Friday, April 13, 2007

Notes On The Road

So here I am, back in India after a couple of years, doing research for a project in the relatively rich rural district of West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh. Some biased observations based on the few data points here.

Train prices are increasingly affordable and hence demand outstrips supply. For the first time, I was ready to book First class AC Tatkal to catch a project deadline and yet tickets were not available.

Cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore have traffic bursting at the seams. Apparently, Bhimavaram, a rich district wanted its own airport but politics dictated otherwise. Increasingly different transport solutions will be sought and have to be supplied.

Main roads in West Godavari are very good. I wonder about the contracting system in place for their maintenance. Gautam Bastian told me some interesting road factoids. Highways are intentionally made curved so as not to have drivers sleep off. Some well maintained roads in Orissa are oddly ill-maintained at certain stretches along the road. Turns out it is so because the road contract was given based on points marked on maps. The slight difference on the map between the parts of the road provided to two different contractors translates into no-man's land in reality and nobody maintains it!

Autos present a particularly blind-spot for policy-makers. Every city has had its share of strikes and passenger complaints because autos dont charge by the meter. And it is obvious why it will happen moreso. Meter fares are distance-based. In reality fares are hugely a function of getting return passengers. Which again is a function of spatial density of the auto-using populace. That is why sometimes it is difficult to take an auto from the Secunderabad station to Paradise (a commerical area) in the morning. Because all the traffic is towards that area and very little away from it. And similar problems for areas on the outskirts of the city. The regulation-imposed fare creates heartburn for passengers because they consider autodrivers violating the "law." What do you think? Towns in rural India seldom have digital meter based fares. Can we learn something from the dynamics there?

The Hussain Sagar is a pleasure in Hyderabad. Having greenery or water in the midst of a city is thandak for sore eyes.

Greenery reminds me of the farms in West Godavari. Green fields everywhere, and relatively prosperous people ... the gift of the river Godavari.

It is not odd to find statues of actors like Balakrishna in West Godavari district. However one particular statue of a foreigner kept coming up at odd places and it intrigued me. Curiosity unbound, I enquired about him. Turns out to be Sir Arthur Cotton, the man behind the prosperity of the West Godavari district. His entrepreneurial efforts in the 19th century led a famine-affected district turn into one of the most fertile parts of AP. No wonder some farmers invoke him before beginning their work. Read more about him here. And despair why his efforts have not been replicated for the drier parts of AP like Telangana.

Internet speed is so bad that the Reliance internet card for connectivity on-the-go seems really cool because it is something I could not do even in the US.

The decent hotel where I am staying in small-town Tadepalligudam has the clock faster by 20 minutes because the manager says it makes the staff more active!

It is a joy to see Shahrukh and Raju Shrivastava on TV instead of the YouTube.

It is increasingly becoming difficult with the moral dilemma of whether to give or not to give to beggars.

It is a great time to be a teen. You can dream BIG!


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