold on to those, as well as the seats themselves, especially the fabric ones. Thankfully, on most long distance routes these are fumigated after each ride, but I still recall cockroaches behind the last seat of a Volvo B7RLE owned by TNSTC between Madras and Pondicherry in 2012.

Now, this brings us to another source of contaminants: Insects, Pests, Rodents, et al. Cockroaches on a TNSTC Volvo is  noteworthy, for it signifies that they are providing services on par with Greyhound buses. Similarly, there have been cases of rodents in transit systems. These, could lead to serious health issues.

Then there is the case of people spitting everywhere, inspite of boards asking them not to spit, or litter, everywhere. These give rise to other problems, they may not be contagious, but I sure wouldn’t want to step on them.

In PMPML and BMTC buses, I have noticed that there is a lot of junk on the floor of the bus. These include dust, hair, wrappers if food items, tickets, and what not. Most people may not realise it, but these can cause dust mites to spread as well as cause respiratory issues.

So, what exactly needs to be done?

For starters, we can not litter in buses and trains, as well as in stations. Find a dustbin, and dispose of trash in that. Transcos should ensure that they provide dustbins at all stations/stops and handover maintenance and disposing of trash to a private party. Metro rail and BRTS services have totally banned consumption of food and water on their premises as well as during transit. It would further help if major bus stations, BRTS terminals, and Metro stations had clean, paid, well maintained toilets on their premises for commuters to use, thus preventing the need for people to do it in the open.

However, the situation can be brought under control, if commuters changed their mindset. For example, I always carry a packet of tissues along with a plastic cover to store used ones when I’m sick. I also carry a Hand Sanitizer with me, but I realise it isn’t practical for everyone to carry a bottle of Dettol with them everywhere.

Prime Minister Modi indeed started a noble mission with the Swachh Bharat Mission. While previous governments may have done it, nobody made it such a major affair till now, and that must be commended. It is up to us citizens to honour our PMs wishes and help keep the country clean. So, stop littering, and keep our country, and its transport systems safe. Maybe, it’s high time someone kept a bottle of Dettol Hand Sanitizer next to the ATVM or Ticket counter for people to use after purchasing a ticket.

What are your opinions? Do post them in the comments section below.

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