No solution without a model

Zamir A. Qadri

An Arab proverb goes like this; Fahmus Sawaali Nisfun Jawaab. It means that understanding the question properly is equal to answering it partially. What this connotes is the simple proposition that the redressal of any problem should begin with understanding the problem fully. This applies to us individually as well as a society. This also applies to our public offices whose sole mandate is to work for the public good and alleviate the miseries of the masses.
In our case, however, the reverse has been happening so far. Instead of solving the day-to-day problems of the common people the government offices seem to be compounding them. Take for instance the issue of traffic management in our city. Everybody has his own solution for the problem without even understanding its causes. Widening of already wide roads, construction of flyovers at unviable places and directing public transport through by-lanes of the old city have all been proved as exercises in futility. There are even a few ignorant cynics amongst us who blame the J&K bank for the situation and ask it publicly to desist from providing vehicle finance to people. That our newspapers have the audacity to publish such ill-informed requests in their columns is however another matter worth debating. Raising, as it does, fundamental questions of the proficiency of our newspapers in understanding issues related to public good as well as banking and finance!
A thorough understanding of the problem will however reveal reasons that are altogether different from the ones that are in the public perception. A back-of-the-envelope analysis will reveal that the absence of a robust civil transport system in our valley is the mother of all our traffic related ills. For one, the commuter buses plying on our roads are anything but a respectable means of transport. Ironically, Srinagar is perhaps the only city in the country where such contraptions are allowed to ply on the roads for ferrying passengers. Cramped spaces and seats in these buses make them the most desisted mode of transportation. Manned by private individual private operators, these buses throw safety and punctuality to winds. As a result people don’t mind using their own private vehicles instead, even if it means shelling out a few more bucks. One may ask a simple question to the authorities, that, why are they shying from deploying a city service of the state owned SRTC at select routes of the city even if only during the peak hours. If a densely populated city like Mumbai with proportionately less road lengths can manage a regular bus service across all points of the city, why cannot it be done in Srinagar which has a manageable commuting population and a sizeable kilometer lengths of unused or underutilized roads.
It is obvious that the slumber and inaction on part of the authorities has led the market dynamics to play in their own way. It is not again a coincidence that it is only in the Valley that the ‘Sumos’ are the most preferred form of public transport. Given the quick bucks that can be made in the route permit system, the regulatory authorites would naturally allow more route permits to ‘Sumos’ rather than to streamline the existing fleet of vehicles .
Internationally, either of the following two models is followed to manage road transportation problems. One is to make private vehicles affordable by reducing taxes on them and not to invest into the ‘public transport system’. Second is to invest heavily into the public transport system, make it cheaper and make owning private vehicles a costly affair. Both the models work perfectly as per the local regional demographics. In our case there is no model and hence no solution.

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