New Shillong but Same Old Mistakes

By Aibanskhem Nongspung

Traffic congestion in the city of Shillong has practically become part of our daily burden. and the future does look bleak. Perhaps the solution to this problem will happen when hell freezes over. No matter how much we complain about it , traffic problems are here to stay . To use the excuse of being stuck in traffic as the reason for being late to school or office has become trite to say the least. But what is disheartening and frustrating is that nothing is being done to avoid repeating the traffic problems and errors in the so-called New Shillong Township .

Traffic woes have become an everyday plight especially along the stretch of road leading towards NEIGRIHMS, particularly the Mawpat – Itshyrwat junction . This was not a problem of the past but is of recent origin. As one would expect, this is a by-product (economists would call this a third party effect or more precisely a negative externality) of the developing New Shillong Township. Between 8 to 10 am, bumper to bumper traffic at this junction makes the business of everyday life come to a standstill. To make things worse, there is no proper demarcation of lanes. The traffic congestion extends to all sides of the road and right up to Itshyrwat hill. Two wheelers, four wheelers, school buses, ambulances, lorries, army trucks, excavators etc., are all caught in the commotion. During this rush hour everyone wants to take a left or right turn or move straight and in the process things turn from bad to worse. To aggravate things even further, a good number of the vehicles from Assam and other states ply via this narrow junction en-route to NEIGRIHMS and NEIAH.  Safe to say that the traffic congestion is caused by lack of common sense and improper traffic management, but the latter seems to be the more probable cause at the moment .

Keeping in mind that this junction  leads into the so-called New Shillong Township, one might say that it’s the entry gate to New Shillong. The term New Shillong has always been a misnomer to many. At times, it feels like the term was coined by estate agents to drive up the price of land in this area. As things stand, this term has not necessarily reflected a shift of development to this new place, although that was the whole idea of designating it as New Shillong. Moving government offices and other institutions to this new site does not make it a new version of the city. A proper foundation or infrastructure built around it is imperative. This needs to be different from the one existing in the old city (let’s call this old Shillong). In particular, we need new and innovative road infrastructure and proper traffic management. Without them, the whole purpose of having a new township gets defeated. Construction of wider roads and flyovers at critical junctions is important to ease the traffic congestion. Given the high earthquake vulnerability of the region, the idea of having flyovers has so far been unfathomable. But why not take calculated risks and venture into unchartered territories?  I am sure there are experienced engineers and skilled technical experts who are qualified and up for the job. Moreover, with  new and improved earthquake resistant building technology, the dream of having flyovers could soon become a reality. We could start with short distance flyovers for that matter. Short distance flyovers at critical junctions is not a big ask especially in areas, in and around New Shillong Township, since there is still availability of land and space. These flyovers will help mitigate the traffic woes to a large extent. Moreover, prospective business establishments, educational institutions and other establishments in and around this area should be asked to maintain some distance from the main road. Encroachment, as we all know, is another cause of traffic congestion as it limits the traffic and public moving space. Wider roads, more parking spaces, short distance fly-overs, proper footpaths and overpass for the pedestrians to walk on can be some of the practical solutions to traffic problems that might arise in the New Shillong Township.

The existing situation in the New Shillong Township, however, looks less promising and the same mistakes of the old Shillong are more likely to be repeated. Roads are still narrow; there is no sight of  flyovers; shops and other establishments are being set up too close to the road and there are no proper footpaths or overpass for pedestrians to walk on. It is only a matter of time that the traffic problems at the entry (Mawpat-Itshyrwat junction) will spill over into the main parts of the new Township and all hell will break loose . We are already seeing signs of this along the stretch of road outside NEIGRIHMS Hospital. This is obviously a clear indication of the lack of thinking and foresightedness of those in charge of things, be it of the past or the present. Hence, we are seeing problems of the past being repeated too often. I am only referring to the traffic congestion problems here. There is also no indication that the improvements of road infrastructure in the form of fly-overs, wider roads etc., will be  part of the government’s strategy to develop New Shillong. This is indeed a worrying state of affairs.

The traffic scenario we are currently witnessing in old Shillong is a culmination of the mistakes of the past and the present. In essence, traffic congestion at such a high rate is due to sheer growth in the number of vehicles on one hand and no change in road infrastructure on the other. In fact, there is no scope to improve the road infrastructure any further. As things stand, there really seems to be no way out of the problem and policy makers have their back against the wall.

I bring to attention the example of Old Delhi and New Delhi to drive the point home. There’s a stark difference between the two in terms of transport infrastructure and the distinction between old and new makes sense. But this is not so in the case of the capital of Meghalaya . Nothing is really new but only new wine in old bottles and the fact is too obvious to ignore.  The traffic problem at New Shillong is at its nascent stage but we cannot ignore the fact that it is growing day by day. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past and the present but learn from them and bring the necessary changes. Changes need to be brought about to deal with the impending traffic problems in the new part of the city. I like to believe that we still have time to do something about this. But then again time and tide waits for no man. Ultimately, the ball is in the court of the government and other stakeholders .

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