Squadron Leader Anil Sehgal
In the seventies, there was only one bridge on the river Tawi, beginning near the present day statue of Maharaja Hari Singh on the one side and culminating near Bikram Chowk on the other side.
This was the bridge that connected the State ofJammu & Kashmir with the rest of India. It was a one-way traffic bridge made of thick steel girders and was as sacred to the populace as river Tawi.
This bridge was of vital strategic military importance. In the wars of 1965 & 1971, with our neighbour, Pakistani planes tried their best to destroy this bridge and cut off the military supply line, but they failed.
There are any number of accounts about how the Pakistani pilots failed to spot the bridge, which remained as safe as ever during and after the wars.
Jammuites attribute this phenomenon to the divine intervention and protection by Ma Vaishno Devi and her incarnation Bawe Wali Mata, the eternal protectors of the holy city. It is now a part of the Duggar folklore.
This bridge over Tawi was always loaded to the brim. There were single manual traffic light signals on both sides of the bridge. Red and green flags were used to regulate traffic on the bridge from both ends ; somewhat like in today’s Satwari cantonment when you try to enter the defence area from near the air force station.
Many a time, vehicles were stranded for hours, on either end of the bridge. This happened whenever a vehicle broke down midway on the bridge. Still worse situation could arise for you, if you were stuck in your vehicle, midway on the bridge. And, it was not rare or exceptional !
The traffic was unruly in the city, but the pace of living was rather slow and tranquil. Life still seemed livable.
Today, the city has the luxury of having four bridges on the river Tawi, but the traffic beyond the bridges is as unruly as ever. The pace of life in Jammu is comparatively frantic, although much less when compared with metros like Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru.
Barring a few black sheeps, the roads of Jammu are largely well maintained. But, most of the roads are decorated with open drains and nullahs on the both edges, which seem like a sure death trap for the uninitiated drivers.
Most of the roads in places like Chhanni Himmat, and Tikuta Nagar are narrow and unfit for two way traffic.
It seems there are more vehicles on the roads of Jammu than the men. The vehicles usurp more space on roads than the citizens, both in numbers and volume.
Those days, we came across news items that the density of traffic in Jammu was next only to Tokyo. In plain words, it meant that the number of vehicles in Jammu was very large vis-a-vis the population and area of the city. This ratio has worsened over the decades.
For the dwellers of the old city, the area beyond the bridge on river Tawi was summarily known as Gandhi Nagar, a well spread modern colony of those times. There were no signs of colonies like Trikuta Nagar, Sidhra, Chowadi, Roop Nagar or Chhanni Himmat. Sainik Colony existed on paper only.
The government had made the land allotments in Gandhi Nagar, but having spent princely sums of Rs 5,000 for a plot, the citizens were not keen to move out from the old city. It took very long before the colony was, at last, inhabited in large numbers.
Areas like New Plots, Bakshi Nagar, Sarwal, and Talab Tillo were considered as the extensions of the city we usually call suburbs. These extended city areas were very thinly populated as compared to what we see today.
Jewel Chowk itself, and the roads that led to the Tawi bridge from there, were the biggest bottlenecks. Parade Ground and the Subzi Mandi chowk was another painful traffic point before the old bus adda shifted to the BC Road. Cows and bulls of all kinds would squat in the Subzi Mandi chowk throwing the traffic out of gear on a daily basis.
You may add the entry and exit to the old high court building in Mubarak Mandi, Jain Bazar and the Kanak Mandi areas to complete the picture of traffic snarls.
Drivers in the city are restless and impatient to move faster and faster, paying little attention to the traffic signals or the safety of the fellow citizens.
There is urgent need to catch the traffic polluters who drive at unchecked speeds and, thereby, put lives of others in peril. Such culprits must be brought to the books.
Sidewalks in the city are criminally usurped by the parked vehicles in a number of areas. Many times, two-wheelers are comfortably and authoritatively parked on pavements ; we also find cars half parked on the pavements, on both sides of the roads. I have seen people riding their two wheelers on the pavements in the Kanak Mandi area !
In the evenings, as you drive from the first Tawi bridge to Satwari chowk, more than half of the road is used to park the vehicles, by the lovers of the street food stalls that adorn part of the otherwise fairly broad road.
