Traffic in Imphal continues to sink into a mess. The growth in the number of motor vehicles has been phenomenal – partly to do with scaled up government salaries as well as much improved credit facilities availed by the banks. But this growth has not been adequately complimented by an increase in the city’s road infrastructure, although it must be said, painful though it may be for individuals who lost their homesteads, the drive to widen Imphal roads in the last decade, in hindsight has proven visionary. It is tough to imagine where Imphal traffic would be today, had this not happened. Even if this came as a blessing, there is still much left to be done. The shortfall in developing infrastructure can indeed be a fall out of paucity of funds, but what remains unexplained is why the government is making no effort whatsoever to improve the road discipline of vehicle users. For indeed, apart from the inadequacy of roads to handle the traffic volume, it is the utter disregard of traffic norms by a great many vehicle users which has made the situation alarming. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say today that driving in Imphal is not only a frustrating exercise, but hazardous for smaller classes of vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, precisely because hardly anybody stick to traffic norms. Imagine, passenger buses, jeeps, auto-rickshaws, etc, have no scruples about stopping right in the middle of a bridge, or other equally forbidden places to pick up passengers. As for instance, the northwest corner of the CM’s office complex opposite the general post office, is an unmarked bus stop, just as the middle of the steep climb on the approach road to the Thumbuthong bridge. But then there are no designated bus stops either so that these vehicles have some justification in stopping wherever they sight a passenger.
Traffic control in the state’s vocabulary seems to be just about regulating traffic flow at busy traffic junctions, and nowhere else. If periodically there are spurts of police activities in checking of driving licenses and vehicle registration papers on the roads, these have had hardly anything to do with traffic control but insurgency and crime vigil. We wish they were otherwise. We wish there were mobile traffic policemen on motorcycles, chasing down rash drivers and awarding them penalties including confiscation of driving licenses or even jail depending on the seriousness of the offences. But then again, driving licenses in Manipur have long ceased to have the value they are supposed to have, because they are so freely available and signifies no particular knowledge of traffic rules or driving skills. It is also no longer a document that anybody would be particularly worried about losing, or confiscation by police, for replacements are just a matter of a few hundred rupees tip to touts outside the motor vehicle department. Equally easy would be to tip the policemen on traffic vigil duty instead and get the original back. The traffic mess in this sense is also a part of the Aegean stable of corruption in the state awaiting a Hercules to clean.
Then there is the question of the larger governmental vision and will. Does the administration have these at all? Reams after reams have been written on why inter-district as well as interstate buses should not have their terminuses in the heart of the city. And yet, the government remains unperturbed, by daily horror faced by the public. The Jiri bus parking at Waheng Leikai and Tiddim road bus parking at Keishampat Power House to name just two are nightmares for any average commuter. Until ring roads are built around Imphal (of which we have been hearing there is already a plan to build two), all long distance buses can skirt around the city to dock at a central terminus in one of the suburbs, why cannot the present bus docks in the heart of Imphal be shifted a few kilometres away from where they are now? The larger city architecture also contains more flaws. Like a house with no kitchen, or toilet, Imphal city has no proper parking space for private vehicles. This being the case, vehicle users park their vehicles wherever it pleases them. The city’s architects remain uninterested in doing what is obviously the needful. All that they are interested is erecting more box stalls whatever space is available. What can be more myopic than this? There is also the narrow two-lane BT flyover which many had argued would be the solution to Imphal traffic. Where is the solution then? We will not be surprised at all if Imphal begins to see atrocious traffic jams on top of the flyover itself considering the driving discipline of the place. Shouldn’t attitudes change now? Shouldn’t traffic control be treated as an important responsibility and not a subsidiary function of the government?