In December 2019, in this column, this writer pleaded the state government and Imphal Municipal Corporation for taking action against the part occupation of roads and roadsides by individuals for their own benefits; imperilling people using the roads. Parking of vehicles, dumping of waste, stacking of building materials, extension of shops, display of store items, etc are common occurrences seen in almost all roads in the city. Then the focus was on Imphal Municipal area; the worst affected and if action is taken there and the result seen, all other places is bound to follow suit.
It is small mercies, that after more than two years, the State Public Works Department had on March 28, 2022 issued a public Notice on the subject “Illegal Construction/ Parking of materials in the Right of Way” wherein it was provided that individuals who occupy illegally the Right of Way (RoW) shall be treated as an offence / misdemeanour punishable by a fine of up to Rs 200/ cum/ day for construction materials, and Rs 200/ sqm/ day for temporary structures and equipment and in case the individuals fails to clear the RoW within 15 days from the date of issue of the notice (28.03.2022) imprisonment for up to 90 days and confiscation of the materials and clearance by the Department (PWD) for a suitable method of disposal was made known.
Despite inaction for years it is indeed laudable that the state government has woken up on this aspect and taken steps to redress it and it is hoped that the roads of Manipur will be free of obstacles which not only causes inconveniences but even accidents.
The challenge, however, is on the implementation and without the support of the police and the public the efforts will not bear fruit. From say 7 am to 10 am, police teams may go around daily and penalise on spot those who violate by using part of the road. This may be followed by senior officers to check whether the teams are performing their duties sincerely.
The PWD must also depute staff and officers to inspect daily or weekly such misdemeanours on the various roads and in fact stretches can be allotted to each employee for regular checking. A public grievance cell where people can contact with information for such mischief needs to be set up so that feedbacks from the public are made available for the authority to act.
After the notice period, steps must be taken to ensure that all illegal structures/ obstacles are removed, irrespective of the individuals whether he is connected or not. A few cases of nepotism or corruption in the process can derail the whole effort. The need to maintain public space must be made to be felt and once a system is put in place and properly monitored, it will become a habit.
The notice, however, do not take into account the parking on the side of the roads. In another column published in November 2018, this writer had pointed out the need to regulate proper parking and that those who do not have space for parking in the night must not be allowed to purchase vehicles. Such a system is adopted in many countries.
The public roads and spaces must not be allowed to be used as overnight parking space and if anyone wants to purchase a vehicle he must first ensure its proper night parking by converting or constructing the basement or the ground floor as a garage.
The persistent habit of parking only in front of the store where purchases are being made also needs to go; people must park properly and walk a short distance, if necessary, for making purchases.
Short cuts, which cause inconveniences to the general public, must be deterred. In other words, civic sense must be drilled into.
While on parking, in the North AOC area, the western side of the road was claimed to have been reserved by a private clinic and their engaged security chase out any other vehicles which tries to park, sometime leading to harsh words. They claim that it was reserved for the staff of the clinic with permission or license. If this is true, which authority had given the right to reserve the roadside for parking by that particular clinic? And under which authority can make such an arrangement, especially on a road which is part of a National Highway? This needs a proper enquiry as the existing system has caused serious inconveniences to the general public who need to park their vehicle for a short time when there is a major official function at Imphal Hotel or otherwise. Further, how was building permission granted to major buildings by the side of the road without any parking facilities?
Such permissions must have been given by greasing the palm of the concerned authority and it will be proper to conduct a fresh enquiry for all such buildings whether they have in-built parking spaces for the staff or inmates. Where there is none, advice must be given to provide within a stipulated period for the same, or else commercial activity may be restricted.
To digress a bit, the decision for Manipur State Transport (MST) to ply buses on the Imphal-Mao route is not a bad initiative but the opposition by the private bus owners association came as a surprise. Their argument that only on the routes where private buses do not ply should be the responsibility of MST ring hollow as it indicates that they are afraid of competition. Elsewhere, private initiatives are believed to be more competitive.
One reason MSRTC failed was the lackadaisical approach of the government towards public transport. In all those places where the public transport corporations succeed is that some of the remunerative routes are strictly reserved for them and the profits from these subsidises other non-remunerative routes.
In Manipur, licences was given freely on all remunerative routes while MSTRC was made to handle mostly non-remunerative routes which causes high loss, making it unsustainable. Private players will not ply on non-remunerative routes and as the people located in such routes cannot be deprived of transport facilities, it is necessary that public buses ply by cross-subsidising from remunerative routes. With no public transport, private players can have a free play imposing their will by threatening to withdraw their services anytime or increase the fare at will. In fact, the Committee for fixing the fare should meet more frequently so that the operators, including the MST do not suffer loss due to the ever increasing fuel prices.
To reduce accidents, all major roads within the city limits need to have road dividers. Many have but still some are yet to have it and crossing such roads is a major hazard, especially for kids and the aged. The installation of footbridge at some places is a boon and more need to be constructed; one in front of MU gate deserves top priority. Maintenance seem, however, lacking on these footbridges as these were full of litters. One agency like IMC must be made responsible to sweep regularly these footbridges as their staffs sweep the roads regularly. Big shots do not use the footbridge so the condition is not known to them. CM or CS must one day stop their vehicle and see its condition!
The parking area above the Naga Stream must be utilised only for parking and no other activity must be allowed. Further, there is a need to have a multi level parking space within the Khwairamband bazar area and focus must be given on it rather than constructing more markets. The present system of allowing parking by the sides of the roads is not a desired mechanism as it slows down the traffic. Further, the tendency of traffic police and transport staff to stop vehicles to check must be done in roads big enough to cater to the temporary parking of those vehicles or done near places where a number of vehicles can be parked. This will ensure smooth flow of traffic.
The public must also be made aware of the need to reduce honking and ban overtaking from the left as the latter is dangerous and can lead to accidents. Merely honking will not give one the right to passage when the road is chock-a-bloc with vehicles; it only increases the decibel level, making people uncomfortable. This can even lead to road rage. The tendency to use part of the road by blocking it must be discouraged, where even part of NHs was blocked say for Thabal Chongba with claim that permission was obtained from the DC, who has no authority on NHs.
A positive step has been taken and it is hoped that it is implemented with all seriousness to ensure smooth flow of traffic and more such steps will be forthcoming for the benefit of the majority voiceless common man.