Disciplining Imphal Traffic

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Traffic in Imphal is increasingly sinking 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. However, increased affluence has not meant a matching growth in civilisational values. Any sensible person in the state, and in particular Imphal, would vouch that a majority of the vehicle users here are not adequately educated on traffic laws, and they drive merely by what they believe is intuition of road safety. Imphal indeed must be another classic case of the pace of material advancement overtaking the growth of matching culture and responsibility which must moderate the fallouts of these advancements. Unlike in advanced countries where education and experience have ensured moderation in these matters, partly because the growth of these technologies have been organic, in the developing world, the arrival of these technologies have been in leaps and bounds, thereby upsetting the balance. The story told by a Japanese executive of Minolta Company then living in Delhi to this writer in a train compartment they shared during a journey to Delhi from Shimla, says it all. He said he was posted in New York before being transferred to New Delhi, and when asked which city he liked better he said in New York he enjoyed driving his car but once in Delhi, he had to hire a driver. And this is New Delhi, the capital of this country he was talking about. It needs little imagination to come to the conclusion how much worse the situation is in Imphal. This is not going to be easy, but the government must begin addressing this issue urgently, before things go out of hand. Strict driving license norms, strict enforcement of traffic rules and wide traffic rule awareness programmes are some of the ways it can begin doing this. Driving in Imphal today is not only a frustrating exercise, but also hazardous.

Traffic management in the state has been about regulating traffic flow at busy traffic junctions, and nowhere else. Again, if periodically there are spurts of police activities in checking vehicle papers on the roads, these have had hardly anything to do with traffic control but sanitising the roads of miscreants ahead of VIP visits. 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, driving licenses in Manipur have long ceased to have the value there are supposed to have, because they are so freely available. It is also no longer a document that anybody would be particularly worried about losing even to the police, for replacements are just a matter of a few hundred rupees tip to petty officials of the motor vehicle department. Equally easy would be to tip the policemen 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, leaving them to be everybody`™s daily horror `“ the Jiri bus parking at Waheng Leikai and Tiddim road bus parking at Keishampat Power House to name just two. Until ring roads are built around Imphal (of which we have learnt there is already a plan to build two) and 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 stations 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 in erecting more stalls in whatever space available. What can be more myopic than this? There is also a flyover coming up and many have argued this will be a solution. We have always expressed our reservation about this and we have not been able to convince ourselves to revise that opinion, especially after seeing pictures of the near complete flyover indicating it is probably only one and a half lane wide. We will not be surprised at all if we see atrocious traffic jams on the flyover itself and at its bases. Shouldn`™t attitudes change now? Shouldn`™t traffic control be treated as an important job and not be placed as a subsidiary responsibility of the government?

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