Is IT for Transport a Solution for India? – Conference at Taj Mansingh, New Delhi

Before we begin to understand the IT for transport, known as #ITforParivahan plan of the Indian government, we need to know how this plan came into existence. Just as the Smart city plan, the Smart Village plan and the Bullet Train plan of India, IT for Transport was also begun by the previous government and is being carried forward by the present government. Hence, these plans are not linked to any particular political party, but fall within the purview of long-term development plan of India.

In 2012, the World Bank had given a report about the problems in the Indian transport system. It had also enumerated the strategies adopted by the previous government to solve these problems. It is important that these strategies included revamping the metropolitan transport system, modernising shipping and railways, making the rural areas more accessible, improving the conditions of ports and taking congestions off the roads, railways and airways of India.

World Bank Report on Indian Transport System

Challenges

The major challenges facing the sector are:

  • India’s roads are congested and of poor quality. Lane capacity is low – most national highways are two lanes or less. A quarter of all India’s highways are congested. Many roads are of poor quality and  road maintenance remains under-funded – only around one-third of maintenance needs are met. This leads to the deterioration of roads and high transport costs for users.
  • Rural areas have poor access. Roads are significant for the development of the rural areas – home to almost 70 percent of India’s population. Although the rural road network is extensive, some 33 percent of India’s villages do not have access to all-weather roads and remain cut off during the monsoon season. The problem is more acute in India’s northern and North Eastern states which are poorly linked to the country’s major economic centres.
  • The railways are facing severe capacity constraints. All the country’s high-density rail corridors face severe capacity constraints. Also, freight transportation costs by rail are much higher than in most countries as freight tariffs in India have been kept high to subsidize passenger traffic.
  • Urban centres are severely congested. In Mumbai, Delhi and other metropolitan centers, roads are often severely congested during the rush hours. The dramatic growth in vehicle ownership during the past decade – has reduced rush hour speeds especially in the central areas of major cities.
  • Ports are congested and inefficient. Port traffic has more than doubled during the 1990s, touching 650 million tons in 2006-07. This is expected to grow further to about 900 million tons by 2011-12. India’s ports need to significantly ramp up their capacity and efficiency to meet this surging demand.
  • Airport infrastructure is strained. Air traffic has been growing rapidly leading to severe strain on infrastructure at major airports, especially in the Delhi and Mumbai airports which account for more than 40 percent of nation’s air traffic.

Source – World Bank

The 11th five years plan from 2007 to 2012 included plans for making goods transport and passenger transport more accelerated and removing the bottlenecks in this, opening two freight corridors from Mumbai to Delhi and from Ludhiana to Dankuni and modernising 12 port cities of India.

World Bank Report on Key Government Strategies

India’s Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007 – 2012) identifies various deficits in transport sector which include inadequate roads/highways, old technology, saturated routes and slow speed on railways, inadequate berths and rail/road connectivity at ports and inadequate runways, aircraft handling capacity, parking space and terminal building at airports. Government aims to modernize, expand, and integrate the country’s transport services. It also seeks to mobilize resources for this purpose and to gradually shift the role of government from that of a producer to an enabler. In recent years, the Government has made substantial efforts to tackle the sector’s shortcomings and to reform its transport institutions. These include:

  • Increasing public funding for transportation in its Five Year Plans.
  • Launching the ambitious National Highway Development Program which has seven phases and is expected to be completed by 2012. It includes improved connectivity between Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, popularly called the Golden Quadrilateral, in the first phase, North- South and East- West corridors in phase two, four laning of more than 12,000 km in phase three, two laning of 20,000km and six laning of 6,500 km respectively in phase four and five, development of 1,000km of expressway in phase six and other important highway projects in phase seven. Total expected investment is INR 2.2 trillion.
  • Accelerated Road Development Program for the North East Region to provide road connectivity to all State capitals and district headquarters in the region.
  • Financing the development and maintenance of roads by creating a Central Road Fund (CRF) through an earmarked tax on diesel and petrol.
  • Operationalising the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) to act as an infrastructure procurer and not just provider.
  • Improving rural access by launching the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (Prime Minister’s Rural Roads Program).
  • Reducing the congestion on rail corridors along the highly trafficked Golden Quadrilateral and improving port connectivity by launching the National Rail Vikas Yojana (National Railway Development Program)
  • The development of two Dedicated Freight Corridors from Mumbai to Delhi and Ludhiana to Dankuni.
  • Improving urban transport under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).
  • Upgrading infrastructure and connectivity in the country’s twelve major ports by initiating the National Maritime Development Program (NMDP).

 Source – World Bank

World Bank’s Support to Indian Transport System

The World Bank has been a major investor in the transport sector in India. In 2012, it had ten projects in transport portfolio which include seven state road projects and one each for national highway, rural road and urban transport with total loan commitments for the transport sector in India as US$3.48 billion. The main activities include:

  • National Highway Development Project: The World Bank is financing highway construction on the Lucknow-Muzaffarpur corridors. It is also involved in other sector activities such as improving road road safety.
  • Rural Roads Program: The project supports the PMGSY in providing all weather roads to villages in four states – Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.
  • State Roads Projects: State Highways are being upgraded in the states of Kerala, Mizoram, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh,  Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.
  • Mumbai Urban Transport Project: The project aims to improve transportation in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region by fostering the development of an efficient and sustainable urban transport system – suburban rail, bus and link roads – and building effective institutions.
  • Sustainable Urban Transport Project:The project aims to promote environmentally sustainable urban transport in various cities and support implementation of the India National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP).

