Tragic Traffic in Srinagar
Up up and…and the story begins:
Agence India Press
Srinagar: A small city: 2,228 square kilometer area, summer capital, large population—approximately thirteen lakh—and an average infrastructure. This city seems to burst with the volume of traffic which is increasing day after day. With easy finance available to people, the regional transport office in this city is about to register around two lake vehicles in this district. The enforcement agency has lack of manpower and the state authorities seem unwilling to accommodate the volume of traffic on the narrow city routes.
Imbalances between the number of cars being added to the roadways in Srinagar city and the amount of roads for them to drive on are brewing a major traffic problem.
“The number of cars is going up much faster in Srinagar than the length of the roads in the city,” Senior Official at Regional Transport Office in Kashmir says. “Our society is not prepared for this kind of mess; they even don’t know what to do. That’s worrying. Cars are not something any kind of government can easily control if they’re cheap to buy and cheap to drive.”
According to official statistics of police, the vehicle population in Kashmir in the year 2005 was 1, 23, 319 and in year 2009, it gained 27% increase in three years and reached up to 1, 56,991. While till march 2010, the amount of vehicles touched the margin of 2, 77, 198, which shows an increase of 76.56% of vehicular population only in a single year. The vehicle population according to the official data of the Regional Transport of Kashmir has now reached more than three lakh as on 31st March 2011, an increase of 11%. An overall increase of 38% in these five years. Presently there is around eight lakh vehicle population in the state.
Experts say that in the current year the percentage could increase to about 80%, because, due to the 2010 turmoil in Kashmir, registration of vehicles was not done on daily basis. So it is obvious the vehicular population could increase up to four lakh, an alarming issue for Kashmir.
For the past several years, the traffic volume in the Srinagar city has increased manifold. There is almost steeping increase in commercial as well as non-commercial vehicles. Within the municipal limits of Srinagar city, there were more than 48,000 non-commercial vehicles registered with the regional transport office, Srinagar, almost a year before. Similarly, the light motor vehicle and two wheelers are fast approaching to mark the one lake in numbers during the same period. The minibus services which are the main component of the public transport of the city constitute only 8% of the total traffic volume. And the passenger vehicles-Human population ratio is 1:144.
Apart from this, there are almost 12,000 auto rickshaws plying in the city. 59% of the 71048 commercial vehicles ply through Lal chowk, 63% of 2,06,150 non- commercial travels to the city centre, 66% of the 5794 ambulances operate via city centre, 54.19% valley’s total 6237 minibuses take the same rout, 60.93% of the 79,243 cabs zoom past Lal chowk. This is not the end here. According to the data released by traffic police department, there are about 40% of taxis including Sumos out of total 14299 ply in Srinagar’s main city. When the restriction period is over, 31% of the 5642 tractors, 50 % of the 1245 tippers and 62.09 of the 18,187 trucks registered in the Valley ply past the City centre during the early morning and the late night hours.
Besides, the other heavy duty vehicles plying in the Valley, the City centre bears the peak load, that is, 74 % of the 150 platforms, 78 % of the 1,244 Tankers and 100 % of the registered 53 trolleys take main city’s rout. Reveals the traffic info of traffic police department in 2010.
Who to blame and why?
“We plan to do many things on working days but for these traffic jams we can’t do much as most of the roads in Srinagar are jammed with vehicles. It wastes our precious time,” tells Ghulam Mohammad Dar, adding that it took him more than thirty minutes to travel from residency road to Amira Kadal, normally a five minute journey.
“Lack of traffic expertise and police personnel adds the problem, department should train its cops to manage the traffic mess,” suggests Dar.
Traffic police is not only to be blamed for the mess, confirms Iqbal Ahmad, a College student:
“Over the years the living standards of Kashmiris have improved and tastes are changing, there is no doubt in this fact, so the vehicular populations have also increased in these years. But, the Road width is same as it was before three or four decades with minor increases in length of roads in the Valley, so that is why we face traffic mess,” Iqbal told Agence India Press.
It is unfair to blame traffic police for the total mess. Other departments working in the traffic management structure too have a definite responsibility for effective traffic run. City lacks proper road engineering, irrational transport policy, Roads in the State are not only substandard and poor in quality, but also lack all the conceivable traffic engineering measures and traffic calming techniques. Parking spaces, Srinagar has only 12 parking spaces, all these become the main cause of traffic mess. The city never has had traffic lighting system and the sign boards installed. Although the state government has announced traffic lighting system in twins cities of Srinagar and Jammu. The plan was announced earlier in 2009, yet there is no work started in this regard.
