Some of the hazards of traveling around India by air include over-crowded airports, delayed flights, and lost baggage. I was in Bangalore for three days last week and then came back to Mumbai with a day’s stop at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. How I wish I had the option of not flying around the country. Indian (the airlines formerly known as Indian Airlines) managed to mishandle my checked-in bag and as of now (nearly 24 hours later) the bag is still missing.
The signs are not good. I don’t mean about my bag but about the whole airlines business in India. People are not paying attention to the fact that India needs a long haul mass transportation system. And airways cannot be the long haul mass transportation system, nor can it be the road system. It has to be the rail system. There is nothing as efficient as steel wheels on steel rails for transporting hundreds of millions of people over distances that are of the order of hundreds of kilometers.
Last year I had proposed what I call an “Integrated Rail Transport System” which is worth revisiting. (A followup to that proposition is here.) I think it is time to again argue why an IRTS makes sense.
Yesterday’s The Hindu (a misnamed paper if there ever was one on the planet) carried an op-ed item which talked about China’s rail system. “At 76,000 km, the total length of China’s railways is behind only that of the US and Russia, and it is expected ot reach 100,000 km by 2020. The country already boasts of the world’s fastest train.”
The article quotes from a World Bank report titled “Highways and Railway Development in India and China from 1992 to 2002.” You wouldn’t believe it but it seems that in the early 1990s, India was ahead of China in route kilometer per capita and total route kilometer. In the decade starting 1992, China invested US$85 billion and jumped so far ahead of India that it is unlikely that India will ever catch up with China. India invested only US$17.3 billion in the same period. India’s route kilometer grew by ONE percent and China’s grew by 24 percent.
If only, lord if only, just once if India did something right in terms of infrastructure. Why are they so incredibly dense — the Indian policy makers — that they cannot get a friggin’ clue even when it stares them in the face? When would they stop their silly posturing about being this or that superpower and actually do something that will make the world stop and take notice?
I will now take a break for a moment of silence to mark the grief that I feel about the blind leadership that Indians vote for themselves. This blog will continue to propose solutions, of course, knowing full well that it is as useful as trying to teach a pig to sing: it cannot be done, it is a waste of time, and it annoys the pig.