Monday, March 30, 2009

“No no to Nano! Shun the Nano!”

I do not hesitate to suggest to those who feel proud about the achievements of the Nano, “Reconsider whether your pride is misplaced”. For, the Nano may make affordable the dreams of middle-class people to own a car. And by doing that, the Nano provides middle-class people the opportunity to abandon the alternative of public transport.

The dislike of the middle-classes to rub shoulders with the sweating masses on buses or trains is legendary. The Nano may create the illusion of escape.

The Nano is, first and last, about private versus public transport. At a time, when the world is going through a climate crisis, making private or personal transport affordable should be the last thing on our minds. We must concentrate on making public transport affordable and comfortable.

That is why I go against the tide and say, “No no to Nano! Shun the Nano!”

I have nothing against the Tatas, who make the Nano. The struggle is ideological and scientific. The inevitable result of an affordable Nano, like all cheap private cars, will be traffic chaos, congestion and misery.

It will not do to loosen our belt by widening roads; with more cars, we get fatter. Mother Earth will be worse off, because the Nano will increase pollution by increasing the cars on roads.

Go against the tide. Join the group "Horn O.K. Nano" on facebook. Make fun of the Nano, mock it, do anything that will help ordinary folk to resist the temptation of buying it.



If you see “My Values & Beliefs” I have listed, “People … before Profit”. That is inspired by Noam Chomsky. Now an umbrella organisation called “Put People First” has taken out a huge march in London on 28 March, opposing the same old measures to recover from the recession, which actually caused it in the first place.


Many of you are still sending comments to my personal gmail account, which I use to send you an alert. Please comment on the post itself, as that is a permanent record for all to see.

It is a great pleasure to keep in touch with you and read the lively walls, messages and notes on facebook. They suggest topics for my columns.

Please keep in touch with your detailed comments and emails.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, Monday, 30 March 2009.


Devang Bhatt said...

While I agree the introduction of budget cars like the Nano will add to the existing problems of traffic, vehicular pollution and so on... I don’t think it is the prerogative of an automobile company to plan for a city’s/country’s infrastructure problem. What we need is the government to fix our infrastructure problems (and, I know this will take time)… and make it difficult/expensive for a person to own/run a car: for instance, make roads leading to busy areas of a city (example – Nariman Point, Fort etc) toll roads, don’t allow a person to buy a car unless he/she has a specified size of parking space and so on.

Asking or pushing an automobile company to not come up with cheaper, better faster technology is definitely not the answer or the way to go. What is the raison d’etre for an automobile company? Or for that matter any business enterprise?


Devang Bhatt said...

... Also, the Nano meets stringent European emissions standards that are yet to be adopted by ALL cars on Indian roads currently.

From an initial preview, it is said to pollute lesser than the two-wheelers do - "The Nano's catalytic converter reduces most pollutants by about 80 percent (not as much as the 99 percent Western models do, but still a big reduction)" .

Having said that, I do not disagree with reducing both emissions and traffic congestion, I just don't think not letting this car or another budget car launch is the answer/solution.

>> Why not limit the size of cars you can drive in a city?

>> Or not allow cars over a certain engine capacity on the roads?

Joe Pinto said...

Devang - Are you arguing the case, on behalf of auto companies, that it is their prerogative to create any problems they want by their actions and that it is the duty of the government to design policy and clean up the mess caused by auto companies?

Is this the kind of relationship you would like to see between the government and auto companies? Once we are clear about this fundamental point in a democracy, we may proceed with the other issues that you raise.

Devang Bhatt said...

Hi Joe,

I'm not suggesting auto cos / any other cos for that matter, irresponsibily or mindlessly produce and roll out products which damage the environment. In fact in my experience when any company has tried this it has faced severe backlash at the consumer's hand (check what happened to GAP, Nike and others when very loyal consumers abandoned these brands upon discovering that these cos used resources in Asian sweatshops).

All I am saying is.. (let me be more simplistic in making my case) - the current congestion and traffic problem is not the creation of automobile companies. If there are so many cars out on the road today (including those sedans with a very high engine capacity and those that pollute most) it's because the government in some way has encouraged it. The reason why the public transport in most of urban India (no, not even Mumbai comes anywhere close to being a world-class what we can call 'efficient' public transport system) is because at some level there has been a failure to do so... and, who do you hold responsible for that?

