Ratan Tata has made an illegal Left turn in a no-car zone. The Nano is a
Can industry-hungry West Bengal help to rethink the Nano 'personal car'
project and instead develop into a manufacturing hub for MASS PUBLIC
TRANSPORTATION? Do we need more cars OR more and better public use transport
-- buses, subway trains, rail?
The people of India and I am one of them, do NOT need a mis-named
people's car. We need a People's Bus, A People's Mass Transit, a vastly
expanded People's Railway, we need PUBLIC MASS TRANSPORTATION that is
ecologically sustainable and delivers a public convenience that meets the
needs of our underserved Indian URBAN AND RURAL masses and is the envy of,
and a model for, the entire world. I proudly count myself among these
masses, even though I teach in the US and live and work in India only about
six months of the year.
Q.Why did Ratan Tata and the Tata Group choose to put their wholly
admirable "frugal engineering" expertise into a private car and not into
making buses and mass transportation vehicles? A.Corporate greed and
The Tata Group has decades of engineering knowhow in the heavy truck
sector. Why didn't they build on this experience and come out with buses and
other mass transport innovations? Again the answer is corporate greed and
selfish personal ambition. Ratan Tata has absolutely no stake in the Greater
Collective Good (GCG). Tata is all about profit. Tata is all about a narrow
self-serving short term view in which he and Tata Group can make a quick
buck and now unfortunately a Padma Vibhushan. That PV should have gone to
Medha Patkar and she would have probably declined it. She would be right to
do so. No point accepting a Padma Vibhushan from a Govt. that is committed
to predatory capitalism against its own people.There are only a handful of
folks like Patkar, Arundhati Roy, Anna Hazare, P. Sainath and a few others
who cannot be bought and sold by corporate interests and criminal
What many Indians (especially the avidly consuming, politically apathetic
and ethically indefensible middle class in India) fail to appreciate is that
a fabulous city like New York where I live about six months a year is
heavily invested in mass public transportation. NYC has been heavily
invested in mass transit for over half a century.
I don't own a car either in the U.S. or India. And I don't plan to own
one, certainly not the Nano. I walk. It's smart not to be an obesity stat. I
ride the buses and trains in India and I am proud to say that I adamantly
refuse to ride in a car in India.
In New York, I do have a bicycle. Tens of thousands like me in New York
ride our magnificent, er often tardy and continually underfunded subways of
the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). I can get all around town and
all the outer boros and to JFK airport for $2 and then I am happy to pay
another $5 to get me on the public mass transportation called the AirTrain
right into the airport terminals. We ordinary folks (mainly the middleclass
and the aspiring middleclass of New York City) fought long and hard at
public hearings and through legislative lobbying, for the funding of mass
transit in preference to car-choked highways -- and we got it. We didn't get
everything we wanted but there's always a next time at a public hearing or a
court testimony.That's participatory democracy.
Even our Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg rides the subway everyday to
work. It's a great feeling to get on a train that runs under New York and to
know that we are contributing zero pollution to our wonderful city. That is
precisely what we need in India. NOT crazy Ratan ("I have no watan") Tata
and his no-no Nano.
Let's get real. India cannot afford to manufacture and dispose a paper
cup, let alone produce yet another private car. We should not be following
the U.S. model of predatory capitalism. The U.S. model of endless
consumption is ecologically unsustainable. It is emphatically not the model
Both the centre and the states in India must urgently invest in public
mass transit which they have criminally neglected and disproportionately
The Nano represents a vivid test case for our civil society and the need
for urgent development of a Critical Environmental Studies in schools and
colleges to research such complex issues. I have presented the above ideas
in India during conferences on Environmental Sustainability and will not
rest until such proposals gain policy implementation.
The Gandhian post-revolutionary democratic Indian nation-state deserves a
lofty vision, mission and policies that affirm the public trust. Public mass
transportation that is ecologically sustainable is part of that noble public
Note: in a subsequent blog I have cut and pasted all or nearly all of
Tata's own comments ("From the Chairman's Desk") on the Nano.
Let the reader perform her/his own critical analysis of whether the Nano
serves the Greater Collective Good (GCG).
Dr. Chithra KarunaKaran
City University of New York (CUNY)
Do you have a point to make? Please do make it at our Binsar.com Blog Forum