Monday, December 12, 2011

Chronic traffic jam: Government at wits’ end

In the last few months since the beginning of the peak coal business season in the state not a single issue of The Shillong Times was without any reference to the traffic jam on the national highway 44. It is a matter of grave concern that the honourable high court based on reports appearing in this paper took cognizance of the problem and took the government to task for failing in its duty to solve this chronic problem. It is another reason that the problem received much publicity because the state capital and the Guwahati-Shillong road was hit the hardest by the traffic jam and everybody from top government officials including the honourable judges to the hoi polloi in the street was affected by the same. It would have been different if only the Jowai-Shillong and the Jowai-Badarpur section of this highway were to have been clogged.

It is not that the Government is not doing anything to free the highway from the regular traffic jams. Our policemen from Khliehriat to Byrnihat have made all out efforts to free the road of traffic jams, but the solution seems to be short term in nature. The traffic branch in Shillong and Jowai have tried every known trick to ease the jam by controlling the entry the exit of trucks to Jowai and Shillong but to no avail. Policemen, particularly the home guards that the police have engaged in traffic management will continue to lose sleep till the summer of next year (end of the coal peak season) as long as the government is a not able to come up with long term solutions to the problem. It is nice to know that the PWD department has taken cognizance of the suggestion made in this column last winter and has floated tenders to revive the Nartiang-Nongpoh road. Hopefully it will help reduce the number of trucks plying on the NH 44. But the problem is the road was made as per state road specification and not according to national highway standards. This means loaded trucks cannot use this road; however the commissioning of the road will be of help to ease the traffic on the Shillong-Jowai section of the road because the police will have the option of directing the empty or unloaded trucks coming from Guwahati to take a detour from Umiam to Nartiang and Ladrymbai- Khliehriat thereby bypassing not only Shillong but even Jowai too.
The government seems to depend on the Shillong bye-pass as a saving grace for its failure to come up with a long term solution to the chronic problem, but the question is for how long? Of course it will be a long respite for the people of Shillong for they will be free of the monstrous trucks which pollute the air of the city with the smoke and noises from the (banned) air horns but the Shillong-Guwahti road from Umiam downwards will continue to face the same problem. The Chief Secretary has also made a statement that the government will increase the number of police personnel to man the traffic but this will also be a short term remedy only. The other pertinent question is also when will vehicles be able to start using this road? The government must complete the project within this financial year because the fate of many of its candidates in the 2013 elections (next winter) will be partly influenced by the traffic mess. Then there is a technical question too. Now the contractor is using limestone for metalling and blacktopping the road. The question is whether limestone give us a durable road?
No doubt the much hyped Lanka-Sutnga railway connection will help ease the traffic snarl but there are two important issues that we have to take into consideration before we even think of the proposed rail project. (1) Is the proposed project not going to have any impact on the Saipung I and Saipung II reserve forests? (2) Is the proposed project planned with due consideration for sustainable development in the state? Are we even thinking of sustainable development or are we in hurry to exhaust all the mineral resources we have? Mr. E.K. Mawkhiew Dept. of Geology KN College, Jowai in the second District level seminar conducted by the Kiang Nangbah Government College on November 29, 2011 in collaboration with the office of the District Planning Officer, Jaintia hills and the Meghalaya College Teachers Association, Jowai unit on the theme “Coal mining and its impact on the environment of the district,” shared some startling light on the facts and figures of coal mining in the state.
As per information collected from the coal directory of India, 2008-09, coal controller’s organization, Kolkata, the share from the three districts of Meghalaya to the total 576.48 Million Metric Tons coal deposits is as follows: 391.22 MMT in Garo Hills, 146.26 MMT in Khasi Hills and only 36.00 MMT in Jaintia Hills. According to records collected from the Directorate of Mineral Resources, Meghalaya from the year 2003 to 2010, Jaintia Hills has extracted 37,22,211 Metric tons, Garo Hills 15,62,008 Metric tons and Khasi Hills 4,82,798 metric tons. So by the time Sutnga is connected by rail, considering the facts and figure available, coal in Jaintia Hills would have been exhausted. But the fact of the matter is if the railway line comes through it will directly benefit the two cement plants in the Sutnga-Nongkhlieh area co-owned by the two Congress leaders in the district.
All the above remedial measures to ease traffic congestion are diagnosed and prescribed based on the symptoms of the problem; traffic jams are one of the many symptoms of a much bigger diseases – mining. In the same Seminar R Lamarr lecturer of KNG College who chaired the academic session II drew an interesting analogy in his concluding remarks. Reminding the audience that one of the immediate impacts of coal mining is the fact that our movement from one place to another is hampered by traffic jam, he also reminded the listeners of an incident in the life of Mahatma Gandhi. In spite of being a learned counsel educated in England, Gandhi was not always in favour using allopathic medicines to cure sickness. Parents of a boy who complained of stomach ache met Gandhi. He advised them against giving any medicine to the child and suggested instead that they should allow the child to suffer till he could figure out the cause of his illness which in all likelihood is gluttony. If the child is able to comprehend the cause of his illness he will be able to control his eating habit and will be free of stomach ache in the future.
The people of Meghalaya had suffered enough and hopefully we are intelligent enough to realize that the cause of traffic jams and many other problems like environment degradation and growing numbers of crime is due to mining. The crux of the problem is mining. This gives rise to influx problem, land alienation and increase in crime rate.
A permanent solution to the problem can only be by discovering ways to treat the heart of the trouble. Deputy Chief Minister B.N. Lanong’s procrastination on the draft mining policy will unfortunately not be able to help him save the land of his ancestors and ironically mining policy is the only medicine that can control and cure the problem. Lanong who is the president of the major regional party, the UDP is holding the magic wand in his hand and the longer we delay in enacting the policy, the longer people will have to live with all the problem that comes with mining and particularly the woes caused by traffic jam.
(The author is a researcher and environmental activist).

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