WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
The traffic situation in Guwahati is beginning to look even worse than what I had predicted would happen about a quarter century ago. Going even by the average increase in the number of vehicles at that time, I had predicted that the streets of Guwahati would have the equivalent of arteriosclerosis in the human body, and people in their cars would get stuck for hours in traffic srls miles away from their destitions. This has already started happening. What is worse, however, is that pedestrians have no means of being able to cross any busy street since there are no zebra crossings at busy intersections. As a result, they have to wait for as long as 10 or 15 minutes at times to find a gap in the traffic so as to be able to scamper across the street. What makes their task exceptiolly difficult is the attitude of motorcyclists who never evince the courtesy even to slow down for two seconds to eble a child or a senior citizen to cross the street. While it is true that the large number of vehicles on the city streets is making traffic control extremely difficult, the attitude of motorists and motorcyclists has also aggravated the problem. And the designing of gaps in the street dividers to provide entry into by–lanes and places for U–turns has been far below expected standards. Quite often, the gaps left are too small to permit safe turns into by– lanes and the thoughtless parking of cars right up to the gaps makes a U–turn at one shot almost impossible.
There is much that has to be done about the available physical facilities to make driving in Guwahati a less painful experience. But while this is planned for and executed, much needs to be done to change the attitudes of motorists and motorcyclists to the rights of other road users and especially the rights of pedestrians. A drastic change in the attitudes of motorists is bound to take care of some of the problems of road users in Guwahati. Traffic planners, the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) and the Guwahati traffic police must begin to appreciate that people do not get into a car or on a motorcycle just to take a joyride in the city. Most people have destitions to reach and work to do when they reach their destitions. As such, ‘No Parking’ signs scattered all over the city is not the best means of ensuring traffic control. Proper and positive traffic control must take into account people’s needs and provide for parking places in every locality from which people can walk short distances to their actual destitions. There must also be many more zebra crossings in the city to eble pedestrians to cross streets safely.
It must be appreciated that mere traffic control of Guwahati does not constitute the magement of transportation imperatives in the city. All attempts at maging transportation within the city must take into account the fact that road space within the city has remained more or less static while the number of vehicles, which had increased at the rate of about 2,500 per month in the 1980s and 1990s, has a rate of monthly increase that is in excess of 5,000. It is this rapid increase in the number of vehicles in the city that had impelled me to predict more than 25 years ago the horrendous traffic situation that we have in the city today. Apart from the increase in the number of vehicles in the city, Guwahati also has a floating population of around seven to eight lakh people every day who come to the city mainly by trains and buses. However, a small number of this floating population also comes in personnel vehicles. Any sensible transportation plan for the city must take into account this floating population as well.
The most important thing to realize is that for any kind of transportation magement to be effective, the vehicles on our roads must be able to move at certain minimum stipulated speeds. The present situation in Guwahati makes this almost impossible. The foremost requirement, therefore, is a rapid increase of road space within the city. Over the last two decades, a few flyovers have been constructed here and there mainly to ease congestion at intersections. They have done little to increase the existing road space. We also need flyovers that provide altertive routes between two points in the city. As such, it may be necessary to provide flyovers that run fairly long distances over existing roads to increase the available road space. I recall that the bus trip from Bangkok to Pattaya was along a flyover that went over the existing highway for a distance of about 50 km. It is such long flyovers alone that can add substantially to the existing road space.
A major part of Guwahati’s floating population comes from North Guwahati as well as places like lbari, Barpeta, Mangaldoi, Sipajhar and so on. Extending access to Guwahati from North Guwahati by an increased number of ferries over the Brahmaputra and an efficient ropeway can take care of the transportation needs of a sizeable section of this floating population. Unfortutely, the riverside infrastructure for the proposed ropeway, constructed at considerable cost of public money in the Forest Department’s riverside plot (near the CJM’s court), lies abandoned with huge coils of completely rusted cables lying beside the foundation for the ropeway that has cost the exchequer crores of rupees. The public has a right to know about the progress of the much–vaunted ropeway project. The only sensible ropeway project for our needs is one that envisages cable cars and not just individual seats. We have to be catering for hundreds of people who will commute daily between North Guwahati and the city proper and not just for a few tourists.
There are ambitious plans for a mono–rail system to link Guwahati with its suburbs. This is an excellent idea as ideas go. However, one cannot afford to overlook the fact that all such projects will have to get handed over to engineers, technical personnel and workers from outside the State. This itself is a factor that slows down all development activity. And experience tells us that in the case of Guwahati the manual labour will comprise Bangladeshis whose abilities for skilled labour are open to serious question considering the quality of work we had in 2006 when they constructed footpaths for some of the Guwahati streets. The work was never supervised either by engineers or by the technical staff of the contractors. It was left entirely to totally illiterate and unskilled Bangladeshi labour, and the result is there for all of us to see in the substandard and ugly pavements that we walk on. In fact, a large number of the ugly slabs are already beginning to disintegrate. One can very well visualize what the suffering of the inhabitants of Guwahati are likely to be with prolonged construction work for the monorail project disrupting movement of people and vehicles over most of the streets of the city for months and years together while construction goes on. One recalls how the people of Kolkata were made to suffer for years while the construction of the Metro subway system (jocularly called the paataal rel) was going on. By contrast, the inconvenience caused to the people of Delhi during the construction of the Metro subway system was much less and of a far shorter duration. A monorail system for Guwahati is perhaps just what the doctor ordered. We cannot think of a subway system, considering that about two generations of Guwahati citizens will suffer (due to dug up roads and blocked streets) before the project gets completed (if at all). A monorail system is preferable mainly because most of the construction will be above ground, and therefore, will certainly be far less time–consuming than an underground transport system. Let us not forget that we live in a State where people are totally averse to any kind of work even above the ground. They just cannot think of having to work below the ground for any kind of project.
The only conclusion that one can draw from the existing circumstances, our lack of skills and our disinclition for work is that the transportation problems of Guwahati are likely to get worse with every passing year because of a total lack of governce in the State and the belief that rituals, awards and empty promises can substitute good governce.