Republic Day Special Series

SHARAD JOSHI'S BOOK: Ch. IX, Part 2

 

WHAT WENT WRONG WITH INDEPENDENCE?

Chapter IX: Railways (Part 2)

Predominance Of Road Transport:
In the 50 years of Independence, Roads became the principal means of transport. Vehicles running on petroleum or Diesel held centre stage. Shri S K Patil recounts in his autobiography a very entertaining but critical episode.

Cement was imported on large scale during the first and the Second Five Year Plan period. Domestic production too was encouraged. It was supposed to be used for construction of irrigation and power generating dams which Nehru described as the Temples of Modern India. The country had ample stocks of cement while Iron and Steel components failed to keep space. Piles of bags of cement were stored all over the country. If stocks remained un-utilised, cement would become useless within a few months. Cement had to be found some use other than construction of dams. Alternatively, utilisation of cement needed to be such as would require little or no use of iron and steel components. Some genius in Delhi had a streak of brilliance. Road construction requires very little steel. Construction of cement road should be undertaken on massive scale. In the last decade, we have seen all over the country spectacle of cracked cement roads being dug up and replaced by tar roads. Most or these cement roads were constructed during the epoch of S K Patil’ s anecdote. Construction of roads rather than railways serves eminently the convenience of post-independence rulers. and their crony capitalist industrialists. Roads do not need detailed long term planning If you put up a factory at Bhilai all that is necessary by way of transport infrastructure is to build an auxiliary road connecting Bhilai to the nearest highway. or transport junction. If Bhilai had to be put on the rail map, it would be necessary to foresee development of railway network for over 40 to 50 years. Soon came the spectacle of truck transport taking goods across the length and breadth of the country, from Punjab to Kerala and from Saurashtra to Assam. Road transport is less expensive. Its energy requirements from domestic production and generation. Trucks, cars, two wheelers that abound of recent, use small engines that are energy expensive and comparatively speaking less efficient. A truck starting from Punjab in the direction of the South is required to halt every 80 to 100 kms for payment of octroi duty. Truck drivers stops every time. Energy consumption of transport of this type is comparatively.higher. Vast number of energy expensive vehicles are running over the roads, which are full of pits and potholes over long distances present the country with catastrophic crisis.

In USA, Railways formed at one stage the very backbone of the economy. That continent size nation was traversed from one end to the other by trains carrying goods and passengers with utmost safety and punctuality and with comfort.. It is a fact that in USA railway system are gradually replaced by even a superior road network. Situation in the erstwhile USSR is very similar. 

For the many English educated upper class elite in India, whatever happened in the western countries, particularly USA, can go on. The Planners blindly copied America and Sovietic pattern of epoch and neglected development of what was the world’s longest Railway network at the time of Independence. It would appear that the people failed to realise a very significant difference between the situation in India and that in the USA or USSR. Both these later countries are rich in petroleum resources USA imports petrol in sizeable quantity from the Middle East. They import petroleum because it is cheaper to do so than that taken out of less promising domestic wells. They wish to conserve their own resources for the day when the international price of petroleum will over-rich the cost of petroleum extracted from domestic wells.

The position in India is very different. India has abundant coal reserves. Coal is of poor quality but good enough for railways, if not for smelting. Our petroleum resources, on the contrary, are very poor. Presently, India need to import petroleum worth billion Dollars to keep its rattling fleet of vehicles running. This is posing a serious drain on our foreign exchange resources. We have been singularly lucky to make some finding of petroleum reserves from time to time. The erstwhile colonial rulers generously hand over Sterling Balance to “Government of India” thus reimbursing expenditure incurred by the British Raj in India towards the Second World War. USA wrote off a huge amount towards payment of PL.480 shipments of wheat. Non -resident Indians have been sending funds on large scale back home. Scarcity of foreign exchange has remained nevertheless remained the sword dangling on the head of the economy throughout the period after the Independence. Rupee has been perilously declining because India has a very little to sell to the world, while it needs so many things that the rest of the world produces. Deficit in balance of trade is primarily due to the fact that India is required to purchase large quantity of petroleum products in pursuit of its ill-conceived decision in neglecting railway network and promote road transport to the detriment of the mass transport system.

At this distance, it is really difficult to manage what kind of considerations must have weighed with the rulers and who deliberately decided to de-rail the train that was put on the track with assiduous efforts by the colonial rulers. That, this transport policy contributed gradually to decline and fall of India is incontrovertible.

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