Well before annual Darbar move in November last year traffic authorities had held several rounds of brainstorming sessions to find ways to decongest Jammu city from traffic mess. It was resolved that roads will not witness any jams, parking will be organised and minibuses – our prime public transport system will no more create hurdles in smooth flow of traffic. Sincerest efforts in this regard though were made in initial days but then everything came back to square one within a fortnight of opening of civil secretariat in winter capital. The carriageways couldn’t be freed off untideness even today.
A brief tenure of Mandeep Kour as Commissioner Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) wherein court orders of shifting all hawkers to specially identified and developed ‘Rehari Zones’ did relieve people of traffic mess but everything started returning to its original position gradually in a phased manner leaving city high and dry. A little rather no difference was made in the lives of daily commuters and city, as usual, remained chocked.
Today no minibus stops at designated site even when beautifully designed steel structures have been erected in the name of shelters, no auto-rickshaw supports meter for charging fare, people park haphazardously, overloading and overspending is still giving youngsters thrill and most importantly several public transport vehicles whose registration certificates (RCs) and other documents have been confiscated are still plying on roads. The prepaid auto-rickshaw stands don’t exist anywhere and people are fleeced.
In nutshell, city roads are still not as safe as they should have been. More serious issues is that of overcrowding and overspeeding buses on national highways and state highways that cause fatal accidents. While cops in blue try to ensure safe roads, a single fatal accident on highways leave dozens dead bringing every effort to a halt. On many occasions Governor, Chief Minister and even specially constitueted house committees of legislators had recommended certain set of directions to be implemented on roads but people continue to lose precious lives unabatedly for their poor implementation.
Negligent and drunk driving, driving without licences, over speeding and use of mobile phones have been taking a heavy toll on the killer roads on Jammu and Kashmir since ages with no remedial measure in place. Everytime we lose innocent lives, lip services and ex-gratia relief starts pouring in with no concrete measure to bring an end to this all. And then blame-game starts with Public Works Department (PWD) blaming traffic authorities and later fixing drivers. And this all is followed by drawing room suggestions citing foreign countries as model countries of managing traffic system.
Still worst is that people are continuing to alter seating arrangements inside buses to accomodate more pasegers in order to make more money. This practice not only makes passengers uncomfortable but also deprives them of leg space while travelling at distant places. Almost all the minibuses have altered their seating arrangements thereby giving an impression that all passengers are seated comfortably whereas ground reality is that they are dumped in buses like cattle.
The only silver lining visible amid this mess is action of an Indian Police Officer (IPS) Basant Rath who has been appointed head of traffic department. His initial reaction to city’s transport system has been well taken by the commuters and even those who have being challaned for violating traffic rules. The buck doesn’t stop here. Amid speculations of him setting the haywire gone traffic system right to his rumoured ouster from the post anytime in the given conditions what’s required is giving people safe roads and a decent public transport system.
Added to this drive is people’s understanding of being safe. Several social and religious organisations besides Individuals drawn from different walks of life have come out in open supporting the officer while those who are bearing the brunt are opposed to his being in place for a long time. The issue now is not that how long he stays in chair but is that how effectively he delivers and leaves a mark on the lives of people whose ‘lives’ are risked everyday to the extend that parents don’t feel comfortable and always pray for safe return of their wards in our state.
Charged crowds following Basant were seen last fortnight on Jammu streets. The officer like several others was performing his duties then why this strage reaction was noticed by everyone? According to those making videos of officer performing his duty and making it viral, it was after a long gap that they had seen display of fine rather prompt and an effective governance on the ground. Not everything was in his favour, though. Complaints of him breaking students’ mobiles or using filthy languages was taken seriously by a section.
Whatever! One thing is sure that the officer changed ‘game of policing’. He established that instead of complaining of shortage of manpower, resources or other means, anything can be done with just a will. Today those minibuses which were plying without valid documents are off the roads, children who used two wheelers without helmets and driving licence have dumped their bikes, parents are happy, aged are finding spaces to walk on roadsides safely and carriageways are free.
Despite these visible changes it will be too premature to sing praises in favour of officer or condemn him for any of his unwarranted actions as being done by many. Real test for Basant Rath lies in giving Jammu and Kashmir safe roads where people at home could stay comfortably knowingly that their dear ones will return home safe in the evening. A household name, Basant has to act his image and the efficiency bar set by him for himself is quite high.