Traffic congestion is another civic issue that will hopefully be tackled by the intervention of the Supreme Court. The Delhi Police Commissioner was pulled up for ‘inaction’
This has to be said: The city of Delhi is not run by a multiplicity of agencies, but the Supreme Court. Last week, when Patriot wrote about the Ghazipur dumping site that has become a mountain of garbage with severe ecological consequences, it was the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) who was pulled up by the apex court for ‘inaction’. This week it was the turn of the Delhi Police Commissioner, Amulya Patnaik to be pulled up for disregarding the proposals made by a task force to remove encroachments and traffic bottlenecks in Delhi. This report was first presented to the Supreme Court in February last year.
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta found the Delhi government affidavit, filed by advocate Wasim Qadri, to be vague. “It does not specify the time that will be taken to clear the streets or provide alternatives to vehicular parking that block the roads. You need to tell us how much time will be taken — say, one month or two months,” the court observed and added, “For the sake of the people of Delhi, let the Commissioner of Police come and tell us what is happening.”
When Qadri tried to pass the buck, explaining that the commissioner was not the responsible authority, the bench cut him short by saying, “That is the problem in Delhi. Nobody is responsible. Should we call the Lieutenant Governor? Tell us whom you want us to call. If you want us to call the peon who carries the file, then we will call him also. We want to know about it.”
Delhi government has sought more time — 18 to 24 months — to implement the long-term measures, which include structural interventions like construction of flyovers and underpasses. And six months for short-term measures like decongestion and improvements in road geometrics. To this, the court retorted, “That means the people of Delhi will have to face bottlenecks for another two to three years?”
The court was reacting to Delhi government’s grand plan prepared by six teams constituted by L-G Anil Baijal for the removal of 77 traffic bottlenecks — out of which 28 are highly congested, 30 congested and 19 mildly congested corridors — in two years. Some of the highly congested corridors — roads like Mehrauli-Badarpur Road, Aurobindo Marg, Mathura Road and Chirag Dilli Road — will be accorded priority.
The affidavit maintains that congestion on these 77 points was due to “encroachments on roads, footpaths and central verges, illegal parking on roads, irregular pedestrian movement, narrow roads, parking of vehicles in narrow lanes leading to petrol pumps and CNG stations, improper design of intersections/junctions, presence of trees, toilets and other structures impeding traffic movement, non-availability of foot-over-bridges, subways or pedestrian crossings, non-availability of U-turns and underpasses for vehicular movement and improper road geometrics.”
Imagine in a humongous city like Delhi, where the vehicular population has been increasing at a fast pace, about 4,60,000 vehicles are added every year, and the number of registered vehicles is around 105 lakhs — more than the population of any city in Europe but for Istanbul. Cars and two-wheelers constitute about 94% of the total vehicles registered in Delhi. Delhi roads are not just congested but are also dangerous — on an average about 2,000 people lose their lives in road accidents every year.
It’s a matter of bewilderment: How does Delhi function with these 77 bottlenecks? And the authorities seem to be in no hurry to fix the problem.
What’s the problem?
There isn’t an effective deterrence system in place to curb traffic violations. There has been heavy deployment of about 2,000 traffic police personnel. Earlier this year, a new system was introduced by Delhi Traffic Police, whereby with the use of CCTV cameras on red lights, the traffic violator’s registration plate gets noted in the system and they are sent an e-challan. Not just that, to pay challan the violators have to present themselves at the Delhi Traffic Police headquarters in Thotapur. Despite these efforts, people don’t seem to mend their ways. Also, there are only three women traffic cops, and a male constable is forbidden to stop a woman driver. As a result, women drive with no fear, and in the last five years hardly any challans have been issued against a woman.
And men who get persecuted for bad driving are no better either. This year on Holi, some 9,300 people were booked for different traffic violations across Delhi, including 1,918 for drunk driving. Delhi Traffic Police was reprimanded by the SC for failing to curb wrong side driving and that led to a sudden crackdown by the traffic police. But such court-driven initiatives are not the best way to manage traffic. Statistics are revealing. More than six million motorists were booked by the Delhi Traffic Police last year and `94.25 crore was collected as fines for violation of traffic rules.
Piyush Tiwari, founder of road safety NGO SaveLife Foundation, is critical of Delhi Police reliance on archaic methods of managing traffic like heavy deployment of traffic police. While in developed countries, electronic enforcement is a much more successful and cost-effective way of checking traffic violations.
In Europe, transport system infrastructure is designed to minimise the possibility for fatal human errors. In addition, there’s increased focus on the functioning of human cognition, or how a driver acquires, processes and uses information while driving. It has been found, but may not be true in the Indian context, that majority of traffic violations are accidental and not an outcome of deliberate risk-taking.
There are various technologies used in automatic enforcement, like radar, video, laser, loops, piezoelectric cables and so on. The three decades of automated traffic enforcement is not just applied to speed and red-light violations, but also used for tailgating, lane keeping, seat belt use. The electronic identification of vehicles makes enforcement considerably more effective. Then there are in-car enforcement technologies, also called Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), which ensure that the driver is attentive and aware of the environment surrounding the vehicle.
But in Delhi, everything that happens, be it a demonstration, rain, waterlogging, breakdown of vehicle, even Kanwar Yatra or a marriage procession, it’s the traffic that comes to a grinding halt.