Huge crowds swarm the roadside food stalls selling a variety of food items, from near Chugh petrol pump to the last modh turning to Shastri Nagar. Cars and bikes are parked on the road near the food stalls in double lanes making it near impossible to drive through this patch.
The entire stretch is lined by the dimly lit street food sellers whose cronies carry food items to the clients sitting in their cars parked in the middle of the road.
Similar scenes were witnessed in Juhu area of Mumbai outside Cooper hospital until a few years ago. Then, the citizens forced the corrupt municipal officers to stop this circus on the road. In Jammu too, this road circus needs to be stopped. This area deserves immediate installation of street lights for easy policing and safe driving.
It is near impossible to negotiate this patch of the road after seven in the evening. I find no visible policing by the traffic cops to restrict the unruly parking and regulate the traffic. To say the least, such roads are no more safe.
Coming from Mumbai, I find many Jammu roads are like a well maintained runway. Mumbai roads are full of potholes and undesirable and unauthorised speed breakers whereas Jammu roads give you a smooth ride, by and large. Exceptions are like the patch of BC Road between Jewel Chowk to KC Theatre that is full of potholes.
But, commuting is not safe in the City of Temples. If anything, the situation has only worsened. I find big open uncovered nullahs that adorn the narrow roads and the bylanes are like well laid death traps.
The local administration has done a good job in strengthening the nullahs by placing iron rods embedded in cement blocks in them. But, these nullahs must be covered. At present most of these are wide open and pose a great threat to the vehicles and the pedestrians alike.
The biggest such open drain adorns the side road that leads from the main Janipur road to the high court. This is a two-way narrow road which can barely accommodate two cars coming from opposite directions, side-by-side.
On one side of this narrow stretch of this road there is a row of the shops and the other side of the road is adorned with an open and uncovered ditch type nullah that is approximately three feet deep and two feet wide.
Cars and scooters are parked outside the shops on this road making it more narrow. The two way traffic on this road is like a trap. This narrow road can hardly accommodate two vehicles side-by-side. Chances of a car or the scooter falling into this ditch are as bright as that of the sun rising tomorrow.
Prof Anju Bhasin of the University of Jammu shared her harrowing experience when her car fell into an open drain in the green belt area of Gandhi Nagar, as she was accommodating a car coming from the opposite direction in the narrow bylane. Luckily, she escaped unhurt. This can happen to us in any part of the city.
As you turn to Shastri Nagar from the Satwari road through the Last Modh, you see a huge ditch right in the corner which is a death trap. Any two wheeler falling into this ditch will have very few chances of survival; not that the car passengers are any safer.
The most rigid traffic control I notice in the city is on the main Janipur road near the high court where police will not allow any vehicles to stop even for a minute. This happens especially in the morning and evening rush hours.
Surely, similar arrangements can be replicated in other vulgar traffic spots in the city. Or is this an arrangement just to help the judicial lords of the city reach their offices and the homes fast ?
Similarly, more than half of the road space is used to park the cars around Monika shopping mall in the Gole Market area of Gandhi Nagar, especially in the evenings. This area is full of double parked cars using more than half the width of the road.
There are a good number of car parking areas in the city today. There is no need to use the roads for parking the cars near the busy bazaars, which hinders the smooth and safe flow of traffic.
The citizens must learn to park their vehicles at the specified areas or in the designated car parks and walk to the places they wish to visit ; hotels, restaurants, temples or shops. This will ease the traffic woes and improve the health status of the citizenry.
Likewise the shop owners in the city must not park their vehicles just outside their shops. Presently, they use the roads as parking spaces for about 12 hours a day !
Little do these shopkeepers realise that they are losing out on their business by doing so. In addition, they cause great inconvenience to their prospective visitors and buyers. This specially applies to the shopkeepers of City Chowk, Raghunath Bazar, Rajinder Bazar, and Gole Market in Gandhi Nagar, amongst other such areas.
All day long, half of the road between city chowk and the Raghunath temple is used to park the vehicles by the shop owners.
If a few citizens refuse to follow rules of intelligent and responsible living, it is incumbent on the civic administration to implement the laws with an iron hand and ensure decent and safe living for the larger chunk of citizens.