Coming back to the Nano... if you are suggesting that simply not allowing Nano/other budget cars in the pipeline from launching is alone going to help decongest the traffic situation on MG road in Bangalore or Andheri Link road in Mumbai, then that's where I step aside and say - No, that's not what we need to do if the objective is to decongest the traffic situation in the cities or reduce/minimize vehicular pollution.

How about now saying okay all this while we have failed to create and put in place a good public transport system and set it up now... look at the Delhi metro for instance.. more people now take the metro to work and don't drive, thereby reducing traffic congestion, pollution.. look at the roads in the city there, they are a pleasure to driver on (for all those who have those lovely yet most polluting sedans!)...

Await your views on the other issues I have raised in my earlier post/s.


Devang Bhatt said...

Joe Pinto said...

My dear Dewang,

You are not answering my direct question. We need to establish common ground so that we may discuss. Yes or No. Tell me.

However, I like your positive approach of improving public transport, especially the example of the Delhi Metro.

"No-no to Nano" is my advice to my students of mass comm, since I'm their teacher and in a position to influence them.

I want them to think for themselves and not swallow whole the corporate propaganda about the Nano being some kind of "Mera Bharat Mahan" achievement, so support it.

What do you do, Devang? Where are you coming from?

Devang Bhatt said...

Relevant interesting read....

"The ultra-cheap small cars in the pipeline will tilt the skewed balance against public transport
and two-wheelers irretrievably. The result will be an urban congestion nightmare and an
unsustainable fuel load. A policy response is urgently needed to stave this off,..."

Devang Bhatt said...

My previous post suggests where I stand on this issue...

I'm saying what is required is policy change to avoid/minimize (not ban or put to stop), sincere intent to spruce up infrastructure and so on. The answer is not “No no to Nano! Shun the Nano!”

It's more like (pardon me for the cliche) Jago India!

feddabonn said...

i tend to agree with devang, that the primary responsibility of providing more and better public transport is that of the govt. it is the govt., instead, who is tried its best to subsidise private companies to produce more cars.

having said that, tata's attitude of "we are doing the country a lot of good" is laughable at best, despicable at worst.

the story goes that mr. tata saw families tottering on a scooter, and decided to make an "affordable" car as a means of all weather transport. it never occured to him that a solution is to improve and increase public transport. to me, there are 3 ways to explain that.

1) mr. tata is an elitist pig-unaware of traffic congestion and the pain of reaching distant parts of the city.

2) mr. tata is a cynical bastard, who sees the quickest means of making profit out of a situation.

3) mr. tata is a gibbering idiot, unable to see that more public transport is what we need.

i have nothing against the tatas, really. and it is NOT about the nano as a vehicle per se. it is about the attitude that somehow, by making the nano, the tatas are saving the country. honestly, i think it is cynical profiteering.

Devang Bhatt said...

Not sure where the last post came from!

Nobody is suggesting the Tata's are helping "save the country". I'm not and I hope Joe isn't either.

Back to where I stopped last evening Joe.....

All I am trying to say is - By "No No'ing Nano or any other new, more fuel efficient and economical cars is not going to achieve anything. Or is it?

What is the end objective? Isn't it to decongest the already lamenting roads? Is it to reduce vehicular pollution? If it is, then how about considering the following alternatives, rather than stopping a new car/s from launching (which will not achieve anything, maybe a personal sense of "achievement" perhaps,,, but that's about it) -

1. Discourage purchase of high engine capacity and more polluting cars - luxury sedans, SUVs... by allowing only those who have a specified size of parking space to buy it
2. Disallowing cars with an engine capacity over a certain limit from entering congested parts of the city / discouraging it by heavy toll charges
3. Encouraging production and use smaller, cheaper most importantly - more fuel efficient cars such as the Nano or even for that matter the Reva (electric)
4. Do away with the age old rickshaws and taxis which pollute... and replace those with Nanos/Revas

Think about it...

Think about what you want... and, what this "No to Nano, Shun the Nano" nonsense will achieve

feddabonn said...

@ devang: sorry, the second part of the post was not aimed at you (or joe). i was just discussing the nano and the excitement around it. the "saviour of the country" stuff comes from and the comments

Joe Pinto said...

