Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Parking Fees, the Status-quo and the Goan Revolution

On the 3rd of May 2008 Pramod Khadeparker opined in the Gomantak Times about the decision by the Corporation of the City of Panjim to charge parking fees within the City. The column was a perfect example of the short-sighted selfishness of India’s middle class that is resulting in the rapid deterioration of urban India and the frustration of our developmental goals. The protection of privilege; and the conversion of privilege into right is a marked feature of this peculiarly sanctimonious class. And so rather than welcoming the decision of the Corporation to make possession of a private vehicle costly, we oppose it tooth and nail. What is appalling is that this opposition is based not on a progressive vision of democratic urban development, but a commonsense that emerges from privilege. It is a matter of concern that the positive assertions by Gram Sabhas all over Goa, voicing a need to have development that benefits the local resident, rather than some distant speculator, are being highjacked by the privileged classes, to effectively secure privileges that in fact go against the general interest of the local and marginal individual in Goa.

The parking fees in Panjim are a good idea. It will now force individuals to internalize an economic cost that was earlier being externalized. Thus once we pay the fee, we will all come to realize the costs involved in having ever more vehicles on the street, and force us to look for more eco-friendly and democratic solutions to the increase of private vehicle on the road. The Corporation should have ideally already thought this out. The question that we should be asking the Corporation is, where will all the revenues generated from the parking fees go? Will it be used to create a network of reliable public transport system within the city, or will it be diverted elsewhere? It is when the revenues generated from parking fees are diverted elsewhere that we should raise a hue and cry. Or rather we should make sure that the fee system does not come into force, until and unless the Corporation puts in place a system that will take into consideration the plight of the persons unable to pay the parking fee, and left with no convenient transportation alternative.

Many of us would like to see the Corporation and the State invest in broader roads, and four and six-lane highways, as a way out of the traffic crises we currently face. There could be no surer way for urban disaster in Goa. Broader roads mean faster-vehicles and consequently more deaths on the roads. Broader roads means space for more vehicles to fill, and consequently even larger roads. The logic could go on endlessly, until all we are left with environments that are composed only of roads for vehicles. Many of us see the rise in the number of automobiles on Goan roads as unstoppable. We do not contemplate a situation where all of us rely primarily on public transport. A public transport system that is quick, reliable and comfortable. Our imagination I would argue is limited because we fail to look beyond our middle class horizons, where private vehicles are the result of years of hard work, and once we have got the power to lord it over others, we are loathe to give it up. Public transport would also force us into situations of intimacy with other, possibly lower order human beings. And we all know how averse we Indians are to the touch of these lower order human species.

Mr. Khandeparker articulates some genuine concerns that we should ensure before the fee system is put in place. What is the role of the traffic police? Is it, as current instances have shown, only to fine persons and generate finances for a greedy State? Once more I would like to point out that the process of fining, as opposed to managing, is a manifestation of a desire for power and control. Management is the process where one is encouraged into dialogue with others, fining and punishment when used without prior attempts at management is merely the naked display of power. Eventually, the question that we must ask ourselves, is by giving in to these displays of power, are we creating a democratic state or an authoritarian state. An authoritarian state that believes that it is only the ‘educated” (code word for elite) who can understand logic, the rest are mere dumb animals that have to be punished into discipline. If we do not recognize the need for the traffic police to primarily manage and only secondarily fine, then as Mr. Khandeparker rightly points out we will realize a scenario where “the municipal employees and the traffic police go berserk in the name of parking fees”.

This disciplining of the State is currently in process in Goa, but it keeps getting caught in the anti-outsider rhetoric that allows for the populism that a revolution runs on. In the end however, it fails to address the real problem. Mr. Khandeparker, while genuinely concerned about the gross mismanagement of the developmental agenda, is not innocent to the power of this rhetoric. Don’t charge me he argues, charge the tourist, let them pay for the mess they are creating in my Goa. Only someone who does not draw her bread and butter from the ‘outsider’ would make this argument. The tragedy is that the ‘outsider’ argument works for the privileged classes and Goan business houses, and is often swallowed whole by the rest. The ‘outsider’ argument works only to secure the privileges of the very class that to a large extent is responsible for the miserable state that Gram Sabhas have to fight today.

The real blind spot in the parking fees proposal is that the fee currently contemplated may be steep to a person who wishes to park for just a few hours in the day. For the business person, father, son and allied cousins, each of who roll into the establishment in a separate behemoth, the cost would really not amount to much. If the Corporation is serious about reducing the traffic crisis in Panjim, of which lack of parking space is only a manifestation, then it needs to evolve a separate and appropriate strategy for the owners of commercial establishments within the City. They too must have to bear their share of the burden; after all they block a good amount of the parking space through the day!

The move by the Panjim Corporation is a welcome move, one that should be imitated by the other cities in Goa. Clearly though, there is a need for much more thinking to be done if it is to really result in addressing the traffic and parking crises in the city. For starters, the Corporation must seriously contemplate providing infrastructure such as trams and quick bus lines within the city. Having created the option, it can legitimately charge congestion fees using the revenues to upgrade the system. Before concluding a word of caution. Much is happening in Goa that is exciting, what we have to make sure is that reactionary positions of those that support the status-quo are not paraded as the solutions to Goa’s problems. It is the status-quo that is the problem!

(Published in the Gomantak Times 7th May 2008)

1 comment:

Constantino Xavier said...

Hi Jason, excellent text and I fully agree with your point of view. All the best, from ND