Bengaluru was the first city to go digital in terms of traffic police work. The cameras, police with hand-held printers, integrated challans — the whole B TRACK programme – all these things have been part of the city’s traffic police department for over 10 years. Bengaluru was one of the earliest adopters of technology in traffic management, in which BEL and various IT companies were contributors. Bengaluru was also the first city to build an Integrated Traffic Control Room, from which one can monitor the traffic of the entire city. Other cities have followed suit since. It’s not fair to say they the city has not taken to technology, because they were obviously open to the idea. Many of our police officers took the lead on this quite willingly.
The main problem on hand is not concerned with traffic management per se. The problem lies elsewhere – poor planning and poor enforcement of standards and regulations in building construction. So, most main roads have developed beyond their capacity. They are also not well designed, have poor quality surfaces and most roads don’t have walk-able footpaths.
All these issues fall under the domains of institutions like the BDA, BBMP, BWSSB and BESCOM. They have fallen short, leaving the traffic police to do all the work. In my view, this is unrealistic.
One can say that traffic rules should be enforced regardless of all this. Yes, but the traffic rules exist and can be properly implemented only within an overall framework of urban development, which has more or less collapsed. The Master Plan doesn’t look at it, neither does the BDA.
Therefore, police are left confronting a certain reality on ground, which is the accumulated deficit of poor planning, poor enforcement of construction regulations and low carrying capacity of badly-designed roads. It is not possible for the traffic police department to shoulder the responsibility on its own.
Lack of buses
Bengaluru is facing a tremendous shortage of buses. We need more than 6,500 buses to make a difference to traffic congestion, by taking a significant number of private vehicles off the road.
The solutions lie in the domain of the problems – in planning, adequate supply of public transport and better road design. The police cannot be expected to address on ground the deficits accumulated from elsewhere.
Over a 1000 people come to settle in Bengaluru every day. That means a school needs to be built every two days, a hospital every two weeks. We are certainly not doing it at that speed because BDA doesn’t make land allocations for schools and hospitals. Therefore, schools and hospitals come up in an ad hoc manner.
Annually, this amounts to three lakh people moving to the city in a year. At least 50,000 houses need to be built, while BDA gives permission for only 12,000. Where do the rest of the people go? They make adjustments. Adjustments which spill over on to the streets. How can the streets deal with so much?
How fast expansion leads to congested roads
Basically, the city is expanding fast, too fast for infrastructure needs to be met fully. That also creates challenges on the road. For instance, BWSSB doesn’t give water to half the homes in the city, so water tankers are everywhere, crowding the roads. This problem would not exist if the pipe network provided supply to everybody.
Property rates are high. Those who can’t afford to live in the city itself live outside and travel to the centre for work. This adds to traffic also.
In this way, many other problems manifest as traffic congestion. Unless we tackle them at their level, it is unfair to say the traffic police aren’t doing their job properly.
Room to grow
Having said all this, we can continue to expand the capacities of the police department. There are some inconsistencies there too – some police commissioners are supportive of technology, while others prefer traditional methods that rely on manpower. If we get one who prefers the latter, he will say the technology is a waste. I don’t disagree with them – their logic is that riders don’t stop for signals unless there is a policeman in sight.
Therefore, capacity building is a continuous process. What we need are systematic and continuous efforts to build on the successes we have already created. We need a way to for other departments to take responsibility, or be held accountable in terms of what they need to do for the people. They expect the traffic police to manage on the street, the things they have forgotten to do at their offices.
(As told to M.K. Ashoka)...