Walk Tall!

Tete-a-tete with Brij Sethi

In previous avatars Brij Sethi has evangelized sustainability and fostered significant innovation. He has worked in different senior capacities in the IT industry and is currently pursuing his interest in digital content. Clean Air Asia’s Sonali Chakravorty catches up with Brij for a chat.

Brij Sethi

Brij Sethi

1. India’s vehicular population is growing at a phenomenal pace, more than 12.24 percent in fiscal 2011-12, with most auto giants looking at making India a hub. While automation and vehicular growth is a regular feature in a developing economy like India, how can India leap frog the demerits of a boom in the auto-motor segment?

I would like to list the answers,

  • As a developing economy it is important for people and goods to be able to move towards their opportunities, so the idea should be to provide alternative opportunities for fast, smooth and easy movement of goods and people.
  • For inter-city movement of goods, we should explore faster movement, better scheduling and longer lengths of rolling stock (rail) in addition to looking at inland water ways, where feasible
  • For inter-city movement of people, we should continue to build capable highways at full speed and at the same time, encourage public modes of transport by ensuring fast, timely and regular service. It is also important to complement this service with last mile connectivity such as by providing 2 wheeler and bicycle rentals for movement within the urban setup
  • The within-city goods movement has huge potential for IT based consolidation where a moped driver – with a properly designed load carrying moped – can participate in efficient IT driven hub & spoke distribution/ collection arrangements for all kind of goods at the last mile. This also has scope for providing entrepreneurial employment. There is a need to design and make available ultra fuel efficient utility vehicles rather than only showy and snazzy bikes. By current technologies itself, there is no reason why a 150 Km/ litre moped cannot be realized with fuel injection, low friction parts and aerodynamic design.
  • The within-city people movement has success stories to be emulated, from all over the world. Rather than restating the obvious – let me just say that the London tube recently completed 150 years of intra-city travel on train tracks. We are just beginning to do that in Bangalore with namma metro. It does make one wonder whether we are lagging by 150 years and if so, why?

2. Do you think the government or state should provide incentives for better environment friendly technology in new cars? For example, do you think companies availing better public transport or non-motorized transport for staff can be given tax incentives?

As I see it, government has an enabler and a regulator role at policy level. The government also plays the implementer of policy through its various arms and there is potential to do better on all 3 counts,

  • As enabler – fuel efficient technologies deserve support through common availability of technology, incentives for retro-conversion kits and centers and a cooperative driven supply chain for needed parts and sub-assemblies.
  • As regulator – disallowing deployment of wasteful technologies is certainly a needed burden that the government needs to carry, without succumbing to lobbying pressures from the automotive sector. Why are there so many 100 cc and plus bikes but only 1 common make of mopeds in the market (TVS 50)? Why are 350+ cc bikes, with ground clearances no more than 130 mm being allowed into the country, when the roads for driving them are missing?
  • As implementer – better traffic management is an imperative. Our accident rates and commute times (per passenger kilometer of urban travel) are amongst the amongst the highest in the world

Regarding your specific question on tax incentive – I think policy should address policy and implementation should address implementation. Addressing policy with implementation mechanisms (tax incentives say) is short term in my view and as bad as fuel subsidy J

 3. Most IT companies like yours employ a large number of youth and have huge land space at the work place. How does at IT company get younger people to promote public transport or non-motorized transport? Can the company for instance, earmark one day when everyone has to take a public transport or designated days for car-pooling in designated areas?

Car pooling can be made more useful rather than mandated. For example – if a car pool can be learning group – and this is possible by literally streaming relevant digital content into a car (audio only please!) and complementing it with well placed questions where a group discussion takes place. One is not then commuting but attending a training program. Not only work related but several dimensions of self improvement.

Public transport needs better last mile connectivity. Perhaps there can be a ‘vehicle policy’ for folding cycles. Due to the current expensive nature of folding cycles in the market today (INR 20,000/- as the starting point) it might be useful to commission some designs for lower cost, folding cycles. In the same vein a scooter (un powered) or a gyro based personal transportation device (battery based), can also be explored.

4. IT companies are relatively greener in their approach as far as carbon emissions are concerned, particularly in comparison to brick and mortar companies. How can the IT companies work towards some common objectives to reduce carbon emissions and promote technology aiding non-motorized transport?

Refer to my answer regarding the use of IT in creating a hub and spoke arrangement for movement of goods in the city. ‘Moped boys’ can pick and deliver goods from the door step and with subsequent consolidation steps that are IT driven, goods can move quickly and without errors. It is also possible to use GPS for better route mapping, using today’s technologies, if there are multiple delivery points. Any vehicle that is carbureted, has the potential to improve in fuel consumption through direct fuel injection – by the use of microprocessor based intelligence and good CPU Mapping.

The use of internet as a meeting place for enthusiastic cyclists who commute to work is already active. This can be encouraged even more

5. Has/ Can a software company develop specific programs which can empower the common man or the poor with safer mobility programs?

Again, let me list the answers,

  • Sonar based personal safety device that beeps and vibrates, when there is an oncoming vehicle especially from the back or when it is foggy. It can also be an assist in crossing busy roads
  • Better information on public transport schedules on a real-time basis
  • Rental for last mile connectivity – linked to credit card as a guarantee of safe return of the vehicle – and with the advent of online use; perhaps the market is now just ready for rental vehicles in the urban context
  • Enabler for commuting – by group interested commuters and adding on additional activities such as learning/ karaoke singing/ special interest group discussions etc

6. The growing young in India are much more aware of the fallout of global warming or climate change. How can brand promotion and advertising of a company turn this consciousness into a cult while promoting non-motorized transport (NMT) as a ‘statement’?

In eighties it was considered cool to smoke in Europe and travelling by train, one was constantly inundated by cigarette smoke. Today they have caught on to the idea that it is unhealthy to smoke and the only smokers you see are in a glass cage. It is well known that Indians are genetically more prone to heartailments and we have narrower arteries. I do not see any reason, why people cannot be persuaded to cycle more, for the sake of self insurance (better health) – with creative and consistent messaging. That a good looking body is a useful side effect – is an additional motivator. It has to be communicated as an offer to be a better you rather than do it – or else! methinks!

7. On a lighter note, did the company encourage eat from your kitchen garden? For example, discourage eating of imported food that uses energy to cart food and therefore contribute to carbon footprint.

Putting a label on food items (for their carbon miles) and linking it to their freshness – along with an ‘eat fresh’ campaign might be a way to go. The label addresses the logical part, the freshness and the aspiration part.

Brij Sethi can be reached at hi@brijse.com

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