Traffic police have been entrusted with regulating the traffic and enforcing laws and regulations in the city. For that to happen smoothly, traffic police needs enough human resource to do it. But the deficiency in the manpower is one of the contributing factors of the frequent traffic jams and accidents. “I need about one thousand personnel to manage the city traffic, which is almost 1, 80, 000.” Maqsood ul Zamaan, Superintendent of traffic police in Srinagar told Agence India Press. (When this story was filed he was S P City).
The department has collected fine of about Rs 32, lakh from the defaulters in last three months of winter, on various accounts urging the drivers not to drive fast, wrong parking, wear crash helmets, wear seat belts, and avoid overtaking and driving without license.
With huge amount of traffic volume, the enforcement and regulating agency-traffic police seems unprepared for managing the traffic in the city. The deficiency in the human resource in traffic police is one of the biggest problems leading their failure in managing the traffic.
Presently the city traffic police are equipped with handful of personnel including high rank officers in the Srinagar. Facing a deficiency of men, to regulate the traffic movement in Srinagar there are only 350 men for it and per 28 kilometers of road length there is only one personnel to control. Road density in Srinagar is 136 cars per kilometer and with these problems; traffic police seems helpless in managing the huge city traffic. All this data revealed by the S P, Srinagar in his interview.
With an expansion in the traffic volume, the city seems unprepared to accommodate the traffic. Providing alternative routes are non-existent and widening of roads is hardly in the plan of the government.
Mohammad Aslam, administrator at Haji Peer Transport Company blames the Administration for the traffic mess in the city, “The diversions provided to the mini buses consumes a lot of time in reaching a distance which could be covered in a little time if allowed to ply on the conventional routes. The diversions should have been provided to the non-commercial vehicles, which constitute about 92% of total traffic in Kashmir, for the convenience of the general public”.
The transporter demands the conventional routes for the public transport and asks for alternative roads to be provided to the private vehicles.
There are four big transport companies operating in Srinagar. These companies ply around 2400 mini buses in the city. Population is the main factor which decides the number of buses to be allowed to ply on a route. The busy soura area of the city, around 300 buses carry out the business of transportation on the route via different areas. Similarly more than 200 mini buses have been allowed to do the business in JVC area. The Batamaloo Pantha chowk and Batamaloo Shalimar via Jehangir chowk, Red Cross road and Dalgate, on these routes more than 600 vehicles carry out the transportation of passengers from one place to other.
It would be wrong to blame passenger vehicles for traffic mess in the city, which constitute only 8% of valley’s traffic, still diversions are made for 8% instead for 92% of non-commercial traffic according to Nazir Ahmad, Cashier at Haji peer transport company.
Roads or alleys?
In year 2000, the total road length in Kashmir was 4820.46 Kms, in 2003 the road length was 6613.49 Kms that is with 45.49% of increase, 2005 the road length reached to about eight thousand kilometres and in 2009 it was 9491.76 Kms. The road length maintained by Roads and Building department as on 1st January 2011 is 10,794.12 Kms with a road density about 68 per 100 Sq km. Public Works Department maintained 9194 Kms and other departments 7610 Kms. Therefore total road length in Kashmir is 27598.12 Kms. The total road length of Srinagar city maintained by R & B department is 1521.55 Kms with a road density about eighty eight per 100 Sq Km. Roads are increasing in lengths width is same as it was before five decades.
But the Kashmir’s transport population is increasing at a pace of about 38% against the 24% increase in road lengths in Kashmir. This is horrific for the population of the Kashmir province reeling under this huge increase of traffic volume.
Take, for instance, the Srinagar development authority (SDA), in charge of the development of Srinagar city. This body has constructed only twelve parking spaces in entire city; most of them accommodate 50-70 cars. A city with a huge rush of traffic occupying the roads and streets make troubles for smooth running of traffic in the city.
With large number of vehicles in the city, the roads remain jam packed most of the times. During the afternoon, whole of city centre, Lal Chowk is jammed as hundred of vehicles strand. Similar scenes could be seen at Rambagh, Jehangir Chowk, Raj Bagh, Natipora, and Dalgate besides Pantha Chowk Bye-pass.
Being a favorite destination for foreign as well as domestic tourists, large number of vehicles from outside state also enters the city adding to the already existing mess in the Srinagar city. There are also good numbers of inter-state vehicles that ply on valley roads. Apart from these factors, military vehicles add the already existing traffic problems in the city. There are no rules for any military vehicle, they can park their vehicle anywhere and anytime even can take any route for their convenience.
