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Is Tata's Rs.1 Lakh car, Nano good for India?

I asked this question to many of my friends and colleagues in Bangalore, their answer was unanimous. A big NO. They are already spending about 3 hours in their commute already and 67% of children in Bangalore are suffering from Asthma and respiratory illnesses, thanks to pollution cover added by alarming increase in automobiles on the narrow roads. When they think about the Rs.1 Lakh car Nano, they could only think of how worse the pollution could get and how their commute time will just double.

I wasn't sure that even the automobile industry is so heavily subsidized. Here is an excellent analysis of what Nano means to Indian economy and its crippling infrastructure.

Last fortnight, when the world’s richest Indian Lakshmi Mittal visited Kolkata, the city of his youth, he was thrilled to see change. Mittal told the media that the biggest difference he saw was the many flyovers dotting the city skyline and “disciplined traffic”. This is great progress, he told journalists, who promptly reported that the tycoon had given the city’s road and traffic management a big thumbs up. I was also in Kolkata that day. But all I could see was lines and lines of traffic, belching black smoke, honking madly. It seemed we were in the same city but on different planets.

This incident best exemplifies the debate on the Nano, the Rs 1 lakh car launched by the Tatas. The Nano, like the Kolkata flyover, is an idea of progress that has captured public imagination. There is no doubt that any car that is small is better than a big car in terms of fuel economy and emissions. There is also no doubt that affordable cars are better than expensive ones. But the question is in what direction is Nano leading us. The issue is not small, cheap cars or big, expensive cars, but all cars. The issue is whether it is helping mobility and at what price.

Let’s take the ‘affordability’ question first. The fact is that cars—small or big—are heavily subsidized. The problem is that when economists (including those who run the government) fret and fume about mounting subsidy bills, they think of farmers—fertilizer, electricity and food—not our cars. But subsidy is what they unquestionably get.

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Ultimately, it is not about economics. It is about politics and the imagination needed to build cities in which mobility does not mean cars. Flyovers can be built, but only if we know where they will lead.

The Nano-flyover syndrome | Editor's Page | Down To Earth magazine

Subsidies given to Agriculture have been witnessing a downturn in the recent past and it appears we are not moving away from subsidies but we are just redistributing them to the lobbyists. Is having an affordable car is more important than Agriculture?

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