We must plan smartly for upcoming infrastructure developments

Planning for infrastructure and services is the most important area where independent India has failed miserably. While many public facilities built during the British era lasted over a century and could meet the needs of increasing number of users for several decades, very few that planned post-Independence could meet the demand even a decade later. While it can be argued that the user numbers have started swelling at a faster rate in Independent India, a deeper analysis shows it is short sighted planning that leads to creation of infrastructure that are inadequate to meet the needs of at least two to three decades. Few cases indicated here will give a glimpse of where we went wrong.

In all middle income group flats (comprising of two bedrooms, drawing-dining, kitchen and two toilets) built by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in the 1970-1980s, the electricity connection was sized at 2 kilowatt (kW). In the 1990s, when the middle class could afford air-conditioners and other electrical appliances, the peak load in each of the flats exceeded 5kW which led to frequent failure of cables and distribution transformers. Local development agencies and electricity distribution companies in other cities in the country adopted the DDA planning philosophy, leading to overload in electricity distribution networks in most urban areas.

In 1985, the Rajiv Gandhi government embarked on a computerisation mission and one of the first items taken for the project was the automobile licence plates. Till then, vehicles had a three-alphabet code specifying the licencing authority’s location (state and district), followed by a 4-digit number. For example, Delhi had numbers like DLA 1234, DLB 1234 and so on, and in Karnataka it was KRA 1234. In 1985, as per the new system, the transport ministry decided not to increase the number of digits beyond 4—the explanation given was illiterate people in the country cannot read and remember five or six digit numbers. So, they experimented with making different prefix for each licencing authority office with separate codes so that there will be more such series that can be accommodated with 4-digit numbers.

In the previous case in Delhi, DLA to DLZ could accommodate only 26 series and each series could accommodate 9,999 vehicle numbers. The new coding facilitated creation new series like DL-1, DL-2 up to may be DL-99, followed by 4-digit numbers. Then, they started releasing DL-1A, DL-1B series which soon grew to DL-1AB, and now stands at DL-1ABC 1234.

In the original scheme of DLA to DLZ and four digits, it could accommodate a maximum of 259,974 vehicles; in the new scheme DL1 to DL99 (without adding suffixes), it could take only 989,901 vehicles. Instead, if they had allowed the original scheme to go beyond four digits (i.e., DLA 12345), it could have accommodated up to 2,599,974 numbers, and it could further have grown to six digits. in 1985-86, it was made mandatory to replace number plates of all existing vehicles, and it cost crores of rupees and we are now sitting with an automobile numbering scheme where even the owners have difficulty remembering their vehicle numbers. So much for computerisation and planning a new numbering scheme.

By mid-1990s, the failure of the automobile numbering scheme was evident. But that did not teach the telecom ministry planners, who were finalising the numbering scheme for the mobile telephony system. Again, they decide that the mobile numbers will be allotted with two digit access levels and a 3-digit operator code and a 5-digit customer number. Accordingly, 98 and 99 were allotted to mobile phones and 96 was allotted to pagers. Though 100-109 was allotted to Airtel and 110-119 was allotted to Essar (now Vodafone), the 3-digit code for operators is still baffling as no one would have anticipated 3-digit cellular operators in the country. After 2000, when the mobile phones market boomed, the department of telecommunications had to allot access levels 97, 95, 94 and 89, 88…and now even 79, 78, 77. As a result, it is difficult to recognise whether you are receiving a call from a landline or a mobile phone. Again, if the customer number of five digits were allowed to be 7-digit and 2-digit codes for operators and a single digit access code (say, 9), it could have accommodated up to 98.99 crore numbers in level 9 itself, along with equal numbers in 8 level. In the current system, I am not sure whether it can cross 100 crore; and we will have a population exceeding 150 crore by 2050.

These are few examples of the perils of bureaucratic planning with limited domain knowledge and zero technical expertise. During the 1980s, it used to take 5-6 hours to drive from Delhi to Jaipur. In the last 3 decades, the Delhi-Jaipur highway has widened, but the travel time has only increased after every such widening exercise. Airports with same runways have different terminal buildings for international and domestic terminals, making it a nightmare for transiting passengers on congested city roads to move from one terminal to another. In all developed countries, different terminals in an airport are connected internally.

All infrastructure and services systems today have a big share of technology. Planning these systems require deep technical knowledge and specialised skills which our decision makers clearly lack.

Today, the country has embarked on a new era of development—building 100 smart cities, providing round-the-clock electricity to everyone, launching bullet trains, industrial corridors, rejuvenation of rivers, skilling the masses and a host of other programmes. We need sector specialists who could provide expertise in planning these massive programmes.

To effectively address these issues, we need to plan smartly, with able contribution from specialists and think tanks.

Source : http://www.vccircle.com/infracircle/must-plan-smartly-upcoming-infrastructure-developments/

SMART GRID Bulletin March 2017

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