The Development Addiction

My cousin has stayed all his life in Kerala and is a long-term communist sympathiser. The national highway that passes near his house is only two lanes wide. Unfortunately this highway is now part of some larger national scheme and is currently being six-laned. In the hilly parts where my cousin lives, this means very long bridges and large scale destruction of hill-sides and the houses and shops that crowd on both sides of the highway. Talking to him I was surprised that he is happy about this highway work. He said this is real development that will help Kerala become economically stable. I pointed out to him that:

– The people uprooted and resettled in the road construction are the working class people who his party was supposed to be looking out for.
– The highway and bridge construction and the sand that it will require will cause more destruction to the river near his home.
– The increased traffic will cause more accidents that will probably involve the youth of his neighbourhood.
– Crossing the road safely will need to be done in a vehicle because you may have to go a long distance to get to an underpass or pedestrian over-bridge.

He agreed to all this but he said that these are the sacrifices we have to make for development. As the argument got heated he told me that it was people like me who have kept India in the dark ages and that I was a danger to the nation.

In all the big cities of India the traffic increases faster than the incessant road construction work. We don’t need a war with a foreign power to make us feel that we are living in a war-zone. We are managing to do that fine with the smoke and noise and maddening chaos of our city traffic. On a particularly bad day in Bangalore, probably when rain had clogged some of the roads, Google maps was showing 4 hours to go 20 kilometres in a car and was showing around the same travel time if we went walking. And yet none of us are willing to give up our personal transport vehicles, the companies bring out strange-named (why Brezza or Creta?) car variants all the time and hundreds of people die on the roads of India everyday.

Recently the people I was staying with warned me against walking on the roads in Hyderabad. When I told them that I am always careful they told me of a car that fell off from a bridge and killed a pedestrian. I told them that I will be extra careful and along with right and left and front and back that I am used to checking I will also check ‘up’ in their city.

We can extend the above argument to include other ‘development’ markers like consumer goods and multi-storey buildings and malls but I have reached my 500 word limit and will let you do the extrapolation on your own. What kind of madness have we normalised in the name of development? Where is it all going?