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Why India May Not See Driverless Cars Anytime Soon

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Driverless cars have been touted as the next big thing in the automobile space for a while now. Big money is being pumped into their development and experts have estimated that there will be 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020, with one in four cars being self-driving by 2030, reported Forbes.

Not in India.

“We will not allow driverless cars in India,” said Nitin Gadkari, India’s Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways, and Shipping in a recent media interaction. “We are not going to promote any technology or policy that will render people jobless."

According to Gadkari, “India suffers a huge shortage of 2,200,000 drivers.” To meet the current demand for commercial drivers in India, the government has planned to open “100 driver training institutes” across the country. He also indicated that his ministry is developing an app that will challenge the monopoly currently held by Uber and its Indian competitor Ola on driver aggregation, providing smaller commercial vehicle enterprises a similar platform. "Five hundred thousand drivers will get jobs over the next five years,” Gadkari said, outlining his ministry’s vision.

In the light of increased technological advancement and automation, unemployment is a cause of massive concern in India, especially because less than 5% of the population is vocationally skilled. With 65% of the population under the age of 35, India cannot afford to have jobless growth. So Gadkari’s intention -- to save jobs in India's "unorganized" sector -- is noble enough.

Plus, many of India’s roads are still far too crowded, and marred by potholes to accommodate driverless cars. Even in Indian cities, it is not uncommon to see livestock, rickshaws, scooters and pedestrians zig-zagging precariously beside cars, none paying any heed to traffic signals or driving etiquette in a frenetic competition for their piece of the asphalt. Logistically, it will take years of preparation before we can have self-driving cars here.

However, Gadkari’s statement, “we are not going to promote any technology or policy that will render people jobless," is highly problematic.

Across the world, car manufacturers and technology companies including Tesla Motors, Google, Uber, Mercedes Benz, General Motors, Ford and China’s Baidu are developing and already testing driverless cars. Elon Musk has even indicated that Teslas will have “full” self driving capability this year itself, and has pledged that one will drive itself from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017.

At such a time, for one of the world’s largest economies, and the world’s second most populous country to deny driverless cars entry into the market seems like an indictment of technological progress with complex economic and environmental implications worth considering closely before such a decision is made.

Interestingly, Gadkari’s remarks also seem at odds with the proposed Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2017, pending in the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of parliament. The bill suggests high penalties for various traffic offences, but has provisions that allow the testing of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles. “In order to promote innovation and research and development in the fields of vehicular engineering, mechanically propelled vehicles and transportation in general, the central government may exempt certain types of mechanically propelled vehicles from the application of the provisions of this Act,” reads a clause.

Also, the Modi government has been especially gung-ho about technology as a key driver for growth in India -- from Make In India to demonetization to GST, most of the BJP government’s recent large scale initiatives and reforms have hinged on the increased adoption of technology.

Greater access to education, skill development and employability training, it would seem, would be much more effective long-term solutions to the issue of unemployment, than a rejection of technology in an effort at preserving jobs.

Read more at forbes.com

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Location: India
Location: India
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