Transportation is vital for any tourist destination. Tourists spend almost 20 percent to 30 percent of their total holiday expenditure on transportation and the remaining on food, accommodation and other activities. This aspect once again highlights the importance of facilities for tourists.
Today, the most popular and widely used mode of road travel is public transport or car as road transport provides mesmerizing views of the landscape and freedom to travel with a choice to stop anywhere. Guided tours are the latest craze all over the world as tourists often travel with their entire family and friends for holidays. All this require world class coaches and tourist cabs as tourist coaches or buses are preferred for large tourist groups traveling together on a specified tour itinerary whereas many tourists prefer to travel in comfort and privacy and hired cars or cabs. For all this an international standard bus stand is perquisite.
Classic example is of Maharana Pratap Inter-state bus terminus popularly known as Kashmiri Gate ISBT or ISBT, located in Delhi, the oldest and one of the biggest Inter State Bus Terminals in India opened in 1976. Spread over an area of about 13 acres, it handles over two thousand buses a day. It served as the only ISBT in Delhi till 1993 when it was transferred to the transport department, after which two new ISBT’s were created in Sarai Kale Khan and Anand Vihar to de-congest the overcrowded Kashmiri Gate ISBT. The Terminus has 45 departure bus bays, eight idle bus bays and 13 arrival bus bays, all catering to Inter-State Buses. The departure block, waiting area and food court are centrally air conditioned. Reverse osmosis plants have been installed to supply clean drinking water to the passengers. High speed secured Wi-Fi zone allows passengers to remain connected. To keep the building environment friendly a sewage treatment plant has been installed, water is treated and recycled to be used in the air-conditioning plant and for the purpose of horticulture and flushing of toilets. A new parking management system has also been developed which is capable of storing data of buses entering and exiting the premises, high resolution CCTV cameras have also been installed for surveillance.
Now compare this with the facilities at Jammu bus stand and one wonders whether this is the bus stand of a UT proclaimed to be ‘Crown of India’, where more than one crore pilgrims alone visit Shri Mata Vaishno Devi ji along with more than three and a half lakh pilgrims for Shri Amarnathji Yatra and Jammu is entry point to all Kashmir bound tourists. Though Mufti Mohammed government in 2002 took number of steps which included broadening of highways, creation of number of parking lots and new bus stands at Narwal, Khanpora – Nagrota and Muthi, but the very fact that even after lapse of many years state government had been unable to shift bus stand from existing place to so called new bus stands which have meanwhile turned into parking lot for private vehicles right now.
With all this in mind, a new multi- level parking was conceived and implemented at old bus stand, but it seems city developers have not learnt a lesson from the past and bits and pieces approach is not going to help anybody in future also. The City of Jammu has expanded manifolds and so have its requirements according to status of this very special city now designated as Smart City. Jammu is gateway to all incoming pilgrims as well as tourists to Kashmir and as such an ultra-modern bus stand with latest multi facilities is the need of hour. Prior to existing General Bus Stand in Jammu, all the buses used to operate from Parade Ground and afterwards from BC Road during early seventies as the number of buses went on increasing. With the passage of time workshops and other shops came up in and around bus stand as such the size of this bus stand went on decreasing. With ever increasing buses the authorities were forced to go for creation of separate ISBT Bus Stand at Narwal, another bus terminal at Khanpur near Nagrota and another one at Ware House. However, most tragic failure on the part of JDA, Transport and Traffic Police authorities was that even after six years of completion, new bus stands could not be put to use and huge funds spent on the project seems wasted raising question on the efficiency, planning and expertise of the then authorities. Despite all these goof ups JDA was once again assigned to build a modern bus stand with all the requisite infrastructure and facilities. A total two years’ time frame was given to the Mumbai based agency, M/s ShahpoorjiPallanji& Col Pvt Ltd (SPCPL), a sister concern of AFCON India Pvt Ltd. But as usual as in the past Jammu Bus Stand project faced many deadlines due to official apathy, in fact delayed by many years. Planned Bus Stand by JDA has built-up area of around 60,064 sqm, having a parking capacity of 80 buses in bus terminal, 1312 cars, 177 two wheelers and 239 commercial shops, besides dedicated space for restaurants and food courts with a total cost of around 215 crores. Out of total 239 shops 109 went for auction in 2018 and rest were allotted to old shopkeepers. After much hiccups and delays finally LG Manoj Sinha inaugurated the new JDA Bus Stand Complex with much fanfare in February 2021. Words of praise were showered for Multi-Level Car Parking as a step towards the comprehensive development of physical, social and basic infrastructure to accommodate the business class as well as meeting essential requirements of quality life for ordinary citizens of Jammu.
But ground reality is far away right now. Despite inauguration since second week of February it is still inoperative. Closed shops, booking counters, no bus movement in and out of the complex and no usual hustle bustle of a bus stand except few private security persons deployed. A fee of hundred rupees was levied for every bus entering the new bus stand but bus owners refused to pay the amount and after protests and meeting with authorities it got reduced to fifty rupees now. Right now few buses which are off the roads for one reason or other pay fifty rupee and are parked whole day. A visit to new bus stand reveals no booking counter is operational, in fact the entire area is locked. Much hyped restaurant with other facilities are just missing in the new complex. Fact is not even a single shop has been handed over or opened. Some construction is still going on and in some shops construction malba and iron girders are still dumped. Same is the case of much hyped parking. Out of a capacity of 1500 cars and two wheelers only approximately 150 slots are occupied. A monthly fee of two thousand five hundred has been fixed which is too much on higher side in this pandemic for an ordinary man. Though bus entry fee has been reduced byhalf but parking fee of cars has not been reduced at all leaving much of parking lot vacant. Same is the story of 109 shops auctioned, too much reserved price has kept the prospective bidders away and no one knows how many have been allotted and how many are still without any bidder. Booking agents of goods companies which use buses to transport various items to far off places are working from footpaths as one can see men sitting on chair with receipt book in hand, even in scorching heat, winter chill or even during rain. How the shopkeepers whose shops were taken over and later on demolished for construction of new bus stand are surviving and running their households is no one’s headache anymore, what kind of facilities this new bus stand offers to them right now? It seems salaried babus of administration are least bothered about human catastrophe faced by displaced shopkeepers.
The other flip side of design and construction flaws have left sinking/damaged road on Bus Stand side thereby disrupting busy traffic for months together. More recent case is collapse of a shop, toilet and passenger shed on Hari Market side adjacent to overhead bridge. This area was partially damaged a year back but has become a ping pong battle between JMC, Roads and Building department and JDA as nobody wants to invest in repairs of this road and are busy in blaming each other for the damage. Situation is so grim that cracks have appeared on the foundation of historic iron foot overhead bridge also and it is just question of time before even this bridge will collapse. Despite the fact that all concerned departments come under Housing and Urban Development department but still no corrective measures have been taken till now, why better known to concerned authorities.
On one side in this pandemic UT Administration is already facing scarcity of funds, more so JDA which is front organisation of government for converting Jammu City as Smart City, but the bus stand fiasco shows practically no one is interested in raising funds for future projects or provide facilities to tourists by using already developed infrastructure. Constructing buildings alone can never be game changer for any city, getting back the value for money and recovery of every penny of taxpayers invested in projects is also the responsibility of the Development Authorities and they cannot shirk away from this responsibility. But practically this New Bus Stand has become 200 plus crore ‘White Elephant’ right now with its only visible utility being parking of 8 to10 buses and few cars in the parking slot. Will the government take immediate corrective measures or like Artificial Lake or Rope Way Project or City Drainage, Legislative Council building project in the past, this project money also goes down the drain remains to be seen?