Devang - my sole purpose of going "against the tide" by saying "No no, Nano!" on my column is to pit "private" versus "public" as sustainable solutions to transport of humans on earth.

The Nano creates an illusion; it provides an escape route to those sections of the middle-class that dislike public transport for a variety of reasons.

Saying, "No no, Nano" has nothing to with a personal sense of achievement. I intend to create and persist in rousing consumer resistance to the Nano, as a cheap symbol of the private car.

I say, "No no" to ALL private cars. The Nano is merely the cheapest and the latest.

Devang Bhatt said...

Thanks Joe for clarifying where you stand on this

Welcome your thoughts on the several alternatives I have suggested


P.S. Consider enabling an auto filter to block language used by some bloggers ('feddabonn' in this post for example)

Joe Pinto said...

My dear Devang,

Baruk Feddabonn is one of my most consistent and ardent readers. I hold him in great esteem. He uses strong language as the situation demands. If you look closely at my blog, he has made a signal contribution in his post asking, "Should you read poetry?"

I have yet to find any reason to restrain the language used by anyone so far, least of all on a topic like the Nano, which arouses strong emotion. And it should. What with the future of the earth's climate at stake.

Thank you for your active participation and valuable suggestions. Govt. policy is another way to restrain greed. But I fear, on the Nano, the govt. is the pockets of the Tatas. I cannot see the govt. holding the Nano in check.

On the contrary, allowing the middle-class to escape via the Nano, the govt. may wash its hands off public transport.

In health and education, the govt. is encouraging "private" solutions under various disguises. The govt. will try to get away in transport too. Unless, as in banking, the greed of the free-marketeers goes beserk; a recession sets in, and the market collapses.

I am certain, if the Nano turns out to be financially unsound, the govt. may not hesitate to make a prestige issue and rescue it, like the USA is doing with GM, Ford and Chrysler.

This is a vast and complicated area, Devang, and I have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg.

If you will permit to mix metaphors, I have deliberately opened a Pandora's Box. let us see what emerges -- with the participation of concerned citizens like you.

You make me proud, Devang. Keep up the argument.

Gauri Gharpure said...

I remember reading Vinod Mehta's column in Outlook. One person had told him Nano is the biggest threat to India. It will crowd up the streets and choke the traffic situation like never before.. all said, Tata is a business group. With their image of high corporate social responsibility over the decades, we are probably putting extremely high expectations on the company. If Tata would not have done it, Maruti would have filled in the space.

There is a huge nexus of govt and private agencies and the common man is too weak and small to grapple with these issues. the easiest escape route would be to take an easy loan (another death knell for the economy) and gear the Nano.

My reactions are thus mixed. Public transport, definitely. Blaming Tatas, no.

feddabonn said...

@gauri: if the english hadn't taken over india, the french, portugese or dutch would have. :)

@joe: much thanks.

Gauri Gharpure said...

@ baruk-- Precisely. Because our rajas and maharajas would have still been just as busy safeguarding their own booty and their small little states, be it from the french or the dutch..

Just like in the current scenario, govt. is busy raking up issues of caste and religion instead of providing a decent, rat-free mid-day meal. Why then should not someone who can afford it go and buy a Nano when the public transport system lets him down each single sweating and hard day?

if driving a car and making profit is so bad, do you mean everyone who drives is an elitist pig, every businessman a cynical bastard?

Tata can be a gibbering idiot if producing cheap cars suits him. He's a businessman and not a politician, a policy maker or one of our lazy sarkari babus.

feddabonn said...


at the risk of looking like a jerk, i am going to occasionally quote myself in response- i fear some of what i said may have been miscommunicated. i'm also going to shuffle the QnA around a bit. your comments are numbered, mine are prefaced with a ~.

1) if driving a car and making profit is so bad, do you mean everyone who drives is an elitist pig, every businessman a cynical bastard?
~ whoever drives a car in a major city and is “unaware of traffic congestion and the pain of reaching distant parts of the city” is an elitist pig.
~ whoever “sees the quickest means of making profit out of a situation” especially at a cost to the larger community, and then have an “attitude of ‘we are doing the country a lot of good’” is a cynical bastard.

