Murderous Traffic Problems
Walking along the road from Asan to Indra Chowk to Hanuman Dhoka to Kathmandu Ganesh (also known as Ashok Binayak) used to be fun as well as some kind of healthy exercise some years ago. But today, the same walk is proving to be a nightmare, which is best avoided as the area is full of air and noise pollution, and, moreover, it is highly dangerous because of the way in which cars and motorbikes are driven in such a busy thoroughfare.
Those in power and those who run the city would do well to take a walk along this route as well as many other small lanes and by-lanes in the city to find out what torture the people have to go through to even walk along these areas. The core of the city has been left a mess because of the inattention on the part of high officials and political leaders to the ever-growing problems faced by the citizens as well as visitors to the city. How long can anyone allow this kind of disorder and chaos in the city to go on and on?
The problem that most of the people who walk in the busy areas face has been highlighted time and again in the media, but nothing seems to have been done to control the situation and bring some order in these affected areas. We all know the important place a modern transport system occupies in the development of the country, but blind aping of life styles of others without realising the responsibilities can extract a heavy price not only on the erring few but to the whole society and the country.
The fact is that there have been many sensible and good traffic regulations in the past, but they have all been discarded now for no good reason. May be some of these rules were made in the pre-2006 period, which some would term the autocratic regime period. Maybe so, but good laws, whether made by autocratic authorities or democratic ones, need to be adhered to.
For instance, it was made compulsory for motorbike pillion riders to wear helmets, but now we have done away not only with this rule (which saves lives) but also opted that more than two persons can ride on a motorcycle. Is this the right thing to do because we are a democracy, and one presumes that in a democracy one can do what one pleases without caring for the laws, rules and regulations, and above all without caring for the convenience of other people? Democracy is hardly such a concept, under which the rule of law prevails and not the whims of an autocrat or of an elected political leader. Law in a democracy applies equally to everyone whether one is a political leader or a humble citizen.
In the absence of elected local leaders, the officials of Kathmandu or any other city or town municipality is not only going against the traffic laws but also sowing the seeds of conflict between the haves (those with motorised vehicles) and the ordinary citizens who have to walk to their work or who just loiter around the city but face traffic hazards.
Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is by all accounts a small city, but it must be one of the most populous in the world with a density of population said to be over 20,000 per square kilometres, a fantastic rise from just two decades ago. But the fact is that the city is small, and there is little space for the proper Kathmandu to grow because of lack of space as the Kathmandu Valley itself has three different cities. So unlike Islamabad or New Delhi or Dhaka, Kathmandu cannot go on growing nor can the roads and streets in the heart of the city be broadened to make it an easy ride for dare devil motorised vehicle drivers.
Kathmandu city, as we know it, was not made for cars and motorbikes, and hence the authorities need to think seriously about what is to be done in these areas. Should vehicles – except emergency vehicles – be banned from entry in such areas? Or should some parts of these areas have just one way traffic systems? Experts both at the Kathmandu Municipality as well as the Roads Department and the Traffic Police should sit down and find the best answer to the problems facing the city.
It is especially important for the Kathmandu Municipality to ensure that the people do not face unnecessary problems because of unnecessary vehicular movements. For instance, visit the Akash Bhairav Temple at Indra Chowk any afternoon or evening and witness the traffic chaos and the problems faced by the ordinary people there. And this is not an isolated spot; many of the areas in the core of the city face the same kind of problem to a lesser or greater degree.
It is the prime responsibility of the Kathmandu Municipality and its officials to overcome these problems with the cooperation of concerned agencies. But what can we expect from an entity that wants to build the tallest structure in the city without bothering to fully explore what it will mean to the traffic situation in that area, apart from other consequences in other equally important areas such as the environment?
The traffic problems in the city must be grappled with no matter what. May be the odd/even experiment being tried out by the Delhi government could be put to good use here in Nepal, beginning with the Kathmandu Valley. But such rules can only be made by a government which also ensures that there are no exceptions to the rule with the sole exception being emergency vehicles. But this, of course, is too much to hope for. But the authorities must start somewhere if the murderous traffic problems are to be solved.