Small car, big hitches

A Swift Car damaged in the grenade attack in Islamabad on Sep 16, 2016. (KL Images: Shah Hilal)
The Tata’s small car is luring people at the lowest ebb of middle class, but concerns are growing whether infrastructure and environment in Kashmir is ready to sustain the stress of the multitude of cars that are all set to roll on its roads. Haroon Mirani reports.
Tata Nano, world’s cheapest car, is all set to roll on Kashmir roads. Experts, however, fear that the luxury would come at a price. Tens of thousands of application forms have already been sold for Tata Nano since the bookings started on April 09, which will close on April 25, 2009. With finance readily available at low interest rates and rock bottom down payment, many times more potential buyers are also in the queue.
Experts fear that influx of large number of Tata Nano cars will have drastic impact on a small place like Kashmir valley that is already grappling with traffic nightmares.
Jammu and Kashmir has one of the lowest road densities in entire India. The road density (road length per 100 km) in Jammu & Kashmir is one of the lowest in entire India. It is slightly above 10 percent, whereas all India average is about 65 percent. There is also a huge disparity in the road density across different districts in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Kashmir division has total of 9492 km of roads. Of which 4462 are macadamised, 3371 kms are metalled and rest are either Jeepable or in some other condition,” says Mir Shafi, Chief Engineer Roads and Buildings Kashmir division.
The R&B department had taken up 323 schemes for various road projects. Out of these, 62 have been completed while the rest have been stalled due to lack of funds.
The development of more roads has been going on at a snail’s pace. The circular road project in Srinagar city has been going on for the last 30 years and is still incomplete. Same is the case with hundreds of other projects which have been hanging in air due to non availability of funds, non procurement of private structures or some other bureaucratic process.
The quality of roads too is not good as can be seen by the increased number of accidents over the last few years. Besides, almost all district roads experience hours of traffic jam daily. Narrow roads full of potholes, inefficient traffic control system and peculiar driving behaviour make a perfect mess on roads every day.
Under these circumstances the sought after Nano can only add to the problems. According to a market survey by Crisil, Nano could increase the car-owning population of India by 65 per cent, as a number of banks are providing loans with lowest ever monthly installments, affordable to lower middle class.
The potential buyers of Nano are households with an annual income of Rs 2 Lakh or above but do not own a car.
One of the main reasons for Nano demand would be a chaotic public transport system in Kashmir. The public transport usually goes off the road at seven in the evening. In the day, buses run at a frustrating pace and it often takes an hour or more to cover a distance of 10 kms or less.
Bad roads also add to commuting time in Kashmir. These factors will force people to buy their own vehicle even if family budget is strained a little more.
According to Crisil Research estimates, the new price point reduces the cost of ownership of an entry level car in India by 30 per cent and to below 3 times the cost of owning a motorcycle. This will make the car affordable to an additional 14 million families, including a section of the 58 million two wheeler owners in entire India.
The situation is no longer different in Kashmir with one of the largest sections of middle class households that would prefer a 3.1 metre long  and 1.5 metre wide car with a roomy passenger compartment coupled with generous leg space and head room. Added to it, factors like two-cylinder 623 cc engine, 33 PS, multi point fuel injection petrol engine are going to be attractive features. Only drawback in Kashmir conditions is the rear-wheel drive that doesn’t perform as well as the front wheel drive in slippery conditions. However, it is for the first time that a two-cylinder gasoline engine is being used in a car with single balancer shaft. Tata Nano will also have tubeless tyres.
The survey suggests that car sales are expected to go up by 20 per cent as compared to the previous year.
In Kashmir the vehicular population is growing at a rate of eight per cent and it is set to touch the double digits with the introduction of Tata Nano.
In Srinagar alone 1.4 lakh vehicles are jostling for space on roads to ply as well as for parking space to stop. Of them around 65 per cent comprise of two wheelers and it is this segment that is actively planning to upgrade to a four wheeler in the shape of Nano.
One can only imagine the situation when the number of vehicles doubles or triples. The state already faces an acute shortage of parking space and any increase in the number of cars would add to the woes.
“We cannot restrict the registration of private vehicles under Motor Vehicle Act as everybody has the right to own a vehicle,” Tariq Ganai, Regional Transport Officer (RTO), says while commenting on the Tata Nano effect.
Before coming on to the roads, Tata Nano has to be passed by High Level Empowerment Committee comprising of officers of transport, traffic, roads and related departments. The committee meets every three months and the next meeting is going to specially debate on Tata Nano effect.
“Of course the empowerment committee will discuss Tata Nano after it comes for approval,” says Ganai. “We are going to see whether the car passes the safety permits, is it feasible for Kashmir roads and environment, what will be its effect on roads and plying of other traffic and so on.”
Ganai said that till date we have not seen Tata Nano and its technical aspects too have not been checked and verified.
The empowered committee can’t stop the registration of new Tata Nanos but it can restrict their numbers by citing concrete proof of its impact. To take stock of the worsening traffic situation in Srinagar, RTO has stopped issuing permits to commercial vehicles falling under Srinagar municipal limits.
Despite being launched six months behind schedule, Nano has been welcomed by the people everywhere. The company has said that it will take over a year to deliver the first lot of 100,000 cars.
Although the car is one of the most fuel efficient small cars and Tata estimates it to be more environment friendly than two wheelers, the small car has the potential to create more pollution just by its numbers.
Environmentalists also fear that Tata’s may compromise on quality of production to keep its cost low. They are suspecting more emissions from this car than any other car on road, wishing it should have been an electric car instead.
Experts say that it will be an environmental disaster in a state already plagued by chronic air and noise pollution.
However, there is no stopping of advance bookings despite fears expressed from different quarters. Tata Motors’ Managing
Director, Ravi Kant, says that the first one-lakh customers will be selected by draw of lots from the bookings. “Those not allotted would have the option to retain their bookings. The customers who wait for more than one-year will be paid 8.5 per cent interest and those beyond two-years will be paid 8.75 per cent,” he said.

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