In the beginning there was no road. Adam and Eve didn’t require pathways to roam around in their Garden. Move anywhere and it was Paradise. The first specific road was perhaps the one the original couple treaded when they were banished from the Garden of Eden.
With the increase in the number of their descendants more footpaths emerged. Later on the wheel was discovered and human and animal drawn wagons were made. That required many footpaths to be converted to wider tracks or primitive roads.
The next major development was the automated vehicles with pneumatic tires. They transformed the transport industry. Wise men realized the economic importance of road transport which could move people and goods faster - point to point, warehouse to warehouse.
But the vehicles required proper roads. Road building technology developed and broad modern highways were built in many countries. Better roads meant fiscal advantage in different ways.
On good roads the vehicles can travel faster and more safely. Their maintenance outlay would be minimized. This reduces the cost of transporting goods which, in turn, lessens the selling prices.
Proper highways considerably reduce the turnaround time of the vehicles. The quantity of goods transported on a bad road by three trucks could be probably managed by one lorry on a good highway by making three trips. This means that money required for two trucks could be used for other development activities. Overall economic growth escalates the need for articles and more trucks to carry them.
Realizing the importance of good roads India constituted National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) by an Act of the Parliament to create world class roads with uninterrupted traffic flow. The successful operation of this organization requires the cooperation of the State governments. By and large, such support is there. 60 meter wide National Highways (NH) are coming up all over the country.
But Kerala has to be different.
The State argued that because of the heavy density of population the width of NHs in Kerala should be scaled down to 45m. After a great deal of discussions, NHAI agreed to this though a heavy increase in truck traffic is expected with the opening of the Vallarpadam Container Transhipment Terminal later this year.
It is a common practice in Kerala to hold political meetings on highways. Sometimes rallies and religious functions are held blocking the traffic totally. Recently one citizen went to the High Court against this. The verdict was obvious – roads are meant for traffic and obstructing that should not be permitted.
There were heavy protests from politicians against this verdict. The Judges were abused in public. Kerala Government went to the High Court with a review petition that failed. Now there is talk about approaching the Supreme Court on the issue. And the politicians keep on saying that the High Court verdict would be broken frequently.
In the meanwhile the question of road width has still not abated. Now the demand is that the NHs should only 30m broad. Basically this comes from the traders and people staying along the roadside. The law and policy of the government is that proper compensation should be paid to the owners when private property is taken over public purpose. But law and logic do not always prevail in Kerala.
Just a couple of weeks back in another case the High Court made a statement that travelling on NH47 in Kerala is like riding a horse! The road condition is so bad.
Now, this leads to another question. If the new tracks are meant for horses, horse carts and meetings, what should be its breadth?