Monday, August 23, 2010

Circle to square, R/H to L/H ?

Sample this : How do you change a circle to a square ? No, don’t try to recollect all the mathematical formulae or geometrical definitions of circle and square and obtuse angle or such things for the answer is simple: Change Connaught Circle to Rajiv Square. This was the punchline given at the end of an article written by the inimitable, TVR Shenoy, in The Week many, many years back, when the Narasimha Rao Government was in power at Delhi and all Congressmen were trying to outdo each other in the sycophancy department. This was sometime in the early 90s. Now fast forward 20 years and Manipur has perfected the art of changing the right wheel drive norms to a left wheel drive with just the snap of the finger, by just changing the entry and exit points of vehicles in the busy Paona bazar. The objective is laudable. Who wouldn't welcome the idea of easing the traffic flow in the heart of Imphal ? To get a better understanding of the traffic chaos in Imphal, allow us to digress a little bit. It was not like this, and one can recollect the good old days, when Imphal had no need for one way traffic and driving along the Kanglapat road, especially in front of M Sector and the Raj Bhawan was an experience in itself. School kids used the bicycles to go to school, not buses or fancy two wheelers as we see today. The rickshaw was the main means of movement for the people in Imphal and so were bicycles. However with India opening up her economy, the consumers got spoilt for choices. Earlier it was either the Ambasador or the Premier Padmini, but today there are a whole lot of choices that one can make, from Tata's cheapest car in the world, the Nano, which comes with a price tag of Rs 1 lakh, to some of the high end vehicles. Mahindra and Mahindra could no longer rely on their outdated Jeep, but were compelled to innovate and come out with an array of new models in the face of the people of the North East and Kashmir and the Army gradually opting for the Gypsy which came from the Maruti stable. Thus we see the up market Scorpios and Boleros, complete with different variants, hitting the roads of Manipur today. The same thing happended in the two wheeler sector. Today it is no longer about tossing a coin between a Bajaj 150 or a Bajaj Super/Chetak or any other two wheelers that came in the look and form of scooters and not motor bikes. Hero Honda changed all that and there are reasons why this company has managed to top Bajaj in the two wheeler sector. With hitherto unheard of job openings coming up in the last few years, landing a job in the private sector if one as the attitude and aptitude, has become all that more easier. Going hand in hand with all these phenomena, in the post liberalisation era, are the generous bank loans on offer now. Maruti tied up with the State Bank of India and getting a car with a down payment of only 25 percent of the total, means one could buy a Maruti 800 car with Rs 50,000 in hand. The rest of course had to be paid on a monthly basis over a period of time which may range from three to six or seven years. The conditions applied in such transactions are also simple and if one is a Government employee, all the easier, since it needs only the nod of the person, who is in charge of releasing the monthly salary of the employee concerned. For others, it would mean having a fixed deposit account, which will serve as the safety deposit. Manipur has reaped this dividend and unlike 20 or so years ago, when a leikai had only one family owning a car, that too, the doctor or the Engineer or some hot shot contractors, today almost every household has a vehicle or two at their disposal.
We have cited these factual records to have a better understanding of the traffic chaos that we see everyday on the streets of Imphal. With the buying capacity of the people going up, coupled with the availability of a number of options, the number of vehicles plying on the streets of Imphal have increased manifold. Unfortunately, the Government forgot or did not realise that they too have to move along with the time and study how the existing roads can accommodate the increase in traffic volume. Remember the time when the Government decided that no vehicles will be allowed inside Thangal bazar and Paona bazar in the face of the growing traffic congestion in these commercial centres ? At the risk of blowing our own trumpets, we would like to say that we were the first newspaper to react and point out the fallacies of such a quixotic idea. Not surprisingly, this decision was revoked and everything came back to square one. A traffic free zone is a welcome idea, for it would mean not only doing away with congested streets, but also ensure that at least we can cut down on polluting the environment. However, any course of action or plans taken up by the Government should be led by wisdom and a carefully thought out plan. We really do not know who advises the Chief Minister on matters like this, but the new traffic regulations put in place right now has not only added to the confusion of the people, but has also wittingly or unwittingly violated the right hand drive traffic norms of the country. The entry point at Paona bazar from Keishampat side has been sealed to all vehicles and one now has to take the Kanglapat route, take BT Road and if one has to go to Paona bazar, then take a left turn near the fly over bridge. This is where the interesting point lies. This inevitably means that any vehicle headed to Paona bazar, from the northern side, will have to take the right side to park their vehicles ! This does not make sense for it goes against the right hand drive norms in India. The auto rickshaw and Tata Magic taxis have been told to shift base to either behind Johnstone Higher Secondary School or near the MPP office. This appears fine, but the question is, how they exit from their parking lot with the passengers ? Half baked ideas cannot be the answer to the issue right now.

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