Source – World Bank

The Government of India proposed to work with the European Business and Technology Centre to develop an Intelligent Transport System of India (ITS), which was essentially the same vision as encapsulated in the AIM-IT conference held recently on the 6th of May at the Taj Mansingh Hotel in New Delhi. In essence, the ITS included the plan for using IT for developing an intelligence transport system. The main points included in the ITS were –

  • Automated speed enforcement. ƒ
  • Incident management. ƒ
  • Electronic toll collection. ƒ
  • Traveller information. ƒ
  • Vehicle control technologies like intelligent cruise control and speed alerts.

In 2010, the IIT, Chennai reported that there were a few metropolitan cities such as New Delhi, Bangalore and Pune that had standalone ITS applications like automated parking systems, electronic toll collection, automated traveller information systems (ATIS) and intelligent signal control. Passenger information systems (PIS) had been implemented in some bus rapid transit (BRT) systems in India.

According to this report, technologies that required immediate attention were sensors, detectors and communication devices & application of global navigation satellite system.

According to the Report of the European Business and Technology Centre, by 2012 the Government of India and several State governments had been taking several initiatives to encourage and popularise the use of ITS in Indian transport sectors. The GoI had instituted the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) that layed out the vision for making the cities of India liveable and ensures safe, affordable, quick, reliable and sustainable access for the growing number of city residents to jobs, education, recreation and such other needs within the Indian cities. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) started the National Road Transport Policy (NRTP) to promote road infrastructure support, public transport and quality and productivity of goods transportation and infrastructure. NRTP underlines the importance of ITS in the road and highway infrastructure including technologies in real time traffic flow management, parking availability, vehicular traffic, and a basic geographic information system (GIS). In addition, the NRTP also discussed the use of ITS technologies in transport systems in freight and cargo transport, like electronic tagging and automatic toll collection and can greatly reduce waiting/ transit times and lead to increased emissions and fuel consumption. The NRTP stated that the GoI would promote R&D in the use of “Intelligent Transport System for addressing the problems of transport sector,” the use of modern technology in construction and maintenance of road infrastructure as well as for rolling stock” as well as “making vehicle registration Information Technology (IT) based and creating a centralized registry/depository of all information on motorized vehicles”.

The Report of the European Business and Technology Centre is available online in open access.

Carrying forward this plan to modernise the Indian transport system, the present government has begun an IT for Transport campaign. Under its aegis, the conference AIM-IT on 6th of May at Taj Mansingh Hotel was attended by a large number of people involved in providing a modern state-of-the-art transport system in terms of both freights carriage and passenger carriage, from both the government sector and the private sector.

Issues Raised at the AIM-IT Conference

Mr. Amar More, Director of Kale Logistics Solutions stressed on the need for transforming the Maritime shipping by apps such as the ICT Cloud and in building efficiency for the entire maritime eco-system in such a manner that the fuel cost could also be reduced. He also discussed about the need to solve everyday problems of the common people such as water scarcity and fod rotting in one region while people dying of starvation in another. He said that IT can inter-link all these issues, so that surplus can be transported to an area of scarcity with fast transportation.

Vishal Gupta, the founder of Ajeevi, stressed on using IT solutions in the transport sytem, so that mishaps on roads could be reduced, time could be saved and energy could be used more efficiently. Vikas Apte, Senior Infrastructure Consultant and Energy Author said that there was a need to integrate the MSMEs into the efficient, balanced ecosystem, where all the participants can co-exist. Besides, there was a need to use energy efficiently in the transportation system.

Shibu Paul, Regional Director of GCC & SEA India, stressed on the need to restrain the population in the rural areas and small towns from emigrating to the big cities, as this was causing congestion, pollution and degraded quality of life. He said that this could be achieved by developing the rural areas and small towns.

Ashutosh Chaddha highlighted the need to develop a universal system of financial transfer without involving paper and plastic. This could be done by the use of IT, he said. Sudhir Kumar Marwah, Director of DEITY said that there was a scope of developing Internet of Things (IoT). This could enable seamless, inter-connected network system of devices and sensors. He also said that there was a need to develop a holistic approach to skill development and the related conducive policy environment. Manoj Kanodia, CEO of Inspira said that IT and MSMEs could together prove to be gamechangers for the Indian economy and development, as MSMEs could develop small softwares that could be exported abroad. Suraj Saharan, Co-Founder of Delhivery said that there was a need to make road and rail transport more secure in the case of high-value goods transportation by the use of IT. Luke Sequeira, Co-Founder and CEO of Fleet Rover, said that today the goods carrying trucks moved at a slow speed of about 250 kms a day. This increases the cost and results in wastage of energy. He stressed on the need to speed up the efficiency of the goods carrying trucks on the roads to save energy and cost.

Vishwajit Joshi, Manager at Technical Marketing at KPIT technologies talked about the concept of the city s a customer. He said this involved issues of security, use of sustainable energy resources, sanitation, clean water, quality of life, education, safety and connectivity and the use of electric transport to reduce pollution. For this IT solutions needed to be adopted in India, he said.

Namrita Kalsi, Deputy Chief Architect at the DMRC said the Delhi Metro was evolving a multi-model integration of areas around the metro stations. Ashish Juneja, General Manager ERP and EDGE Solutions at Oracle, said that the Indian transport system needed to use big data analytics more efficiently. Taking this idea forward, Gaurav Tripathi the India CEO of Innoplexus, said that instead of using technology for the sake of technology, should clearly define the development goals for which technology is being used and how big data analytics are helpful in achieving these goals.

Many speakers spoke about completely digitising transport system in terms of checking traffic violation, toll collection and checking air pollution coming from the vehicles.

The AIM-IT was focused on using state-of-the-art global IT facilities to make the Indian cities and villages a better place to live in. One aspect that needs to be explored in all this is how much energy consumption is needed to translate all this into action, how much energy India has access to and how much of it is sustainable. This is a big challenge before India to tackle, because without access to sustainable energy resources, all these plans cannot be materialised.

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