Superhighways have become contemporary
Prime Minister Vajpayee has been quoted as saying that:
Roads are like the lines on the palm. There is a line of destiny which is going to join
The redefining of
Highways are not lines on the palm, they are more like tattoos -- black marks imposed by external design on the landscape - a design that is centralising and excluding, a design used by Hitler to control
The sources of the tributaries of the Ganges are the "Char Dhams" -- people across the country undertake the pilgrimage to the
The substitution in our imagination of our sacred rivers with highways, of our connection to the sacred earth her mountains and forests with connection through automobiles, cement and tarcoal, is rewriting India's ecology, culture, history and distinctiveness and adopting an obsolete outmoded, unsustainable model of development from the west with its high social and environmental costs.
Tagore had reminded us that
And Gandhi stated that
modern civilisation seeks to increase bodily comforts, and it fails miserably even in doing soâ€¦ This civilisation is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyedâ€¦there is no end to the victims destroyed in the fire of (this) civilisation. Its deadly effect is that people come under its scorching flames believing it to be all good.
It is a charge against
Our civilisational distinctiveness of leaving a small ecological footprint on the planet is being erased in a race to become like the industrialised west -- usurping the ecological space of other beings, of tribal and rural communities and the urban poor.
The superhighway and the automobile is the ultimate cultural symbol of non-sustainability and ecological exclusion.
Our roads had place for the cow, the horse, the camel, the elephant, the car. We are now privileging the car owner.
The Highway and Automobile culture are symbols of totalitarian cultures which deny people more sustainable and equitable alternatives for mobility and transport.
To go from Kanyakumari to
Table: Social costs in relation to transport modalities (by percentage)
Social costs Air Rail Inland Road Total
Air pollution 2 4 3 91 100
Noise pollution 26 10 0 64 100
Land coverage 1 7 1 91 100
maintenance 2 37 5 56 100
casualties 1 1 0 98 100
Total in billion 2 14 2 680-77 86-95
Source: Group Transport 2000 plus
Road transport is 8 times more polluting, 10 times more land destroying, and 20 times more accident prone than rail transport. Please see figure 1. Road transport accounts for 17% of al CO2 pollution which is leading to climate instability. Please see figure 2. All these externalities are known. Yet
The "sadak" (Road) was part of the BJP's election slogan in the assembly elections. Given the number of Highway Advertisements in the lead up to the general elections, the Indian public can be sure that the Highway and Automobile will be sold as symbols of a brave new
But we need to take lessons from history and other societies. We have a century of experience with the ecological and social violence of the automobile. We can save ourselves from becoming its slave. And we have lessons from Nazi Germany where Highways were designed as means of centralised control, facism and dictatorship not of human freedom and democracy.
As Wolfgang Sachs states in his classic "For the Love of the Automobile".
Dictatorships live not only by force but also by emotional appeal the shining eyes of the man on the street are as much a part of the image of the time as the Gestapo at dawn. A history of this enthusiasm in the period of German facism has yet to be written. Yet whoever undertakes to eavesdrop at the corner bar and uncover that consent from below amid the oppression from above will have to make room for a chapter about the National Socialists' motorisation policy.
Prime Minister Vajpayee's groundbreaking for his "pet" highway projects has parallel images of Adolf Hitler's groundbreaking for the
"Autos-only" roads replaced the pluralism and democracy of transport. A memorandum of that time identified the countryside as the biggest impediment to the automobile because
it is expected to share the streets, with horse-drawn carriages, bicyclists and pedestriansâ€¦â€¦The modern concept of traffic engineering is to introduce a network of special highways, to serve the needs of long-distance travellers and to be used by the fastest automobiles (for which it is meant) â€¦(p49 Wolfgang Sachs)
The Monoculture of the Mind which has destroyed biodiversity in farms and forests, which has fuelled communal hatred, is now being brought to
The Indian ads of 2004 state:
"1947-1997 (in 50 years): Just 556 km of 4/6 laned National Highways built ie 11.12 km per year.
1997 onwards: With PMBJP 24,000 km of 4/6 lane National Highways being build ie., 11 km per day employing 5 lakh persons everyday.
The Nazi ads used similar measures of achievement. Road building was the biggest construction project, with 6,000 km of road planned, and nearly a million jobs created as a result of the motorisation policies. The "India Shining on tarmac" ads find a parallel in the euphoria of the German Reich. The National Socialists presented road building as both a technical achievement and a cultural feat. As the Inspector General of German Roads, Fritz Todt stated after the first thousand miles were built :
It is once again a matter of pride to be a road builder. The German Reich is getting roads the levels of which, in their magnitude and beauty, have never been built in the history of human cultureâ€¦
The government in
God forbid that
We are today 1 billion. And we are being asked to adopt the lifestyles and economies of the 20% of humanity which has been using 80% of the world's resources. If 200 million rich Indians want to live like their western counterparts, 800 million of their brothers and sisters will have to give up their water, their land, their homes and their livelihoods. The highway project is not uniting