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BW Businessworld

"Cycling Should Be A Peoples’ Movement"

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Pankaj Munjal, chairman and managing director, Hero Cycles, talks about the relevance of cycling, safety, environment and more

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma

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We are at Magnolias club in Gurgaon to meet Bicycle Badshah, Pankaj Munjal. Munjal is not just the chairman and managing director of the world’s largest bicycle manufacturing company, Hero Cycles, he is also an environmental thought leader. So the conversation veers mostly to the idea of behavioural changes and ‘comparative daily observation of particulate matters’ to build a safe, pollution free and decongested India

Cycling has always been a popular sport. Do you see its relevance in India today?

Of course, I do. Cycling has always been relevant to India, owing to our rural population. Almost 60 per cent of our population use cycles every day for daily chores. The scene, however, differs in urban India.

Urbanisation has brought cars and bikes onto the roads, limiting the use of cycles to the neighbourhoods of metro cities.

What about the safety of cycling on urban roads?
Well many cities that are upgrading themselves to smart cities, are trying to promote cycling and walking by creating tracks.

The allocations on infrastructure in the Union Budget for 2017 suggest that more and more cities and rural areas will witness good roads and cycling tracks.

How does cycle manufacturing, exports and the laws in India compare with those in other parts of the world?

We are the largest exporter of cycles in the world. We export close to six million cycles every year, the major buyers being the European market. Bicycle laws in the European market, especially London and Germany, are indeed something to learn from.

In Berlin, the bicycle laws are extremely strict and manufacturers have to abide by them to operate in the German market. The cities have defined cycling tracks, unlike in urban India, where we even see cycles on the main roads — and of course the bigger vehicle is always the wrong-doer!

Berlin has strict cycling tracks and imposes hefty fines for breaking rules — including riding outside the cycling track. India has the second largest population and should have had the largest consumers of cycles. But, as a matter of fact, the European nations lead in this record.

Indians prefer cars and bikes to bicycles and walking is hardly a passion…

I think this is something we the people must own up to. This is a people’s movement. The government is trying to do a lot of things. Last year, West Bengal bought about two million cycles from us. Other governments are also taking up initiatives to support cycling for environmental and health purposes. But, in the end, the onus lies with the people. We must do it not only for ourselves, but for our next generation.

Cycling and walking not only decongest the environment, but also help us lead a better and healthy life.

India, we must remember, is a diabetic hub. Most Indians suffer from heart attacks and severe diabetes, primarily sourced from the unhealthy life they lead.

Too much of oily foods, no exercise, desk jobs — everything adds up to several diseases, which can be easily avoided by ten minutes of cycling every day or dedicating a day to cycling every week.

So, do you cycle in your free time?
Yes, Sundays are my cycling days. A cycling day — having a cycling group, is truly fun. On Sundays I go out with my friends. Eventually, I tend to make many friends in these kinds of groups.

In a way, by buying more cars and motor-cycles, we are un-inviting many friends who would like to visit us. The rising pollution level in the metro cities has discouraged foreign nationals from visiting them.

Some of my friends have in fact, cancelled Delhi from their list of cities to visit in India. They do not want their children or acquaintances to breathe in toxic air. I think this is quite alarming.

What does Hero Cycles do for the environment?
We, as a manufacturer of cycles, are recognisably a well-wisher of our environment and our country. When the goodness of the vision merges, it makes a rather good business proposition too.

To increase awareness about the environment, we have taken up different campaigns throughout India, to promote cycling and walking as a culture.

What should be the government’s role in increasing awareness about the environment?
The government has already invested a lot in building smart cities with innumerable facilities and taken up various campaigns. The car-free day in Gurgaon, the odd-even idea in the Delhi NCR, demonstrated how quickly pollution levels decrease.

It is important to make the toxicity visible to people and this should be done regularly. Just as temperature is reported every day in the newspapers, the toxicity and the amount of particulate matters in the air must also be reported daily.

The environment ministry should undertake researches and share daily updates on particulate matters. Five to six years ago, the particulate matter in the air was about 150, while now it has increased to 450 and is ascending. Showing this to readers and viewers regularly, will make a lot of difference.

People will start getting conscious about it and will follow it up by some meaningful actions. You as the media, should bring it to the notice of the environment ministry.