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Editorial: Srinagar needs public transport

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Srinagar needs public transport

‘A developed city is not a place, where the poor have cars, it’s where the rich use public transportation’ 

Anonymous

The traffic situation in the city has turned into a complete mess. The number of vehicles is swelling day by day whereas most of the roads see no expansion, resulting in frequent jams and lots of inconvenience to the general public.

Srinagar, which has been categorised as one of the 53 metropolitans with its population touching about two million people, will be an only city without any functional public transport. The smart city tag, which often the administration adds to Srinagar, looks sham.

Government with tall claims to develop the city on ‘international lines’ and make it as one of the prime tourist locations in the global map is giving little attention to building the road network and proper transportation system, which is considered the nerve centre of any vibrant city. The most important components of a liveable and environmentally sustainable city is a properly designed, efficient and affordable public transport system.

But here whole public transportation system of the city has been left to the beck and call of few transport associations – mostly owning minibuses unfit for ferrying public – who run it on their will, without keeping public convenience in view. Government has handed over complete control of the city’s public transport to those who have no accountability to general public. And even the number of these ‘mini-buses’ is dwindling each year.

Srinagar is the only city, which does not run Road Transport vehicles for the public, except for few electric buses introduced a year or so ago. A huge RTC fleet is staying idle, which could otherwise ease people’s lives and earn some money as well.

There is no Transport Authority, to govern the city traffic, plan for the roads and make policies for public transportation system. Transport and road planning gets marred between more than half a dozen government departments and bodies including traffic police, SMC, Srinagar Development Authority, R&B etc.

There have been a number of studies saying that public transport is more sustainable, occupies less road space and causes less pollution per passenger than personal vehicles. Government has no reason for not running RTC buses on some of the city roads, if not all. A good public transport system will automatically ease out the traffic on roads, as a number of people will prefer cost-effective mass transit instead of their own vehicles.

The transport system of the city needs to be managed by a single agency, which can work on a public-private partnership basis. All the privately owned bus operators, who work under different association banners but are accountable to none, can comply with the agency for having a proper route and timing plan.

City authorities can also benefit from various central schemes, which provides a number of incentives and investment support for building “high capacity public transport systems” in state capitals.

The metro rail project is a good step in the direction of the sustained public transport system for the Srinagar city, but one, it will take many years to become operational as the work is yet to commence. Second, the metro rail network will need to be aided with the well build bus network.

To see lesser traffic jams on Srinagar roads, make the size and number of the buses bigger.

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Editorial

Rising unemployment

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Rising unemployment

The rising unemployment is turning into a major issue in Jammu and Kashmir. The number of youth who want to work but find no jobs is highest in J&K, as per a recent study. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) recently released figures, J&K has a 21.6 percent unemployment rate that is the worst among states/Union Territories in India. Tackling the high unemployment rate needs a holistic response from the government, where it should be drawing policies to find long-term solutions. Otherwise, it is going to turn into a catastrophe in future.

But the government response so far is very short-sighted, where it does not have any real planning to create jobs for the unemployed youth of the UT. Though it is not possible for the government to provide job to everyone, but it is the responsibility of the government to bring such policies which will create more jobs, provide professional skills, right kind of education, and boost industrial and entrepreneurial activities, which will help the youth to find jobs. It is the government, who does all macro-level planning and decides policy matters, that includes a job policy as well.

In J&K, unfortunately, the government only burdens the state exchequer by employing more and more people in the government sector. J&K has the highest government job ratio as compared to any Indian state or a UT. Beyond government jobs, there is almost nothing from the government to offer. Self-employment and entrepreneurship have been made next to impossible, as the babuism and high handedness of the banks make it extremely tough for the educated youth to get loans and receive project clearances. Given the self-employment figures from the last few years, there is little room for any optimism.

Though it is not possible for the government to provide job to everyone, but it is the responsibility of the government to bring such policies which will create more jobs, provide professional skills, right kind of education, and boost industrial and entrepreneurial activities, which will help the youth to find jobs. It is the government, who does all macro-level planning and decides policy matters, that includes a job policy as well.

Despite many claims, the figures from the JKEDI, KVIB and other institutions responsible for the handholding of startups and new enterprises are not encouraging. Similarly, the last two years have been very tough for the people, who would go outside for jobs or small businesses. Due to COVID19, a huge number of people who were working outside have lost their jobs, while the imports of Kashmir crafts have nosedived.

Another problem is that, despite some initial efforts, there has not been much progress on the skill development front. J&K imports most of the skilled workers required in the construction sector or industries. There must have been incentives for the local youth for learning and doing such works. The rising unemployment rate and labour shortage do not sync. It indicates the skill gap and policy failure.

The Himayat programme, where ‘not so educated’ youth are provided with some communication skills and basic computer knowledge so they can work in the unskilled market in different industries and corporates. However, the programme has not shown so good results, as was expected by its planners. The retention rate of these trainees in different cities of the country is very less so far. Besides, creating a migrant labour force is not a panacea for the unemployment problem. To tackle the issue, the government needs to look for creating employment avenues within J&K by attracting investment.

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COVID19

Covid19 reopening: A close watch needed

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Covid19 reopening

Jammu and Kashmir, like other parts of the country, continues to battle the Covid19 pandemic. Though the number of daily positive cases is not as alarming as it would be a few months earlier, yet there are some indications of a slow rise in positive cases in the past few weeks. This situation clearly calls for very careful handling of the situation, especially in view of the apprehensions of a possible third wave hitting the country in the months of October and November.

