June 14, 2022 11:25 pm

Never Seen Before—‘4 Lakh Tourists, 6 Lakh Vehicles and Smart Bunkers’

Traffic scene in Srinagar. File Photo

WITH Chief Secretary setting the 15-day deadline for Srinagar traffic plan, the man-in-charge has called for the inter-departmental coordination for streamlining the surging vehicular flow in the city.

“There’re some engineering bottlenecks which lead to traffic jams in some city pockets but we [Traffic Department] aren’t responsible for it as it doesn’t come under our domain,” Muzaffar Ahmad Shah, SSP Traffic, Srinagar, told Kashmir Observer in an exclusive chat.

“The ease of the traffic department is dependent on other departments like Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), Roads and Building department (R&B), Power Development Department (PDD) and others.”

Srinagar, SSP said, is witnessing a massive footfall of tourists which the city has never seen. “The footfall of tourists is exceptional,” he said. “Last month, as per official figures, over more 4 lakh tourists visited the city.”

Under the Smart City Project, the city traffic chief said, Srinagar Municipal Corporation is making the smart, good-looking and presentable bunkers. “This is being done so that the security is not compromised,” he said.

 Edited excerpts from the interview follows:

SSP Traffic, Muzaffar Ahmad Shah. KO Photo by Auqib Javeed.

The Chief Secretary has asked for a detailed traffic plan in the city within 15 days. What’s your preparation and presentation?

Yes, the Chief Secretary has a specific view of how traffic should ply in the city. To make it more hassle free, we’re making some changes. The deployment will be reworked and we will brace up for the upcoming Amarnath Yatra.

But the city is in total traffic mess, people get stuck in jams for hours. Why has the traffic department failed to address the issue? 

No, I disagree. It’s not a complete mess, as you say. Yes, there’re some engineering bottlenecks which lead to traffic jams in some pockets.

Can you please explain it further?

See, there’re many places dotted with potholes. It takes nearly two minutes for the commuters to pass on the patch when it should only take them some seconds. It ultimately leads to traffic jams.

We raised this issue with the concerned R&B (Roads and Building) department, they’re looking into it.

Are you passing the buck?

No, I’m telling you the ease of the traffic department is dependent on other departments, like Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), R&B, Regional Transport Office (RTO) Power Development Department (PDD) and others.

For example, you can see the hump near Dhar Medicate at Dalgate, which leads to traffic snarls. The R&B department has to clear the bottleneck to ensure smooth traffic.

Similarly, you can see potholes near Natipora, Shalteng, Bemina, Qamarwari and other places which lead to traffic jams. We’ve raised the issue with the concerned department many times, but there’s no response.

Likewise, while SMC needs to free the footpaths from vendors, PDD needs to remove electric poles in the middle of roads for smooth traffic flow.

In short, all the departments need to chip-in to help our department to ease the traffic mess. But sadly, it’s our department which is being blamed for everything. People need to understand the whole scenario as well as actively participate in ensuring the smooth flow. Public welfare demands public participation.

Did the traffic department take-up the issue with the government?

Yes, we’ve done it already.

But then, people complain that the surge in pickets and checkpoints in the city adds to traffic mess. In many places, vehicles need to slow down to navigate the curves on barricades. How is the department dealing with it?

I can’t comment on that, but under the Smart City Project, SMC is making smart, good-looking and presentable bunkers. This is being done so that the security is not compromised.

But how’re you dealing with the surging volume of vehicles in the city?

See, the fact is Srinagar is witnessing a massive footfall of tourists. This tourist number is exceptional. Last month, as per official figures, over 4 lakh tourists visited the city. Srinagar has never witnessed this amount of traffic and isn’t used to this kind of vehicular footfall.

There’s also a dearth of infrastructure in place. Parking spaces remain full, forcing people to park their vehicles on the road leading to congestion. For pedestrians near the city center, there’re four bridges but for vehicles there’s only one bridge. Number of cars is increasing by the day. You’ve to have bridges across Jhelum for vehicles to cross to the other side of the river.

Plus, many unknown vehicles coming from other states are daily adding to the strain in the city. And don’t forget that Srinagar also receives a good number of vehicles from other districts.

So, you need to understand the roads are the same, the vehicles are increased manifold. There’re 23 lakh registered vehicles in J&K. A huge number of vehicles have been purchased from Delhi, Chandigarh, Punjab and other states and they are not-registered. I estimate the number of vehicles plying on the city roads to be around six lakh.

But you aren’t talking about the solution to this mess.

Look, when I took over the traffic management of Srinagar, we started a massive drive against the un-registered vehicles. In these five months, we filed over 1.25 lakh challans for wrong parking in the last five months. This is being done to deter people from creating traffic jams.

We implemented the order of Honourable High Court and banned commercial cabs to enter the city at Panthachowk and Parimpora Mandi. That saved us a lot of space. We tried to decongest the city by barring unwanted vehicles.

Also, we’ve stopped the unnecessary storage of commercial vehicles. We called heads of Tata minibuses and other cab operators and counselled them regarding the issue. We even filed 15,000 challans against Tata minibuses for obstructing traffic.

We also shifted to e-challan, which is proving very helpful for us in fining the people for wrong parking. We’ve 40 machines and it’s done in a matter of seconds.

But the ideal situation for me will be less challans. It means least traffic violations. We’re trying to change the mindset of people. But it won’t happen overnight. It’ll take some time.

We will also seize vehicles without High-security registration plates (HSRP) after 15 June. It will help us in decongesting the city from the un-registered vehicles.

People coming from North Kashmir and Central Kashmir have a lot of complaints regarding traffic jams near Shalteng, Parmipora, Qamarwari and Bemina-Bypass. Although we have witnessed new diversions and rerouting of traffic on longer routes to manage the traffic flow, it has created new bottlenecks. Your response? 

The government is constructing grade separators in these areas. In the phase–I, the work on grade separation is underway at Nowgam Chowk, Lasjan By-pass and Bemina Chowk.

In the phase -II, the government is likely to cover other junctions.

People also complain that the traffic signals aren’t working in the city. Why is it so?

There’re some technical issues in some places that are being addressed.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed