The regulation of traffic has been recently in the news. However, the waywardness of decades in traffic cannot be undone in a matter of daysjust by strictly regulating its movement. This is 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 lots; 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. There is need to take every aspect of the mess into consideration and straighten it out. This requires honesty of purpose and a strong will to implement all aspects with continuous supervision at the highest level and accountability all through the system. As regards normal regulation to prevent colossal jams, it may be better to deploy Armed Police for the assistance of Traffic Police especially at the crossings. They are more disciplined and duty conscious. 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. Unfortunately, it is the gun which regulates even the vehicular traffic! No one, including even the VIPs’ travelling in Flag cars dare challenge their writ and quietly go along! Incidentally, due to recent happenings, people have even lost the fear of the gun! So God help us!