In a welcome move, the Jammu and Kashmir administration recently ordered phased reopening of educational institutions, including colleges and higher-level schools. It was a long-pending demand of all stakeholders, in the larger interest of the student community, to allow children to return to their on-campus classes after a long hiatus. The move coincided with the phased reopening of businesses in the Union Territory to infuse a fresh lease of life into the otherwise ‘dismal’ economy that was badly hit in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic.

The post-pandemic situation calls for revival of economic activity to enable people associated with various trades to resume their businesses and earn a livelihood following a depressing scenario. There is a large section of the population directly dependent on daily earnings to make both ends meet.

There is no denying the fact that the post-pandemic situation calls for revival of economic activity to enable people associated with various trades to resume their businesses and earn a livelihood following a depressing scenario. There is a large section of the population directly dependent on daily earnings to make both ends meet.

It was therefore imperative upon the administration to take care of the interests of this section of the society. It is equally a fact that the resumption of academic activities across Jammu and Kashmir was the need of the hour to enable students to interact with their teachers and peers, re-socialise on the campuses and heave a sigh of relief. To this extent, the administration took certain welcome decisions. However, the fact that the pandemic is still not over can’t be overlooked in such a scenario. It is therefore important to watch the situation very closely for its better management and minimal disruptions in case of any eventuality like the third Covid19 wave.

The onus to ensure a close watch on the situation certainly lies on the officials concerned, especially the Deputy Commissioners of various districts. In the past two months, the number of daily positive cases largely ranges from 100 to 200. This is not alarming if a comparison of these figures is made with the figures of the previous few months. But the level of unpredictability is too high to be taken casually. On September 22, the UT recorded the highest single-day tally of 204 Covid positive cases—up from 145 cases recorded a day earlier. This is where the situation demands utmost caution. At the official level, it is important to keep a track of these figures to decide on further reopening. If the rate of positivity surges, it would be in the fitness of things to reconsider the further process of reopening and reimpose the curbs, wherever necessary. Alongside, it is imperative to ensure that mass gatherings are disallowed and people adhere to the Covid Appropriate Behavior (CAB) in letter and spirit. The administration also requires to watch the Covid scenario in other states of the country and handle the inflow of tourists and visitors to the UT accordingly in strict adherence to the SOPs. The situation just cannot be allowed to go out of control any longer. Sustained and focused attention on the situation can go a long way in facilitating its better management at all levels.

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Editorial

Srinagar roads unfriendly for pedestrians 

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Srinagar roads unfriendly for pedestrians 

Lack of footpaths, walkways makes it dangerous for people to move around in the city.

As the vehicular traffic in the Srinagar roads has witnessed an unprecedented rise in the last few years, it is becoming extremely dangerous for pedestrians to move around in the city. On the one side, fast-moving traffic is making it life-threatening to cross the roads and streets, while on the other side, illegal encroachment of footpaths, walkways is pushing back foot-travellers to walk alongside the cars and motorcycles on transport tracks at great risk to their lives.

When there are no legal provisions for protecting pedestrians and their movement, our government and policymakers do not plan safe passages, neither there are proper crossing points in their road designs. Existing footpaths and crossing points are ill-planned and without any zebra crossing signs. As on-street parking takes precedence over pedestrian infrastructure like paved sidewalks in our city planning, space for pedestrian movement is shrinking fast on the city roads. It is a dangerous trend for a city that homes more than two million people, is touted as a metropolis, and projected as a key tourist destination.

Modern cities are not only pedestrian-friendly, but they take special care of the needs of children and old age people. People with disabilities, especially those with mobility issues, face a hard time moving around in Srinagar city. There is no way that one can push around a wheelchair or a pram.

Pedestrian right of way needs to be the priority of any road planning in the city, but it is otherwise here.

Most of the existing footpaths – as the pavements or sidewalks are named here – are narrow or full of obstacles making them unfit for public use. There is no uniformity. At some places, these footpaths are so high that they look like a supporting bund or retention wall. At many junctions, they lack connectivity with each other. Electricity poles, TV and telecommunication cable poles, billboards, even city beautification lights and trees are installed, in such a way, that these footpaths automatically become unusable.   

While traffic lights have been installed at many major traffic junctions in the city from time to time, but most of them are not made functional due to unknown reasons. There are no pedestrian crossing arrangements at these traffic crossing points. Even vehicular blockades are laid without keeping into consideration foot travellers. Take the example of Jehangir Chowk – Exhibition Ground junction, which witnesses heavy traffic throughout the day. As there is no system to stop the traffic, to let the pedestrians cross, it is extremely difficult for the people on foot to cross the congested junction. (These issues cannot be overcome by painting the pillars of the overhead bridge.)

The same is the case ahead of Badshah Bridge near the Maisuma-Koker Bazaar crossing. People keep crossing in moving traffic, mostly at great risk to their life and safety. In fact, there are no designated pedestrian crossing points in the entire Srinagar city.  

While the administration keeps saying that Srinagar will be developed into a world-class ‘smart city’, they should note that it is not possible by allowing haphazard and unplanned constructions by both the private sector and the government agencies. 

Modern cities are not only pedestrian-friendly, but they take special care of the needs of children and old age people. People with disabilities, especially those with mobility issues, face a hard time moving around in Srinagar city. There is no way that one can push around a wheelchair or a pram.

To make Srinagar a modern city, its roads not only need redesign but more focus must be given to footpaths, sidewalks, bicycle tracks and sophisticated public transport. That is doable within the available resources.

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