City as a Bazar

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As Imphal grows and its traffic volume increases, one would have expected, among other things, parking space growing reciprocally. Quite to the contrary, the reverse is happening. Even more surprising (or not surprising) is the fact that there are absolutely no visible attempts by the government yet to address and tackle the issue. After the substantial government salaries hike as per the 6th Pay Commission’s recommendations, together with the ever aggressive sale of car loans by the banks and not the least the ever competitive pricing of lower end automobiles, Imphal as expected is witnessing ever the more traffic nightmares. Already traffic jams are a daily affair and getting worse by the day. Even if it was to be conceded that the congestion is made worse by the ongoing road repair and the sewerage construction works, it is difficult to imagine how things would improve even after these projects are over. The basic and crude philosophy behind city land management which has guided governments after governments in the state has been to convert every bit of available space in the city into real estate, either for those in positions of power to grab or else to auction off on the quiet. Few or none amongst them, it seems, believe in the value of open public space in a city, hence today Imphal is devoid of proper parks or parking areas. It will be recalled, even the Kangla was almost partitioned off and sold off as shop plots if not for the intervention of the conscientious public. Not to be totally deterred, the authorities a decade ago constructed a line of shops along the Kangla’s northern boundary, but thankfully again, these shops were demolished on the intervention of several civil society bodies and campaigns by the media, including IFP.
A similar fate had seemed almost certain for the historic Mapal Kangjeibung, and a line of shops had been constructed on its edge along the BT Road, and this the government was determined to keep even in the face of public protests, but other plans overtook it finally and the shops had to come down to give way to the BT Flyover. Are all these a case of acute and incorrigible political myopia, or else of greed having no limit? Most likely, it is a combination of both. Whatever they are, here we are faced with their consequences, the almost absolute lack of parking space and crawling traffic being the most visible. It is however no point endlessly cribbing over split milk, although the manner in which this milk was spilt would make any outrage justifiable. Instead, it would be far more constructive to think of ways to salvage the situation to the best possible extent. Even if the government has no intent of listening to the strategies we have thought of, at least we hope it would agree to exercise its mind to engage the problem.
First and foremost, prohibit heavy vehicles from entering the Imphal municipal area during busy daylight hours. If they have to enter, let it be after 7pm or 8pm or before 5am. This means bus and freight vehicles depots will have to be built in the outskirts. There is one at Khuman Lampak already, this can take care of the northern end, but there will have to be others for the Moirang-Churachandpur line, Kakching-Moreh line and Jiri-Kangchup lines too. To minimise the need for private automobiles coming out on the streets, introduce an efficient and clean city transport service. This could be outsourced if the government is not up to it. Shift out the existing bus depots from the heart of Imphal, most pertinently the Keishampat and Sagolband parkings. Lastly, construct ring roads around Imphal so as to prevent the city becoming a thoroughfare for vehicles whose destination is not the city. This should not be too difficult for it would be just a matter of upgrading and ringing up existing suitable roads from the existing network. In the long run, the government can also think of satellite cities, say for instance at Mantripukhri, Lilong, Litan, Andro etc. But above all this, the government must first and foremost shed the mindset that a city means one extended bazar constituting of endless lines of shops and nothing else. Tree-lined avenues, green spots such as parks, well marked parking areas, open malls where the city’s denizens can come out for evening strolls or morning walks are what make cities beautiful. India Gate in New Delhi, Eiffel Tower in Paris, The Mall in Washington DC, etc are just few examples. Last of all, just as a suggestion again, as in so many progressive cities all over the world, keep some of the streets free of engine vehicles if not everyday, at least one day a week, preferably on weekends and public holidays.

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