Recently the Institution of Studies, Learning and Analysis (ISLA) organised adaylong seminar in Srinagar on Traffic Management in J & K. The event had a very good response and people from the cross section of the society attended it. There were a number of experts who gave their presentations on the topic. One interesting sidelight of the seminar was that people stayed all through till the end. Usually most of the invitees leave after the ceremonial inauguration and very few are left for the real interaction. Also in a daylong event many participants leave after lunch. In this case the interest generated by various presentations and the interaction from the audience was so absorbing that the participants attended till the formal conclusion. This clearly reflects the fact that almost the entire population is concerned with the traffic mess which is making life miserable on the roads.
Every citizen of Srinagar must have experienced the worst traffic jams seen in the recent times. Sometimes one gets caught for hours together. The traffic mess is the hottest topic of discussion in every social gathering. Most of the time the blame for mismanagement is put on the Traffic Police. There is absolutely no doubt that the Traffic Police are neither sufficient nor fully doing the job they are meant to do. Their main duty these days is to ensure unhindered movement of VIPs’ on the congested roads of Srinagar. On most of the crossings one can see the traffic policemen glued to their walkie talkie sets monitoring the movement of VIPs’. Usually, the rest of the traffic finds its own way and three to four policemen at each crossing appear busy in gossip. As regards the real culprits for the mess, the top position is taken by the matadors. They consider the roads as their own property and feel as if there are no other users. They can stop in the middle of the road, at any crossing or turn and pick up or drop passengers.
Next come the happy go lucky two wheeler drivers violating all safety norms and going in every nook and corner. The auto-rickshaws have their own norms. The boomers are the nouveau rich lads in their expensive cars. Expert drivers have mobile in one hand and the steering wheel in another. As regards numerous accidents often fatal, the deadly killers are the tippers and sumos. They are always running against time to make as many trips as they can. An instance of unnecessary traffic hazard is the mushrooming of fountains at road crossings. Nowhere in the world are fountains constructed in the centre of a road crossing.
These obstruct the view of drivers from all sides and are the biggest traffic hazards. These decorative pieces could be tucked on some selected spots on the sides of the roads. In some places almost half of the road on either side is used by shop-keepers to display their wares. Foot paths are invariably under illegal occupation forcing pedestrians to walk on the roads which reduces the space for the vehicle drivers. Most annoying is the double sided parking on virtually all roads. The driving space gets reduced to virtually a single lane and causes traffic jams. The stark instance of lack of co-ordination among various agencies is the macadamizing of roads by PWD and the instant digging of the same by Public Health Engineering, Urban Environment Engineering, and the Telephone Departments. Most of these departments compete with each other in creating road hazards. In some of the main roads even after macadamizing, the manholes are like death traps especially at night and for two wheelers. These represent sudden dips and sometimes gaping holes in otherwise smooth roads. One has to be extra careful to avoid fatal accidents.
The most comprehensive presentation in the seminar was from the Indian Railways consultancy services, RITES. They have submitted a rupees 23,000 crore plan to J & K Government for traffic management covering traffic growth up to the year 2032. They have done comprehensive survey and prepared the plan suggesting also some means of mass transportation. No doubt a comprehensive long term plan is welcome but two issues arise. First is the funding and the second is the implementation. The State Government has so far failed to even get money for rehabilitation of the flood victims and restoration of the damaged infrastructure.
It is doubtful whether they would be able to get funds for the traffic management plan. One alternative could be to approach the Asian Development Bank. Regarding implementation even though RITES have indicated various implementing agencies, it is doubtful whether these would be able to undertake the jobs and complete these in time. One has the experience of some bridges remaining incomplete even after 10 or 15 years! The best alternative would be to engage a consortium of resourceful companies and allot the job on a turnkey basis within a stipulated time frame with heavy penalties for delay.
The long term plan may seem a utopian dream but given the will, it can be accomplished but the most urgent need is a short term plan to ease the existing mess. One of the experts gave an interesting presentation about the use of modern technology in relieving the existing problems. These include video cameras at traffic lights, beepers with lights at pedestrian zebra crossings, devices in ambulances and VIP cavalcades to make through way for these, video graphing parking defaulters, and electronic challans etc. These devices are can easily straighten away certain immediate problems and are not very expensive.
In regard to the killer tippers and sumos, it was suggested that speed governors limiting the speed to 45 and 55 kilometres per hour should be installed on a mandatory basis. This has been done in some other states even in normal passenger buses. Same applies to school buses too.Apart from this there were many suggestions from various participants regarding traffic management and safety. It needs to be emphasized that the management of the traffic is two-way traffic. While as on the one handthe authorities have to manage it by strictly enforcing regulations, on the other the public has to cooperate to follow the regulations. Then alone the mess can be lessened and ultimately sorted out.
The holding of a seminar involving a cross section of society with state actors has been a good beginning for ISLA which in Urdu means reform. One hopes that it does not end with the holding of the very well attended seminar only. They have not only to formulate a precise set of long term and short term recommendations for traffic management and forward these to the government but also to monitor and follow the implementation of the same.