Not Millenials, Indian Roads Are The Reason For The Slump In Car Sales

Our Finance Minister recently blamed the millennials and cab aggregator apps combine for the slowdown in India’s auto sector. This unwarranted comment could have passed but R.C. Bhargava, former Chairman, Maruti Suzuki decided to second it. Bhargava, who nurtured Maruti Suzuki should have known better! Either he was trying to please someone out of the way, or he was just blind to the reality that India is unfriendly when it comes to car ownership.

I love driving, especially long distances to remote places. Driving to lesser-known destinations is my idea of fun and adventure, and my two-year car ownership and past 25000 Km of driving in North and Western part of India, has taught me a few things about car ownership in India—which has curtailed my enthusiasm for long drives.

1. Tolls

There is no method for toll collection: is it based on distance or vehicle size? There is an unusually high number of tolls in Rajasthan while driving towards Gujarat (one toll booth for almost every 50–60 Km!). Some toll roads are not toll worthy. Tolled roads are not patrolled, maintained, fenced and access restricted. How long will a toll booth collect money? Is there a financial goal, or is it forever? Where is the toll money going when the road is not even being maintained?

2. Cattle Menace

For some strange reason, Hindu holy cows are forever on the Indian roads. I fail to understand the logic of cattle, especially cows, lounging on the Indian roads. If the sacred cows have to be on the roads, then there should be a separate cow/cattle lane, which should be properly fenced, so that they do not come on to the main highway. In Rajasthan, some toll roads have thick vegetation growing on the central median where cattle congregate to feed and cows, goats and bulls have been seen stepping off the median to cross the road with no care for the oncoming traffic. Driving at 100–120, close to the central median, is a risky proposition—as the cattle cannot be seen, and it forces the drivers to stay on the left of the road to avoid hitting cattle stepping onto the highway from the central median inadvertently.

3. Wrong Side Driving

On the highways, it is a common sight to see tractors, cyclists, motorcyclists, etc., driving on the wrong side of the road. The chances of an accident are exponentially high at night when vehicles with defective or no headlights drive on the wrong side of the road. Most of the toll roads except expressways are not fenced off, as a result, whenever the highways go past a village, there is a gap in the median to allow people, cattle, mopeds, tractors, trucks, cars crossing to go either side.

Ideally, the highways should be elevated in those sections so that the local and interstate highway traffic are separated, but instead, there are multiple signs before approaching an intersection stating “accident-prone zone ahead”. Since the road construction engineers knew it was an accident-prone zone, why didn’t they elevate the highway at that section? This problem has been noticed all across India; in fact, this is a classic case of poor design. Whoever designed the roads, did not bother to elevate the sections near villages and towns to save cost.

4. Truck Menace

In spite of the road signs written in Hindi asking the truckers to stay on the left, truckers drive all over the road, forcing other vehicles to overtake between the trucks, on the left and right. Some highly adventurous motorcyclists on their newly-acquired superbikes have a dangerous habit of overtaking another overtaking vehicle, with little or no margin for error. Many drivers and riders have little driving sense: they never use indicators before turning, slowing down or stopping without warning, they park vehicles at a curve, or wherever or whenever they like with little thought for the inconvenience they are causing to other drivers.

5. Mountain Roads

Driving on the hill stations of India like Himachal and Uttarakhand require specialized skills, which only locals seem to possess. Recently, while driving down from Landour to Dehradun, I was forced to the extreme left by a car which came bearing down straight at me; I nearly collided with a scooter, which was trying to overtake me on the left. Full-sized buses, overloaded vehicles carrying construction materials are a menace to motorists, especially on extremely narrow mountain roads, where I had been forced to reverse for about 250 metres with a sheer drop of about 1000 feet on one side.

6. Night Driving

Night driving in India, especially on the highways is a strict no unless it is a dire emergency. At night, apart from all the factors listed above, there is an added problem of high beams and multiple neon headlights used by truckers which blind the oncoming drivers.

7. Unscrupulous Police

Somewhere before Jaipur, after a toll booth, I was stopped by a group of policemen and asked for documents, and my vehicle was checked. What unnerved me was the unfriendly and hostile manner in which I was searched. I am uncomfortable giving away my mobile number to strangers as it is linked to various online services, but I was not allowed to proceed unless I parted with my mobile number. This has forced me to get a sim without internet link and not linked to online services to give it to policemen who stop me on the highways. Unmanned, zig-zag police barricades which have long since served their purpose, continue to adorn highways slowing traffic to a crawl. All this after paying a toll!

8. Fuel cost 

The ever-increasing fuel cost is the ultimate dampener to vehicle ownership. If all the above factors fail to dampen the enthusiasm, then this surely does it.

9. Driving License

Has Mr Bhargava or Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman ever applied for a driving license like a common man? Have they been given the run around like I was given? Go here, go there, come tomorrow, stand in line to get the form, fill the form. When the form is filled, stand in line to submit it. If the form is right, something or the other is wrong. When the same form is submitted through a tout by paying several times the asking amount, everything works like magic, and the so-called intractable problems get sorted out.

I thought driving around to see India, the way I always wanted to, would be fun, but it is anything but that. There are too many problems, and in spite of all the problems listed, it is my love for driving that keeps me going. There are not many like me, but I know a few who love to drive. Owning a car is not the “in thing”; it is a question of “affordability”. When I can afford to hire a Mercedes with a driver, why buy it? Blame it on the millennials, donkeys, cows, fuel cost or whatever, but the fact that “it is not worth owning a car with all the hassles associated with it” has come to bite the government.

I wonder if Mr Bhargava or Mrs Sitharaman have driven around India like I do, or tried owning a car, a license, maintaining it, driving it, parking it, paying the high cost of fuel with a budgeted income. Instead of blaming the auto sector, the government should look at itself and start undoing the wrongs. For starters, the government must remove all the toll booths in India, except the toll at the expressways, clear the cattle off the road, police the highways to force truckers to stay on the left, levy high fines on those driving on the wrong side. These four steps alone will go a long way in making India a car-owner-friendly country. Other remedial measures should happen in due course.

My car dealership often calls me and asks, “Sir, on a scale of 1–10, how will you rate our service?”  I always give them 10—because I have to face them again. Blaming the millennials statement can, at best, fetch two on a scale of 10.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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