It has turned out to be one of the toughest jobs for policemen, to streamline the traffic in the city, and every now and then senior police officers are transferred out to bring officers who can do a better job. But it has hardly resolved the problem of traffic mess in the Srinagar city. But now a young woman police officer has been put in charge, and she feels it is hardly a challenge to manage the traffic in the city. She is confident that like in her previous postings, she would again rise up to the challenge. Our correspondent Irshad Khan speaks to Sargun Shukla, the head of the city traffic.
Q: Did the new appointment come as a challenge to you after serving as Additional SP Bhaderwah, more so given the mess Srinagar traffic is in currently?
SS: Any new posting per se is a challenge. The new appointment is not really a challenge (smiles). I am familiar with Srinagar as I have trained here. The traffic framework here is nothing unusual. The mess in the city traffic is because people don’t have a civic sense. Drivers especially those of buses stop wherever they want to. Even people board and light these buses in the middle of the road. That said, there are shortcomings on our part as well.
Q: In your maiden press conference after assuming charge, you said smooth regulation of traffic would be your priority. How do you do that?
SS: The diversions necessitated by the various developmental projects undertaken by the government in the last few years have been the predominant challenge. But then such things are inevitable, rather necessary. We can’t undermine the city’s development. If at all we don’t want to obstruct Srinagar’s upliftment, we got to support the government.
To ensure the diversions don’t consume much of the time of the common people, we will focus on a one-way traffic on the different diversions already in place. On some specific places where we think a two-way movement clogs the traffic, we will try to tap some easy-to-go alternatives there. I have talked to the Divisional commissioner also in this regard and he has assured us all the necessary cooperation from the government’s side.
We are also trying to reach out to people especially the youth through radio and social media. We have recently created a facebook page where we are putting the diversion plan for a particular day so that people get to know beforehand and take a route convenient to them. I think the media has largely been undermined in the past. I see a lot of potential in especially the social media through which we can address the traffic mess in the city to a large extent.
Q: But aimed to cater to the city, there are updates on the highway on your facebook page instead. Is there a need to make it more relevant?
SS: The page is still in its infancy stage (smiles). It has been only a few days since we have created the page. Being a lifeline altogether, it’s imperative to primarily focus on the highway. But that in no case does that mean we are undermining traffic in Srinagar. Hopefully in the coming days, the page will have relevance to the city traffic as well.
Q: People before you have been projecting Traffic Police as “just a law-enforcing agency”. Is that passing the buck or is it really so?
SS: It is exactly like that. We are only for regulation and enforcement. On top of that if I see people driving rash, or without a seat belt or a helmet, it’s my job to make you accountable for that. Moreover people have the misconception that we are meant for issuing licenses and removing encroachments from the roads which we are not. The RTO and municipality are there to see into these matters. Despite that, and over and above our mandate, we try to support these establishments as much as we can.
Q: But policing on vehicles has been episodic rather than systematic. Last year also, there was a literal crackdown on two-wheelers without helmets. But eventually, things freeze out. Why is that so?
SS: There has to be an element of surprise for the people. These are special drives undertaken by the department focusing on one element at a time. At times we will be focusing on helmets and on seat belts on others. We will be continuing such drives in future also. As of now the priority is regulation. Our priorities may be different at different times, but ultimately our aim is to provide relief to the common people.
Q: In the press conference, you talked of overloading in public transport buses. But don’t you think overloading takes place because public transport on the roads is almost negligible?
SS: If there is shortage of public transport, people need to raise the issue at an appropriate forum. That said, that doesn’t give people an excuse to become suicidal. An overloaded bus poses a threat not just the people inside it, but also the people walking on the road as well. Within Srinagar city, we have public transport vehicles in excess plying on the roads. People are just not patient enough to wait for them.
Q: You recently met transporters of the valley. What did you talk about?
SS: The cooperation from the transporters is absolutely imperative. We can’t do anything independently. Things would only be sorted if we work together for a mutual aim. I have requested them for cooperation. They have assured to comply, but there is a need of a consistent engagement with them.
Q: You have also claimed that people will feel the change in the coming days. But what do you for a long-term plan to at least jar the traffic clogging in Srinagar?
SS: That is not something I can do it alone on my own. We have to do it together. I need the people’s cooperation. Youth form the major chunk of our population here. So it will be an achievement if we can engage them to cooperate with us. Reaching out to the drivers here also has long been ignored. We also need to educate them as well. We will also reconsider the diversion plans already in place and see whether there is a room for any flexibility. Whatever be the means, the commuters must benefit.