Two autos jostle for space in front of a no-parking sign near Raj Bhavan on Tuesday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
A little more than a month ago, Hiranmoy Chatterjee fractured his ankle when an auto-rickshaw suddenly screeched to a halt on the busy Kantatoli Chowk in Ranchi.
The 45-year-old Kokar resident was riding his bike and was behind the three-wheeler, which stopped suddenly to pick up passengers from the undesignated spot. Result: Chatterjee lost balance, fell off his bike and suffered a hairline fracture.
This is not a stray incident. Commuters in the capital face regular harassment because old and rogue auto-rickshaws blatantly violate a Jharkhand High Court ban, which came into effect on August 1 and was re-emphasised by a division bench on Monday.
Around 6,000 old and illegal auto-rickshaws were to go off Ranchi’s roads. Few have. Speaking to The Telegraph earlier, SP (traffic) Chandrashekar Prasad had conceded that they had failed to honour the court directive on auto-rickshaws in entirety.
On Tuesday, however, he insisted that over the past month they had cracked down on rogue three-wheelers. “From areas like Sujata Chowk, Booty More and Ratu Road, we have booked many autos for illegal parking and for causing snarls,” Prasad said.
But, the traffic problem persists.
“There are two major reasons — narrow roads and lack of civic sense among people,” contended Prasad. “I don’t deny that auto drivers still flout rules, but we are taking action against them,” he added.
What the traffic department could not say on record was that rogue auto-rickshaws have political patrons. “Some leader or the other owns these vehicles or supports them. It is difficult to penetrate the nexus and enforce the law. If we seize a vehicle, we face political pressure,” said a source in the traffic department.
Even after 12 years of being crowned capital, traffic is yet to be streamlined in Ranchi. People at the helm of affairs attribute the chaos to narrow and potholed roads and limited manpower (read traffic policemen) instead of making an earnest endeavour to thrash out a solution to the perennial problem.
When the high court effected its order to phase out old, smoke-belching vehicles (autos, buses and other commercial vehicles), Ranchi breathed easy hoping for smooth transport. Their expectations have gone up in smoke in two months.
Citizens like private bank employee Sumit Bhansal have learnt to cope the hard way.
He said he had to relocate to avoid regular traffic snarls. “I shifted from Kantatoli to Circular Road because of round-the-clock congestion caused by rogue autos and buses. The normal 10-minute drive from Kantatoli to Lalpur can take up to half an hour if you are caught in the bottleneck. I pay double for my new accommodation in Lalpur, but it is still better than the daily ordeal of traffic snarls,” he said.
Ranchi residents are angry. There is no one to answer their questions.
Are commuters to blame if the traffic department is staff-starved? Are they responsible if the authorities concerned do not undertake timely repair of roads? Should they suffer because the government has failed to put together an efficient public transport system?
The traffic SP’s response is the promise of a helpline where people can lodge complaints.
“As of now, people can dial 100 and register their gripes. We will soon have a separate line exclusively for traffic law violations. All problems will be addressed,” he said.
The harassed commuter knows better. Helpline or no helpline, the traffic department was and is clueless on how to tackle road rogues.
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