DNA, January 12, 2015
By Pradeep S Mehta
Jaipur continues to take baby steps to achieve its dream of becoming a world class city, but a change in our mindsets is a precursor to its realisation, which is not the government’s responsibility alone.
That said, the Jaipur Development Commissioner, Shikhar Agarwal is blazing new trails inter alia by doing things which need to be done. Firstly, he has achieved a financial surplus for the JDA, which has been in the red for long. Second, he is clearing encroachments in the shape of worshipping places on public roads in spite of misguided public sentiments. But, it must not end here. More needs to be done. Our city roads are one of the best in the country and timely repairs help them to keep motorable. Being chairman of the city’s Traffic Control Board he needs to address traffic and civic indiscipline with equal vigour.
The other day, my friend Jagdeep Singh narrated his woes on Facebook of dropping his daughter to the railway station at 5.30am to catch the train to Delhi. The approach to the station was absolutely chaotic and he got caught in a traffic snarl. His daughter had to walk and ultimately run to catch a moving train. Jagdeep took longer time to unsnarl himself and head back home. There was no constable in sight that day to regulate traffic. I wonder, therefore, whether having a police commissionerate in Jaipur has had any significant impact on traffic regulation or even crime prevention in city. Zilch, in my opinion. But it is once again not the police which are alone to blame.
To be fair to the police and civic authorities, some innovative steps have been taken to ease traffic flow. Two examples come to my mind: Blocking off one access to one main road on both the station crossing and Sahkar Bhavan crossing. If these were not done, the traffic snarls would have been worse. However, one gross drawback in this is enabling pedestrians to cross the road easily, which still needs some work.
The city is quite pedestrian unfriendly and this needs closer attention. On many signals, pedestrians when trying to cross the street have to dodge the onslaught of relentless traffic. Our cars and two wheelers zip across traffic lights when red as if they have a God-granted right to do so. Two wheelers ride in a suicidal fashion and many a times they end up hitting cars and other vehicle. I am quite sure it is as difficult to find a single vehicle in city without dents and scratches as it is to retrieve a needle from a haystack.
Most vehicle owners do not know even the basic traffic rules, such as stopping and going while turning into an arterial road from a side road, or even respecting zebra crossings. Arcing on a turn is absolutely alien to them. Driving on full beam and blowing their horns incessantly is insanely pleasing to them.
Our road safety scenario is the worst in the world, which costs us over three percent of our GDP every year. As part of the government’s exercise to develop a National Road Safety Policy, I had chaired the Union Ministry of Road Transport’s Working Group on Road Safety Education two years ago. We did come to a considered conclusion that both education and enforcement have to go hand in hand. Few years ago, in New Delhi constables greeted motorists with flowers and beseeched them to observe road rules. With the result accidents in Delhi have been coming down every year. Similarly, in Udaipur and Srinagar just after the New Year began, constables handed out toffees to drivers who were wearing a helmet or seat belts.
Speaking about civic sense, Bombay is perhaps the best possible city in our country. Though due to sheer population pressure some of the good old things are disappearing. The story goes that when the late Morarji Desai was the chief minister of Bombay presidency, before the same was split into Maharastra and Gujarat, he posted two police constables on every bus stop to ensure that passengers queued up. It was one small step but had a singular impact on people being conscious of discipline and civic sense.
I recall one instance in Mumbai when my taxi got into the right turn lane at a traffic light, the duty constable ensured that my taxi could not drive straight on the main road but had to turn right and then come back to the main road after some time. If such a thing happens in Jaipur, the driver will engage into a long debate with the constable and hold up the entire traffic. Consequently, the helpless constable will just allow him to carry on.
Worse violations take place insouciantly on our road network, many of them due to ignorance. It is not only my experience but several of friends have pointed out that if you try to point out bad driving to another, s/he will turn around to argue that you are wrong. Metaphorically, ulta chor kotwal ko dante.
Another act of civic indiscipline is defacement of our road signage. There is a law against defacement, which includes a liability of the poster owner, but enforcement is nil. Usually, the posters are stuck on enamelled road signs by companies and student unions during election campaigns, and they cannot be washed off or cleaned easily.
In the ultimate analysis, it is we the citizens of this beautiful city who have to take up the cudgels of dealing with indiscipline through education and enforcement, and ask the authorities to cooperate.
The writer is secretary general, CUTS International. Views expressed are his own
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