The Jammu and Kashmir ranks 13th in India with 48.20 accidents per lakh populations. A state with a total population of about 10.3 million, small state in terms of population, but with a very high rate of accidents in the entire country. A survey conducted by National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), reveals that UP is at top of the list followed by Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, whereas J&K is at 13th number. All the three states topping the list consists ten to fifteen times more population than entire J&K state. In Jammu and Kashmir in approx. 8,100 accidents 1,080 people were killed in 2010.
2011 year is not over yet (15 days are left) and there are nearly 1100 people died in road accidents across the state. Till July of the year the fatal causalities were 571 in around 3,700 accidents.
The number of people killed in road accidents in 2010 was comparatively lower than 2009 when 1,109 people lost their lives in accidents.
In 2008, the number of fatalities was 950, the same as in 2007. Nearly 1,000 persons were killed in 2006 in road mishaps across the state.
Border districts which have poor road infrastructure and mountainous terrain have witnessed more accidents, which have caused many deaths over the years.
In Srinagar city, around 400 people have died in accidents on streets and roads since 2006, the lowest accident-vehicle ratio for a district in the entire state.
The reason is here:
In Srinagar, a city close to have two lakh vehicle populations plying on its roads, new car registrations are open to everyone; commuter traffic has slowed and moving with a snail’s pace, six to ten miles per hour, well under the speed of a bicycle. The cause is narrow roads and wrong parking over the roads of Srinagar city. So the accident-vehicle ratio for Srinagar is lowest of all districts in the state.
Schemes, funds and widening process; a question mark:
One can’t argue on the point about the condition of roads in the valley particularly in the city. Few months past, the UEED department completed its drainage work in the Lal Bazaar area and left the roads unattended. The construction of the drainage in Nigeen, Hazratbal and last year took almost whole year to complete the work. Such kinds of works are going on in several places across the city.
Besides Economic reconstruction Agency (ERA), Jammu and Kashmir project for construction corporation (JKPCC) is actively taking projects from the Jammu Kashmir Government.
There are about two thousand schemes under progress in Kashmir taken up by Roads & Building (R&B) department, and in addition to it, there are 1157 schemes taken up by Pradhan mantra Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY), from which 330 have completed. But there are no results on ground; the traffic condition has worsened in these years.
More importantly, their does not exist much space to accommodate the volume of traffic in the city. Though the Roads and Buildings department of Jammu And Kashmir Government have taken up some projects to widen the space in the city but that is not enough. No alternative routes have been made available so far.
Under central road fund scheme, seven projects have been taken with the collective amount of about 68 crores to be spent on them. These projects include up-gradation of the Khaniyar-Qamarwari-Gojwara with a total amount of 15.86 crores and improvement of Khanyar-Zadibal-Pandich road at a cost of 3.05 lakh rupees. The up gradation program includes paying compensation for land-acquisition and demolition of structures and shifting of utilities, which includes an amount of 22.38 crores. The total cost for all these purposes is approximately 230 crores. Road to Qamarwari chowk to Parimpora Bye-pass at a cost of 13.86 lakh and Police control room to Batamaloo with a total amount of 3.64 lakh. Construction of shelter sheds at various locations in Srinagar for buses coming from different districts of Kashmir, the plan was moved after the directions of Honorable High Court of J & K.
Though the government has sanctioned the money for the purpose, but they are heading at snail’s pace in their accomplishments.
Reactions and anger:
The narrow roads not only consume time but also cause frequent traffic jams resulting in the time loss of a commoner. The space for the pedestrian is occupied by the vendors forcing commuters to walk on the road. Even the enforcement agency-police does not bother to care either for the pedestrians or the traffic. People blame them for taking money from the vendors and hawkers to occupy the space.
“Every day a vendor is supposed to bribe a policeman with Rs 10 note; this sum exceeds thousands at times as per the concentration of the vendor”, accuses Shaziya Bashir, a women college student, “where they suppose us to walk? Foot path is meant for we people, not for vendor or shop keeper”, asks Shaziya in a harsh tone.
Altaf Raja, a university students who boards bus from the Qamarwari to Hazratbal says, “I have to wait for almost half an hour for the bus to come and then to take me to hazratbal.” He says, “It takes one and half hour to reach the destination.”
The transporters have their grievances for all the mess and the delay in reaching to the spot. The authorities at the Western Minibus Transport Services that runs around 550 buses on the city routes says: “The space is so narrow and the traffic volume is so high that it’s like a contracted grave, also the decaying conditions of the roads make journey a hell.”
Moral of the story:
Whatever the cause for traffic mess is: be it narrow or bad conditioned roads or large vehicular population or deficiency in man-power in law enforcing department (traffic police) or Corruption in society or other factors responsible for it. One thing is sure only the commoner suffers the most.
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