Sunday, August 22, 2010

Govt’s knee-jerk reaction to traffic problem

The Independent,
Post Editorial
Sunday, 22 August 2010 00:07
Author / Source : M. Serajul Islam
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The Government's sudden decision to close down the schools during Ramzan is a classical example of a knee-jerk reaction to a very serious problem. Obviously, it was the result of some wise men in the Government waking up suddenly to offer solution to Dhaka's unbearable traffic congestion knowing that the Prime Minister is upset and angry over it. The only problem in such knee-jerk reaction is that government does not work that way, or the traffic. Like all previous initiatives of the authorities to tackle Dhaka's traffic problems, and there have been quite a good number, this latest knee-jerk reaction will also have only a small effect to Dhaka's traffic woes that have crossed the limits. In fact, I have found very little respite to my own owes on the road after the decision of the Government to close all schools for Ramzan. Area wise, this may have some positive effect, like in Dhanmandi which has become a hub of schools/clinics/shopping malls and cannot any longer be called a Residential Area. I reside in Gulshan and I travel to Motijheel every day. My travel time to and back from Motijheel has increased after the latest decision of the authorities to manage traffic. Strangely, after every effort of the government to ease traffic, traffic problems have aggravated. Every day, I pass the new connecting road from Tejgoan to the VIP Road near old Rangs Bhavan that was supposed to ease traffic. However, thanks to the new road, I have to spend 5 minutes each way to Motijheel and back for letting traffic move into this new road and out of it into the Tejgoan Road.

One cannot blame the authorities for not trying to tackle Dhaka's traffic problems. Very recently, the Prime Minister expressed her serious concern about Dhaka's worsening traffic problems at a Cabinet Meeting. This was also not the first time she has shown such concern. Initiatives after initiatives have been taken by this government since it came to office. While such initiatives have grown in arithmetical progression; the problems have grown in geometrical progression. One reason for this is the fact that the authorities have themselves contributed to aggravate traffic problems. Gulshan is as an example where certain authorities of the government are creating problems much faster than other authorities trying to resolve traffic problems. It is just a matter of time before Gulshan Avenue is declared unfit for traffic. The mindless and senseless permission being given by Rajuk for building multi-storied buildings on the Avenue that will house big corporate businesses, shopping malls, hotels and what not will increase manifold the already totally unmanageable traffic on the avenue. After these new businesses start their operations, the fate of the Avenue will be beyond reprieve. One does not need a crystal ball or to be a traffic management expert to predict the impending disaster awaiting Gulshan Avenue.

There is another strange aspect to the Gulshan Avenue that should amaze the readers. When traffic is of such nature on the avenue where the residents fear going out into the road more than they fear going into a rat infested room, the police authorities of all have thought it prudent to build at the southern tip of the avenue a mega shopping plaza. It is just not the traffic aspect of this plaza that should worry any sensible person, the fact that it is being built on what is no doubt part of Dhaka's wet land is what makes this project unbelievable. Next door to the police plaza, the authorities have given permission to one of Dhaka's major departmental store chains to open a branch. The shooting club community centre is about to become another mega departmental store but with little parking facility except on the Gulshan Avenue. The result of these two structures when they are ready for business will be a nightmare for travelers between Gulshan Avenue and the city centre. They would have to pray to the Almighty to cross the deep jungle of traffic that the city authorities are about to "present" them shortly. The new road that is being built around the Hatirjheel may not be much help either.

The mindlessness and senselessness of the authorities in permitting high rises on the Gulshan Avenue has been their inability to comprehend, willingly or otherwise, the number of cars and vehicles these new businesses would bring to Gulshan Avenue's jungle of traffic. With the Police Plaza and the new departmental store yet to come into operation, it takes me sometimes 10 minutes to come a few hundred meters from Road number 4 to the Avenue because the headquarters of such big private institutions such as BRAC and Banglalink have already turned the lives of residents into a mess. Traffic from these businesses uses the Gulshan Avenue as their legitimate parking area! In fact, road numbers 1, part of 2 and the whole of 3 have been turned into "official" parking space for those who do business or work in the corporate houses on the southern tip of Gulshan Avenue. Recently, as I was waiting to get to the Gulshan Avenue, I could not check my anger that part of the delay in movement of the traffic was due to cars that had double parked at the mouth of Road Number 3 as it falls into the Avenue with a policeman standing near these offending cars. As traffic was not moving, I came out of my car and asked the policeman why he was ignoring such a criminal violation. He pointed me to a traffic sergeant who was nearby. When I went to talk to him, he just casually told me not to worry and things would be taken care of! I knew it would not be as there is a connivance there; a connivance of corruption. Recently, the municipality is improving roads 1, 2 and 3 of Gulshan. It will not serve traffic movement but will be of better use for illegal parking of cars and more income for the traffic police lucky to be posted there.

My banker was very supportive of the closure of schools during Ramzan not for sake of improving traffic but for the positive impact it will have on his family. He told me that his wife who fasts has been having a very difficult time coping up with fasting, praying and then having to get up early to take their son to school. She was practically not getting any sleep at all. The news of closure of schools came as a heaven sent gift to her. After all every cloud has a silver lining; only in case of the cloud called traffic of Dhaka, the silver lining is just too thin with more threatening clouds in the horizon!

(The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt)

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