Evolution of the transportation system in Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir, like other parts of the world, developed slowly following patterns of planning in the state. One of the important factors of development is the communications i.e. transport system. In the pre-1947 era the system was very slow. Reportedly there were very limited roads of bad quality and frequency of modern means of transport was very meagre or not available at all for, masses. The traditional means of transport were employed such as tongas, water transport, and carts. Most of the people travelled on foot. It is reportedly said that people even travelled on foot for performing Haj pilgrimage. It is said said that the devout used to undertake long journeys for Haj Umrah or Ziarats wearing wooden sandals (Khraws). These historical facts seem like fairy tales to the present generation.

It is also said that whenever anybody used to go to Jammu or Punjab, as many people used to work in Punjab / Shimla  as labourers, embroiderers, rafugars etc., had  either to foot the distance or travel  by a vehicles which took him days to wait for the departure  from Srinagar. One of an elderly professors related to me that whenever, immediately after 1947 , a person intended to go to Jammu, he had to board bus at Lal Chowk, which would wait for passengers for several days and even after that many seats would remain vacant.  However, in the aftermath of independence, the transport system made tremendous progress. Presently even the remotest parts of the state is connected or being connected to the capital city. There is huge network of roads, most of these are metalled and modern means of transport ply to every nook and corner. Thus travel has become very comfortable.

These facilities which are available for everybody and  everywhere now have however  created many a problems as well. Some of these problems are discussed below:-

Traffic congestion and parking difficulties, longer commuting.

These may be classified as:

1. Over dependence on artificial means.

2. Financial burden. 

3. Overcrowding.

4. Non availability of transport in peak hours. 

5. Accidents.

6. Monopoly.

7. Corruption.

8. Missmanagement.

Traffic congestion and parking difficulties: Congestion is one of the most prevalent transport problems in large urban agglomerations, usually above a threshold of about 1 million inhabitants. It is particularly linked with motorization and the diffusion of the automobile, which has increased the demand for transport infrastructures. However, the supply of infrastructures has often not been able to keep up with the growth of mobility. Since vehicles spend the majority of the time parked, motorization has expanded the demand for parking space, which has created space consumption problems particularly in central areas; the spatial imprint of parked vehicles is significant. Congestion and parking are also interrelated since looking for a parking space (called “cruising”) creates additional delays and impairs local circulation. In central areas of large cities cruising may account for more than 10% of the local circulation as drivers can spend 20 minutes looking for a parking spot. This practice is often judged more economically and effective than using a paying off-street parking facility as the time spent looking for a free (or low cost) parking space as compensated by the monetary savings. Also, many delivery vehicles will simply double-park at the closest possible spot to unload their cargo.

Longer commuting: On par with congestion people are spending an increasing amount of time commuting between their residence and workplace. An important factor behind this trend is related to residential affordability as housing located further away from central areas (where most of the employment remains) is more affordable. Therefore, commuters are trading time for housing affordability. However, long commuting is linked with several social problems, such as isolation, as well as poorer health (obesity).

Public transport inadequacy: Many public transit systems, or parts of them, are either over or under used. During peak hours, crowdedness creates discomfort for users as the system copes with a temporary surge in demand. Low ridership makes many services financially unsustainable, particularly in suburban areas. In spite of significant subsidies and cross-financing (e.g. tolls) almost every public transit systems cannot generate sufficient income to cover its operating and capital costs. While in the past deficits were deemed acceptable because of the essential service public transit was providing for urban mobility, its financial burden is increasingly controversial. It is observed that transporters in late hours ply less number of vehicles. The state Road transport vehicles which run during day hours stop plying in the afternoons only, in contrast to pre-1990 years, when most of the routes had late hours SRTC services. The private transporters in most cases ply only as per their comforts. Either they shift to their own localities or stop the vehicles after evening..

Difficulties for non-motorized transport: These difficulties are either the outcome of intense traffic, where the mobility of pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles is impaired, but also because of a blatant lack of consideration for pedestrians and bicycles in the physical design of infrastructures and facilities. This is case in metro cities in particular. In cities like Srinagar, the two wheelers are nuisance creators for pedestrians in particular. One can see the young boys doing stunt on their motor bikes and create nuisance. This is observed in places where eve teasers are common and also along boulevard and in many picnic spots.

Loss of  public space: The majority of roads are publicly owned and free of access. Increased traffic has adverse impacts on public activities which once crowded the streets such as markets, agoras, parades and processions, games, and community interactions. These have gradually disappeared to be replaced by automobiles. In many cases, these activities have shifted to shopping malls while in other cases, they have been abandoned altogether. Traffic flows influence the life and interactions of residents and their usage of street space. More traffic impedes social interactions and street activities. People tend to walk and cycle less when traffic is high.The places which were traditional markets have lost that function due to high traffic. This has led to loss of earnings of many vendors. Also markets like vegetable vendors, fruit vendors, etc. have been made to shift to far. Thus markets distanced from localities. People now need further commutation to buy the essentials.

Environmental impacts and energy consumption: Pollution, including noise, generated by circulation has become a serious impediment to the quality of life and even the health of urban populations. Further, energy consumption by urban transportation has dramatically increased and so the dependency on petroleum. Yet, peak oil considerations are increasingly linked with peak mobility expectations, where high energy prices incite a shift towards more efficient and sustainable forms of urban transportation, namely public transit.