2) Tata can be a gibbering idiot if producing cheap cars suits him. He's a businessman and not a politician, a policy maker or one of our lazy sarkari babus.

~ my intention (poorly articulated) was to suggest that the private sector could have gotten involved in public/mass transport. could the tata’s have worked out some other way to solve the transport crisis? if, however, your assertion is that a business’ responsibility is only for its own profit, i disagree. it is called greed, and is what destroys our world.

3) Precisely. Because our rajas and maharajas would have still been just as busy safeguarding their own booty and their small little states, be it from the french or the dutch..

~ what i meant to imply was that if we hadn’t fought off the English, we would have fought off the french or the dutch. if maruti/reliance were the ones making the nano, they would be in the firing line. for me, (and i beleive for joe) this is about cars. maruti, ford, bmw whoever. but the nano is more dangerous becasue of the sheer volume of sales it can/will generate.

4) Just like in the current scenario, govt. is busy raking up issues of caste and religion instead of providing a decent, rat-free mid-day meal. Why then should not someone who can afford it go and buy a Nano when the public transport system lets him down each single sweating and hard day?

~ the issue is not the nano. the issue is our reliance on cars. the nano is the latest symbol of that reliance. i do not agree (with joe) that there is anything particularly sacred/great/admirable about shoving your way through a crowded and sweaty bus/train. my attack is against the thinking that sees more cars as a solution, especially when very publicly available and accessible thinking is moving very quickly towards mass transport.

~when one lives in a rented house, one is not as upset if the ‘quality’ of the neighbourhood drops. if one owns the house, however, one is more willing to struggle to make sure ‘anti-social elements’ do not own it. sometimes i feel we treat the country like that. please do not (anyone) see that as a personal attack, i am equally implicated in that.

~why is our government separate from who we are? don't we have fathers/mothers/uncles/aunties/cousins working for the government? aren't we voting in the corrupt politicians? aren't we bribing the policeman on the road because we were not wearing helmets? or don’t have our papers in order? when it comes to government, the problems are not ‘out there’. to quote from platoon, “we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves, and the enemy was in us”

Joe Pinto said...

My dear readers,

Sujit Patwardhan of Parisar, who is a leading advocate of public transport in Pune, has sent me a link of a non-profit in the USA called Transport Alternatives. The link is:

They have renamed some US car brands. A small quote from their site reads thus, about rebranding of some US cars: "the Chevrolet Impaler, the Dodge Stratospheric Ozone Depleter, the Ford Impotenza, the Jeep Mangler, the Chevrolet Asthma, the GMC (Saudi) Envoy and the Pontiac Pen15."

The press release on their website claims they have the support of U.S. President Barack Obama, who has set his reformer-sights squarely on an industry renowned for misrepresenting its products through ads and branding.

The Obama campaign, it seems, is part of his larger "Truth in Advertising" agenda. The President has disliked corporate double-speak for many years.

"I'm sick of all their lies," said President Obama, when asked why he ripped off the Suburban name-plate on his Presidential vehicle and replaced it with a bumper sticker reading "Jerk Mobile."

Maybe we should come up with something that rips up the Nano, if not on the roads, then at least in the dreams of the Indian middle-class.

I did say I stood against the tide, didn't I?

Warm regards,
- Joe.

Sujit Patwardhan (Pune, India) said...

Having been associated with an NGO advocating sustainable transportation may I barge in and say that the main issue is of sustainability of the environment as well as of the economy to digest the uncontrolled growth of personal auto vehicles and the subsidies (mostly hidden) that become the norm due to short sighted policies of the Govts.

It is a fact that the growing mismatch between auto vehicles (cars as well as auto 2 wheelers) and the road and parking space is the visible cause of urban traffic congestion.

The old thinking said "It's good that more and more people are buying and using cars and leading a more comfortable life - let's build more roads and more parking spaces to accommodate these additional vehicles coming on the roads". But worldwide experience shows that building more roads, road widening and building flyovers only encourages even more people to start using personal auto vehicles and the roads get congested as before within a short period of 3 years.

