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Essay on “Curing Urban Congestion” Complete Essay for Class 9, Class 10, Class 12 and Graduation and other classes.

Curing Urban Congestion 

Outlines : The best way to relieve urban congestion and cure cancerous growth is not to increase traffic capacity, but to draw traffic away from congested areas and develop counter magnets. Consider an organisation which has caused, and continues to cause, hundreds of gruesome deaths every day, has spawned every variety of crime and corruption, has polluted the atmosphere beyond endurance, has rendered millions homeless, condemned them to subsist in most depraved conditions, has placed insatiable demands on our scarce financial resources, and has even—according to a recent Home Ministry report—promoted communal riots. Will it not be justified to describe such an organisation as a Public Enemy, even Public Enemy No. 1? That group is not the Punjabi or Kashmiri terrorists; it is the group which decides our urban policy! For our urban policy is guilty of every crime listed above and more. In the current jargon of political debate, let us treat all these as a “systemic” fault, and hence, blame no individual. Instead, let us consider how the system can he so reformed that such evils get minimized.

Congestion and cancerous growth are the two diseases which are the root of all these ills; given the current tension in our urban policy, these two diseases are unavoidable. For instance, new regulations are to be introduced in Madras to force all vacant land to be built up—to be overbuilt in fact. On the other hand, what Madras needs most is not more buildings, but more open space, Every little open space, however small, will give some relief to the choked lungs of that much polluted city. But the planning system ordains otherwise, and says “congest more”. In Delhi, the latest gimmick is elevated trams. It so happens that Delhi is still a very elegant and visually attractive city. Those who have seen the elevated trains in New York will know what an eyesore elevated tracks are. Apart from aesthetics, there is a conceptual flaw here : the best way to relieve urban congestion and cure cancerous growth is not to increase traffic capacity, but to draw traffic away from congested areas and develop counter magnets—improve the connectivity of adjacent towns to make them more attractive than the existing congested areas.

There are technological solutions for limiting the urban blight, but painful experience tells us that the Indian urban establishment will not respond to technological logic. Urban vested interests make unbelievable amounts of unearned (and unaccounted money) in the existing setup; they will resist each and every reform; they have the political clout to force their will on the hapless public. As a result, in the urban establishment, Mammon is God and ecology is Satan. So, the only plausible way of tackling urban diseases is through the money route—the bloodsuckers of the city will leave its citizens in peace only when they can no longer grab unearned money the way they do now. Incidentally, the Indian Government is bankrupt and needs money badly. It is in such a sad state mainly because urban property speculators pay next to no taxes. Placing these two facts in juxtaposition, we can solve both problems—urban concern, on the one hand, and the Government’s financial predicament on the other—by imposing taxes on congestion. That will force businessmen to migrate to uncongested areas. To the extent businessmen resist such a migration, the government will make more money. However, our businessmen are past masters in tax evasion, and our bureaucracy can mess up even the best intentioned scheme. So, we need to devise the congestion tax in such a manner that it is both nonevadable, and bureaucracyproof. Then, consider the following scheme:

We want zero bureaucratic interference, zero tax disputes. then, let all property owners be asked to declare the surrender value of their property, the amount for which they would be willing and

obliged to hand over their property to the government for any designated public cause. The owners are free to fix any value they like, however high or low the value chosen need not have any relation to the actual cost of that property Further, no government official can question the figure selected. So, there is no possibility of any dispute or bureaucratic interference at this stage.

We want no black market in property: so make public the surrender value; allow anyone to find out what it is, and make it obligatory for the owner to sell the property to anyone who offers, say, 20 per cent more than the stated surrender value. However, the owner can opt to retain the property by raising the surrender value to the amount that has been bid—after paying a set penalty. Then owners will be constrained by the market not to fix the surrender value at too low a level; so the black market will collapse.

The surrender value should not be so high as to affect public welfare projects. Then make the taxable value of the property a function of the surrender value.

Investors should be persuaded to move out of congested areas : Make the taxable value equal to the surrender value multiplied by three factors : one, the Floor Plot Space Ratio (commonly known as FSR or FAR) : two, by the Floor Common Property Ratio (the ratio of built up area to publicly owned space in the neighbourhood); three, an ad valorem cess if the building opens on to a thoroughfare on which public transport buses ply. Then, the tax is strictly rule based with 1020 fold escalation in congested areas. Rents should be fair to both pasties : So, make the rent a function of the wealth tax charged. Tenants should be protected from harassment : Two rules; one, once a tenant quits, the surrender value may not be lowered; two, the rent shall be paid by the employer, not by the tenant directly. Then, any owner who tries to overcharge a tenant risks a perpetual penalty, and tenants remain unaffected in case rents go up. There must be enough shelter for the self-employed poor : Allow very, very, attractive tax rebates to those who build and let “servants quarters” to such people. Let us consider some implications of this scheme of things. First, petty officials and tax collectors have little or no scope to harass property owners, at any rate on the count of tax evasion. Second, a palace in a village may be rated at a small fraction of its cost and will have its tax value further reduced because it is bound to have low income. In contrast, a small flat in a crowded city will be taxed at a value much higher than its cost, and that will be further aggravated because it will almost definitely be a building with a high income. As bus routes are more common in cities, the tax load can go up even more for those who reside on busy roads. Thus tax on tax piles up as the place gets congested, making it increasingly worthwhile to shift to uncongested areas. Third, no distinction is made about usage—whether the property is used as a residence or for business purposes. The way the tax value is computed, such a distinction need not be made—business premises will automatically declare an opportunity high rate—or lose control over the property. That removes yet another cause of friction and source of bureaucratic corruption. Fourth, no property can be expropriated by the Government for a frivolous compensation, nor can an owner be harassed through long years of litigation. Likewise, fifth, no owner can hold up a public cause by making extortionate demands and delay development through tendentious litigation. Sixth, the tax affects only built-up land—agricultural and vacant land attract zero tax ! Lastly, like erstwhile land revenue tax, this wealth tax becomes solid proof of ownership—will minimise the risk of land grabbing. (At least for this reason, this wealth by the simple expedient of setting a minimum nonzero value for FSR. Then agricultural land will attract a low but finite tax, and payment of such tax becomes proof of ownership). For all these reasons, this tax will induce all properties to be allocated for the most productive use, and make publicly transparent one of the murkiest areas of national economy. The tax collectable will also be substantial—even for a low base rate of just one per cent, the amount will be several thousand crores of rupees. The tax is nonevadable nor disputable, but avoidable—by the simple expedient of moving away from congested areas. As a result, urban property prices will come down from their dizzy artificial levels. That too will curtail speculation and property related crime too. But its greatest benefit will be a check on congestion and on the resultant urban ills which we listed at the outset.

These are its ad advantages. However, according to a knowledgeable  top bureaucrat, each one of these advantages will be deemed  by the urban establishment as an intolerable disadvantage.


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