Everyday commuters in Srinagar lose precious time travelling through buses, which make frequent stops and are ill-maintained. The unregulated traffic system, recurring traffic jams and potholed roads add to their problems. Syed Asma reports.
Srinagar has a population of more than 12 lakh people. More than half of this population uses public transport for travel. But the old and poorly maintained buses, uncomfortable bus seats, narrow and potholed roads, and the unregulated traffic system makes life difficult for the commuters.
“Usually the corner place in the backseat in Tata buses make your legs ache because of the scarcity of the space,” says Zafar Ahmed, a commuter who travels every day from Chanapora to his office in Batamaloo. In most of the buses, a seat is added to accommodate more passengers, but this leads to the cramping of space.
Another problem is of overload and frequent stops. Passengers complain that the buses take double the time than it should normally take. Gazala, a government employee, complains that a large part of her salary is spent to reach her office. She is posted in Rajbagh and lives at Lal Bazar. “Most of my salary gets wasted on my travel expenses as almost every morning I have to change buses for their slow speed. Finally, I have to board an auto-rickshaw to reach my office in time,” shares Gazala.
Nafisa, a student of Kothibagh Higher Secondary School and who lives in Bohri Kadal, has a similar story to narrate. “Even though the distance from my college to my home should take just fifteen minutes, it takes me more than half an hour in a bus,” she says.
Roads in Srinagar are often left unfinished after digging up for drainage, leaving deep potholes. “The condition of the roads makes life more difficult for us. It is an everyday nightmare,” Gazala says. “At every pothole the passengers inside the bus go in for a roller coaster ride. The old buses, the uncomfortable seats and the overload make life hell. Sometimes people get inured too.”
But the bus operators say that they are making efforts to reduce the problems of passengers. “We are replacing our buses by new ones in phases to avoid inconveniences to our passengers,” says Sheikh Mohammed Yousuf, chairman of the Mini Bus Federation, Srinagar. “But we can’t change the condition of roads,” he adds.
Bad roads not only contribute to the uncomfortable rides but authorities believe that the speed of the vehicles is also affected by these. “Snail’s speed of traffic is attributed to three things – bad roads, encroachments and lack of infrastructure,” says Maqsood-ul Zamam, SP, Traffic, Srinagar.
Encroachment of roads are another contributing factor. About three-fourth of the road at Hari Singh High Street is covered with vendors, vegetable grocers and fruit sellers. Auto rickshaws and small cars are also seen parked in the chaotic place.
Citing “lack of coordination” between various government departments, Maqsood-ul-Zaman says that the traffic police cannot be blamed as “nothing works independently”. “I have at least written 50 letters to Commissioner, SMC to look at illegal encroachment on roads and footpath but he is not responding and that is not my fault. I have to give diversions to the traffic wherever required. These places have ample space for free movement of traffic if you take away the encroachments,” he adds.
“The diversion of bus routes lead to wastage of a lot of time,” says Mohammed Yusuf from the bus federation. If a person at Residency Road boards a bus, it takes him at least half an hour to get out of Lal Chowk itself, the reason being the diversions made in the traffic. “If we have 200 buses for Soura, 100 have to go through Batamaloo and the other hundred have to go from Maharaja Bazar via Lal Ded Hospital,” adds Yousuf.
Overtaking and rash driving is another area of concern. Every conductor takes up the job guiding his driver to overtake other buses. “The other day I was almost killed as our driver was playing with another driver on the same route. They were alternatively overtaking each other and at one moment the two buses collided sideways. I can’t believe that I’m still alive,” says Nadia, a commuter.
Maqsood agrees: “I have collected Rs 38 lakhs in the last three months and seized 3,000 vehicles including buses and small cars.”
At many places the absence of a traffic policeman to regulate traffic flow creates traffic jams. The duty of regulation here has to be taken over by the public. At times the traffic is regulated by the nearby shopkeepers. Accepting this, Maqsood says that the traffic department is understaffed. “There is only one traffic policeman in Srinagar for 4,000 vehicles,” he says.