Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s statement to not allow driverless car in India to protect the jobs of drivers has evoked mixed reaction. There are multiple perspectives to this debate ranging from human aspect (job loss) to technical (ie, adoption new technology) to preparedness of the India to embrace such state of the art technology.
In December 2016, during his visit to India, Travis Kalanick, now former CEO of cab hailing firm Uber, said it was almost next to impossible to have self-driving cars run in India and the country would be the last place on earth to get autonomous cars.
While the debate is still on about India’s readiness to adopt autonomous vehicle, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Roads and Transport, in July 2017 created a stir by stating that the government will not allow driverless cars in the country fearing job loss of drivers.
The industry is divided on this. Proponents of driverless cars say move to block such technology will stifle research in the auto sector in India and the country will be left behind when countries globally are experimenting with this technology. On the other hand, opponents sight the example of job loss and questions rationale of having such technology on Indian road.
The opposing view
According to the Minister, India suffers a huge shortage of 22 lakh drivers and the government is taking efforts to fill this gap by training people in driving under Skill India initiative. For this, the government is planning to open around 100 driver-training institutes across the country. The NDA government, which came to power with a promise of creating large number of jobs, is struggling to create enough jobs for its teeming youth. And, the Minister’s would like to show people that the government is concerned about the jobs through his statement.
The technology is still in the early stage of development with companies across the globe (including India’s Tata Elxsi) trying to perfect it. “Development of driverless cars is still in the nascent stage not just in India but across the globe. Organisations such as Tesla, Google and Uber are still testing the technology and have not implemented it completely,” says Kalyan Sridhar, Country Manager, PTC India.
Thus, autonomous vehicles are far from production with first completely autonomous cars likely to be ready only by decade or two. So, there is no practical data to suggest the pros & cons of
Supports feel that India, with its IT prowess, can be at the forefront of driverless car development and tap the global market, which is rushing towards the game-changing technology. “Gadkari is right to focus on unemployment in India but driverless vehicles will open up many more global economic opportunities for India as the world is moving towards this reality and India can be a global manufacturer with its talent. However, the thing that is being lost in the debate is the safety and health hazard issue. India is the accident capital of the world and you would save 90% of those lives and the health hazards that are now part of truck and cab drivers due to poor lifestyle and regulations to enforce them,” opines Sanjay Puri, Founder, Autonebula, India’s first business accelerator/incubator focused on the connected transport ecosystem.
Introducing driverless vehicles will lead to the companies developing infrastructure to accommodate the technology in the country. Ultimately, it will result in more job opportunities and contribute to the economic growth. There is a unique opportunity to develop infrastructure concurrently with new vehicle technologies. Shivaji Mahadkar, Director of Connected Vehicle Trade Association (CVTA), reiterates, “Manufacturing and sale of autonomous cars will create jobs in India which will offset the loss of jobs of drivers. The same was said about loss of jobs when computers were introduced in India in the 80’s. Thereafter the computer revolution in India created millions of new jobs and new skills. The next big thing globally is going to be the autonomous cars. India cannot afford not to be a part of this revolution. In fact, India with its pool of technological talent and skills has to wrest this initiative and become a leader of the autonomous technology, which is going to open immense opportunities in the embedded solutions for the car, and traffic related activities.”
He claims that CVTA-India Chapter will play a major role not only to bring all the stakeholders in this technology together but also help the Indian Government to formulate policies for effective management of the technology and the autonomous cars.
But is India ready?
Given the traffic conditions & general infrastructure in the country, it is difficult for an average driver to navigate through chaotic Indian roads even in big cities. Hence, one can image the difficult for driverless cars to run Indian roads.
“In the Indian market, the adoption of driverless cars will take a long time, not just due to fear of job loss for drivers but also because we do not have the infrastructure to support such a technology and strong road traffic rules in the country. The traffic density in India is much higher than many other developing countries. The traffic sensibilities, on the other hand, is not matured yet. We could possibly see a day when cars on Indian roads are driverless, but that is a distant reality,” observes Sridhar.
Assuming driverless car (which is still far away from reality) is developed by automakers for India, is the road ready for the car?
“In the Indian market, the adoption of driverless cars will take a long time, not just due to fear of job loss for drivers but also because we do not have the infrastructure to support such a technology and strong road traffic rules in the country.”
– Kalyan Sridhar,
Country Manager, PTC India
“Gadkari is right to focus on unemployment in India but driverless vehicles will open up many more global economic opportunities for India as the world is moving towards this reality.”
– Sanjay Puri,
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