Saturday, August 11, 2001

From rickshaws to runabouts
Shriniwas Joshi

THE British had chosen Shimla as the place most suited to be the capital of India because of two reasons: the ‘home weather’ and walks amidst Himalayan oaks and cedars. Now both oaks and cedars are gradually decreasing in number, giving place to structures of bricks and mortar. And the number of cars, vans and jeeps plying on the roads has been increasing rapidly. Those who cannot afford this luxury, use by public transport. Gone are the days when people used to cover long distances on foot. "I have two doctors to attend upon me — my right leg and my left leg," is a forgotten saying.

The first road in Shimla was constructed in 1828 by Lord Combermere. It was a narrow hill road around Jakhoo Hill and a wooden bridge (Combermere Bridge) at the end of the Mall. The Mall, also called Thandi Sarak (breezy lane) was an ordinary road ‘wide enough for two horses to go abreast’. It was meant for pedestrians, horses and daandees. The credit for getting the road widened goes to the Viceroy, Lord Lytton, in 1878. As a result, the first wheeled vehicle i.e. rickshaw pulled by four ‘labourers who wore uniforms and turbans, but ran barefoot’ was introduced in Shimla.


A ‘No parking’ sign goes unheeded
A ‘No parking’ sign goes unheeded

Work on the Hindustan-Tibet Road from Kalka to Shimla and beyond commenced in 1850, but a ‘mail wagon’ drawn by horses and bringing mail up to Shimla began running on it only during the 1860s. Later tongas were used to bring passengers to Shimla. It was a gruelling journey of eight hours from Kalka to Shimla. By 1935, about a dozen motor cars had started plying on this road. Only the Medical Officer — who lived in Green Gate, a beautiful house near the present Government College for Girls — was allowed to ride his motor cycle in main Shimla. This vehicle was a curiosity for school-going children in the 40s.

The opening of the Victory Tunnel and widening of the road from the tunnel to Sanjauli via Lakkar Bazaar and Longwood in 1945 resulted in increase in vehicular traffic on the Cart Road and also in main Shimla. The general rule till then was any road linking main Shimla with the Cart Road was either ‘restricted’ or ‘sealed’. A permit had to be obtained from the authorities concerned if any vehicle had to be plied there. Shimla continued to be under the jurisdiction and control of Punjab for 19 years after Independence. During this period the Shimla Municipal Committee, which used to be the richest committee in India, provided two facilities to its residents. It opened Bhargava Municipal Degree College and gave permission for plying of passenger buses on the Cart Road. But both these moves seemed to have stirred a hornet’s nest and ultimately had to be withdrawn. But by then the damage had been done, the people of Shimla had developed a taste for the facilities.

After Himachal Pradesh became a state in 1966, it became easier to seek permits for restricted and sealed roads. Till date, 1065 permits have been sanctioned for ‘restricted roads’ and about 450 for ‘sealed roads’. Those issued for the ‘restricted roads’ by the offices of the Deputy Commissioner and Municipal Commissioner are in addition to this number. General prosperity of the residents of Shimla, development of Shimla as a tourist destination and availability of small cars has led to the increase in vehicular traffic in this hill station.

Vehicles are routinely parked on roads
Vehicles are routinely parked on roads

Today, about 14,750 vehicles are registered in the town, out of which 1700 are taxis and 190 state transport corporation and private buses. A survey shows that about 4000 outstation vehicles enter the town every day. About 195 km of road length in the town is bearing the burden of all this traffic. With no garage facility in a majority of houses, and with parking facility available only at the High Court, Jodha Niwas and near the lift — which accommodates only 175 vehicles — vehicles are parked on the roads. This results in frequent traffic jams. Little heed is paid to the ‘No Car Parking’ signs put up by the police.

The former Director of Transport, Sushil Negi, had suggested that the congestion on the Cart Road could be reduced considerably if the following four steps were taken:

(i) All old buildings by the side of the Cart Road be demolished and the road widened. The owners to be given adequate compensation.

(ii) All buses with body width 2000 mm and more should follow the one-way traffic direction already issued.

(iii) The main Bus Stand be the terminus for local buses and ISBT be shifted to the proposed Bus Stand at Tuti Kandi.

(iv) The experts assess possibility of constructing fly-over wherever possible.

These, according to him, were essential steps to remove traffic bottlenecks, in view of the number of private vehicles increasing by nearly 1300 and taxis by about 150 per year in the town.

The Home Department, meanwhile, is considering measures to reduce the traffic flow on the restricted and sealed portions of the town. A direction issued by the Department to the Deputy Commissioner recently says:

1. No vehicle will be allowed beyond Shimla Club. Only the MLAs residing in Metropole Hotel can park their vehicles, only one car per MLA, between Metropole and Clarkes;

2. Parking of vehicles near Christ Church or Library is not allowed;

3. Cross traffic on the Ridge and towards Ridge/Lakkar Bazaar from Ritz, including the access via Taka Bench, is disallowed;

4. Ambulance vehicles belonging to Civil Defence only will be allowed to ply on the Mall and the Ridge. No police vehicle will ply on the sealed roads without valid permit.