In one of his site inspections to the main market area of Imphal, Chief Minister N Biren Singh had urged the residents, shop owners, shopkeepers to refrain from parking their vehicles on the roadside. It was his idea of decongesting the traffic in the core market area, and the periphery roads.
While no permanent parking will be allowed in these areas, the residents of Thangal and Paona Keithel will be provided parking spaces for their vehicles in the parking lots allotted over the slab-covered Naga River. Well, disallowing permanent parking in the main bazar is a good step. But, as far as we remember, the original idea of covering the Naga River with concrete slabs was aimed at preventing people from dumping wastes in the river while also providing public parking to shoppers coming to the market which may or may not include vehicles of the Bazar residents. MAHUD officials should have pointed this out to the Chief Minister. For one, officials charged with city development should school themselves in the history of the city. Talking of history, a small stretch of the Paona Bazar was once a concrete paved street built during the British days. Only a few years ago, it was carpeted using bituminous materials during the Congress regime. Strange are the ways of Congress government then, when it covered the rigid pavement on both sides of the Bir Tikendrajit Flyover using bituminous materials.
Now, under the Smart City Mission, construction of Mall Road on a small stretch of Thangal Bazar from entry point up to Kasturi building is going on with concrete pavement. This indeed is a good initiative. However, we would like to flag two issues which concerns the Smart City initiative. The first suggestion is of making the entire stretches of Paona Bazar and Thangal Bazar pedestrian-only streets while the second is declaring the entire core Bazar area as commercial zones. Pedestrian only streets prioritize people and are typically most appropriate in corridors with commercial activity on both edges of the street. The pedestrian volume is high in these streets and so, vehicular traffic should be restricted. These streets offer opportunities for diverse activities such as shopping or sitting, dining or performing. When placed, designed, and maintained well, pedestrian-only streets become a destination in itself and result in economic benefits for adjacent businesses.
The night plaza introduced by the present government in its early days on the Kangla Pat stretch, in an effort to bring back night life in Imphal city can move over to these streets once construction of the Mall Road is finished. Again, non-motorized transport could be introduced including cycling tracks besides the pedestrian-only movement in the core area.
Moving over to the suggestion of commercial zone, our main issue is with the residents of the core Bazar area. Only business and commercial activities should be allowed in these two Bazar areas and the present residents should move elsewhere probably in an enclave for the business community provided by the state. If we remember correctly, the State cabinet had earlier decided to move godowns from the core area to the periphery areas. Same could be done in the case of Bazar residents, in line with the concept of a Smart City. The business lobby would certainly be up in arms both in the cases of pedestrian-only streets and declaring of the core area as a commercial zone.
That much is guaranteed. But it has to be dealt with in public interest. Yes, a strong political will is needed.