So you have not only not solved the congestion problem but increased pollution, road accidents and created greater obstructions in the path of public transport buses (that carry many more people in less road space, with less pollution, less energy consumption per passenger than personal vehicles). In addition you have also damaged the city's environment and heritage as roads and parking lots tend to eat up open areas, and car oriented development damages/destroys green areas, rivers, lakes, hills, urban forest and air quality of the city apart from hitting heritage structures as road widening eats up into their space.

Learning from this experience, cities around the globe are moving to the vision of "New Mobility Concept" that says -- "Support, Improve and subsidise public transport so that people choose to leave their personal auto vehicles at home and opt for Public Transport, and NMT - non motorised transport (Cycling and Walking).

Congestion, pollution and road accidents can reduce, energy consumption can come down and the environment, livability, public spaces and heritage improves - making the city more livable and sustainable.

So it's not whether or how to ban the sale of personal auto vehicles, but to understand that a city cannot support limitless number of personal autos, and so must introduce measures to discourage the use of personal auto vehicles through higher parking charges, congestion tax, car-free areas, dedicated bus lanes etc whereby citizens will tend to use Public Transport more and more. Making extensive and safe cycle tracks and other cycle friendly infrastructure and better facilities for walking are also necessary to move the city away from car-oriented development.

In the transition phase - when PT(public transport) , Cycling and Pedestrian facilities are still under construction, the city will suffer some hardship but measures for discouraging use of personal auto vehicles must start being introduced one by one.

One needs to see the appearance of the Nano in this context.

Joe Pinto said...

Sujit - thanks for the perspective of an activist from an NGO that has been working in Pune for many years. My purpose of starting the debate is being served.

If any of the readers of my blog personally buy or support a decision to buy the Nano, they will have done it with eyes open.

Amith Prabhu said...

I'm a bveliever of great public transport. If Kolkata which is todfay ridiculed for sending out Nano from its neighbourhood could have India's first Metro rail over two decades ago, I fail to understand why other leading cities and state capitals in india could not have their own advanced public transport. Now with rising costs many Indian cities including the three main metros are gearing up to get their Metros in place. Delhi has been exemplary with its roll out.

The TATAs are amzing and Ratan ji made a promise that he kept but there is no doubt the Nano will cause more choked roads once they hit the road. But I feel Nano will have few takers in the Megapolis' due to the following reasons.

a) People who can afford a car will pay a few thousands more and buy a bigger car as Nano may not be the status symbol they are looking for
b) If it is targetted at 2 wheeler owners then the difference in cost on road is almost a lakh between a basic bike and a Nano
c) Parking space crunch at work places and in residences will dissuade individuals from going in for a car

Time will tell whats in store but I belive Nano will earn from exports and from smaller towns which are still a few years away from being choked.

Harman said...

Hi, I'm reminded of the old ad of bajaj scooters which went "buland bharat ki buland tasveer". A vehicle has always attached an aspiration value...I feel..more so than as a means of transport. And I think all auto companies feed on that.
I also feel that the hallmark of any great city is it's public transport...that is easily accessible. If we have that, why won't people use it? The present infrastructure was not made to cope with the present number of vehicles or population. When it will be upgraded, the vehicles and populace will increase even more. It is a vicious cycle...and I think a real change will only come with a real public-pvt partnership.
Meanwhile, the Nano's gonna come and make a lot of money.

Anonymous said...

HI All,
I just wanted to put in my two cents in here with the discussion of the topic ' No No to Nano'...

I was in London for almost a year. My mood was a bit damp and dark much like its weather but whenever I wanted to travel to any part of london, I was totally awe struct at the transport infrastructure.

Here was a place which is over 200 to 300 years old and had its rail, metro and bus routes all so perfectly intertwined and running smoothly.

You buy your tickets for the metro and the same is valid on buses, no limit to the number of times you get on/off.

Truely I wish our country took up the reins and worked hard at providing a better way of getting back home after a long, hard, sweating day at work.

One poor example of the ongoing metro work is the Bangalore metro / mono rail. The pillars are rusting and I don't I'll ever get on the rail (whenever it is ready, if at all it is ready) for fear of seeing the tracks colapse.

I think what we need to do as pointed by baruk and few others is to get:
- better transport facilities
- initiate a drive to take off all cars that are over 15 years old off the road (they are CFC emitting wreck anyway)
- borrow ideas from countries England and Singapore, etc, to control traffic.......