Accidents and safety: Growing traffic in urban areas is linked with a growing number of accidents and fatalities, especially in developing countries. Accidents account for a significant share of recurring delays. As traffic increases, people feel less safe to use the streets. It is not only in urban areas that accidents take place.The is great rush on national highways which pass through rural areas. The heavy vehicles like trucks,tipers and army vehicles create nuisance on these highways and often accidents are reported. It has often been seen that on highways the drivers gain high and uncontrollable speed thus resulting in accidents. During night hours when there is less expectation of pedestrians, there are more cases of accidents.

Land consumption: The territorial imprint of transportation is significant, particularly for the automobiles. Between 30 and 60% of a metropolitan area may be devoted to transportation, an outcome of the over-reliance on some forms of urban transportation. Yet, this land consumption also underlines the strategic importance of transportation in the economic and social welfare of cities. Due to new schemes of increasing connectivity much of the land has been consumed. In Kashmir, where there is scarcity of land and most of the land is cultivable and source of for the agricultural/ Horticultural cultivation, a lot of land has got consumed in projects of National Highways extension, and railway track construction Thus  many farmers became landless and overall there has been decrease in the yield of fruit and crops.

Monopoly: Many transporters have gained monopoly on certain roads. They ,as per their wish ,ply or not ply the vehicles on roads. They charge fare as per their own will, without taking into consideration the fare fixed by the government . It often happens due to conflicting situation, during un-favourable weather conditions, late hours etc. There are many routes where excessive fare is charged from commutates and the administration remains as muck spectator to all this. Many instances can be shared about it. In Srinagar city  during late hours no normal traffic is available. The vehicles like Tata 407, L.P etc. stop plying just after dusk. So passengers get held at the bus stops and they are forced to pay excessive fare. Again some drivers who run for a particular route during day  time, do not take passengers beyond mid-way and they are forced to ride some other vehicle paying additional fare. In many instances vehicles of a particular route change their route in late hours due to non-availability of enough passengers on that particular route. Also light vehicles like Tata sumo etc. charge same fare from 5 kms. to 20 Ks. On some routes Rs. 20 is charged for 15 kms. and on the other routes Rs. 25/ is charged for the same distance. The Auto drivers break records of all monopoly. They charge double the rate during late hours ,when one is forced to pay that much amount.

Corruption: Corruption in the state and that too in government sector is increasing day by day. The transport sector according to some is topping the list. The corrupt practices are common here. The authorities of transport have failed to curb all this. The hafta, entry, chai, Iddi etc. are the terms which are used for the illegal money extracted from the drivers by the duty personals. All know when a vehicle is stopped by a traffic official that driver has to pay hafta or make anentry. Whether the official asks for it or not,  spectators have that in mind. Thus all are considered to be sailing in the same boat. You won’t find 100% drivers with genuine license. They have one or other deficiency in their documents. That is why? they fall easy prey to the corrupt official. If some official/officer of the traffic askes for the documents from a driver, he is never trusted doing it as his official duty but just a tactic of extracting money.

Furthermore the complaints against the traffic cops are to a great extent genuine . As observed personally while travelling from Jammu to Srinagar, the driver of the vehicle was stopped at several places within Jammu city by the traffic police officials. At initial place he was asked to pay chalan of Rs. 200/. The driver was satisfied that he will remain free from any such stoppages till he reaches Srinagar. But just after some minutes he was intruded by another traffic personal  demanding  something more. He satisfied him but at next post another corpse asked for some other thing and he was forced to pay some money and this continued till another posts.

Mismismanagement: This is another great problem in the transport system. The private transport system which is having great role in our state has several companies. These companies ply vehicles on multi or single route. This is a good thing if they work in competition but the competitive nature is not there. State RTC can be a very good competitor but it has a meek role in the local transport services. They just provide some vehicles to Jammu/Srinagar/Delhi and to some countable routes. The vehicles in urban areas from SRTC are very limited and do not ply in peak hours and during morning or late hours.

The private sector is grossly miss-managed. The chodari, who manage a particular route has no interest but in getting his commission. No complaint about the regularity, punctuality and frequency of the vehicle is entertained. There is no responsible person to whom the passenger can contact for the difficulties faced by them. However, in KMDA etc. which run big buses, which no longer ply in urban conglomerations have responsible and accountable management to some extent. But it has become ineffective due to limited number of vehicles.

Suggestions: The transport system is similar to circulatory system of a living body. If the circulatory system collapses the living body will collapse. It will be as good as dead.

The society will similarly come to a standstill if the transport system collapses. The  stack holders of the system, government and the private companies must not consider it only as their earning hood but as their responsibility to make it alive. The system must be modernised. The vehicles plying to different routes must be regularised taking care of all sections of people, all geographical areas and all durations etc. The government agencies must be serious to their duties and take proper responsible actions. Use of latest management techniques in the transportation system must be adopted. It is important that SRTC must play dominant role in local transportation. The city services which were running in pre-1990 years must be resumed. The system of mini buses which private sector has started must be adopted by the SRTC as well, so that a competition develops and traffic remains available till late hours.

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