Even with Indian conglomerates such as the Tata and Mahindra groups competing with global giants like Tesla to create autonomous driving technology, they won’t be able to test their cars on Indian roads. The country’s Minister of Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari told reporters that driverless cars won’t be allowed in India and that he is “very clear on this.”
Gadkari argues that he won’t let any technology stand in the way of the country’s efforts to resolve unemployment. The minister went on to argue that in a country where you have unemployment, you can’t have a technology that ends up taking people’s jobs. He also revealed that India is actually short on about 22,000 commercial drivers and that the government is planning to establish 100 driver training institutes across the country to put an additional 5,000 professional drivers on the road over the next few years.
India’s unemployment rate fell from from 9.5% in August 2016 to 4.68% in March 2017, with the Bharatiya Janata Party arguing that the decrease is due to “Modi government’s efforts to create rural employment…yielding results.”
Unemployment rate falls sharply, as Modi government's efforts to create rural employment are yielding results. pic.twitter.com/p7F4VjHdpe
— BJP (@BJP4India) March 5, 2017
India’s Economic Times backs Gadkari’s decision, arguing that driverless cars make no sense on Indian roads. But its rhetoric is quite different from the minister’s; they find that driverless cars driving between India’s multi-component shared roads is impossible. “No technology can navigate the numerous challenges a driver faces on chaotic Indian roads even in big cities,” the unidentified author writes. “From cows, camels and elephants to auto-rickshaws, rickshaws, hard-carts, trucks and cycles, the traffic on Indian roads is more diverse than anywhere in the developed world. Add to that the lack of proper signage and poor upkeep of roads.”
While CEOs at Uber and Google haven’t exactly backed the decision to ban the technology, they agree that introducing autonomous vehicles is very difficult on hazardous roads like the ones in India. In the meantime, the Indian conglomerate Tata Elxsi is not giving up just yet, circumnavigating these obstacles by testing self-driving vehicles on a track designed to resemble the roads and traffic of India in efforts to teach the vehicles to overcome the dangers and predict them.
It is no surprise that Indian automotive industries and their leaders aren’t very pleased about this announcement. “India is not immune to the debate. Today jobless growth is a big issue but you can’t just go ahead and ban new technologies. There was a similar debate when computers came in. Not all technology leads to joblessness. You have to have the right balance. Technology has to coexist,” said Abdul Majeed, Automotive Leader, Price Waterhouse & Co.
Last year, a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that vehicle ownership would grow by 775% in the next 24 years, highlighting India’s position as a strong market for the automotive industry.