The new IGP Traffic Basant Rath is in news these days. By and large, people are appreciating his efforts in trying to streamline the wayward traffic in the State. There has been an appreciable change. However, the waywardness of decades cannot be undone in a matter of days. This is especially so because the problem apart from being steeped in massive corruption has many other angles to it. The traffic problem does not stem only from lack of honest supervision in regulation but from a number of other related issues including those of traffic engineering. The various causes given for the mess include the disproportionate growth ratio between roads and vehicles; irrational planning; illegal occupation of foot paths; irrational transport policy; insufficient parking slots; inadequate vehicle stands, and so on. It also points out the lack of traffic engineering measures; inadequate technology; lack of co-ordination among allied agencies, and above all unplanned urbanisation. However, one of the most important causes is the lack of traffic sense and mass education about it. Finally, the unpleasant security scenario restricting free movement on all city roads is also an important factor.
About 50 years back or so the population of Srinagar was less than 2 lakhs and now it is almost 15 lakhs. Those days there were less than a hundred cars in Srinagar and now we have more than 2 lakh vehicles. Kashmir itself has over a million vehicles. Those days there were no three wheelers. Now we have all kinds of vehicles of all shapes and sizes. However, the worst culprits are the departments and organisations responsible for various civic services. They not only refuse to enforce the basic criteria of urban development and planning but on the contrary themselves create intractable problems. The agencies which should have been concerned with land use, zoning of urban areas, planning and expansion of roads, and enforcement of various rules and bye laws of town planning are on a spree of constructing shopping lines, complexes, malls, and other such huge and mega structures. The plea given is earning of revenue for the state or the respective organisations. The state as well as the concerned organisations could very well do without these revenues which never reach their coffers in full! It would have been better had they performed their primary duty.
The Roads have been encroached everywhere. 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.
Now let us take the topic of traffic sense and knowledge of rules. The less said about it, the better! Fast lane, slow lane, zebra crossing, yellow line, double yellow line, and similar other basic words from the traffic terminology are unknown not only to common public but even to the traffic constables directing and monitoring the movement of vehicles on roads and at different crossings. One does not need any technical or other knowledge of driving to get a licence in Srinagar. It can be safely delivered at your home provided you have the means and the resources. It does not matter even if you are a minor. The same holds good for the fitness of vehicles including their pollution control. One can easily see trucks and buses running on the roads belching thick black plumes of smoke. Kashmiris are also very fond of klaxons. In Europe or America people feel slighted if someone blows a horn at them. These are used in dire emergency or if someone commits a gross violation of traffic rules. Ordinarily everyone uses light indicators.
Seeing the immensity of the “Traffic Mess” it seems doubtful if we would be ever able to sort it out. It requires political will of colossal proportions. It may be better to replace the Traffic Police by Armed Police. One often observes that the security forces convoys have always a smooth flow as their men stop all traffic and ensure safe passage of their vehicles. No one, including even the VIPs’ travelling in Flag cars dare challenge their writ!
In such a situation, any positive initiative is welcome. Some people have been criticising the methodology adopted by Basant Rath. They say it is unconventional and even high-handed. Well, they say there is a maxim in policing. A gentleman who unintentionally or even intentionally breaks a law must be approached and handled as a gentleman. However, a rogue is a rogue and needs to be handled as such! These days there are rogues who wear a gentleman’s dress and manners but are in reality worse than dacoits and corrupt the entire society. They need to be handled as such. One hopes that Basant Rath is allowed to straighten the roguish traffic and drill some sense among the violators. Normally, such well-meaning people have a short life span in their posts. One wishes, the “Rath Effect” which is the revival of accountability is not only respected but carried into all the wings of the administration especially those meant for peoples’ welfare.