At an Idea Exchange at The Indian Express, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Sarang Awad set the record straight on a number of issues including increasing traffic chaos in the city, parking woes, poor regulation in fringes, helmet drive and coordination or lack of coordination with civic bodies.
Awad said he was strictly enforcing traffic regulation and was laying stress on inculcating traffic culture among Puneites
MANOJ MORE: We want to start with asking what went wrong with the two-way system you again introduced on J M Road?
We tried to understand whether it was possible to implement the system on holidays and late hours. It was an effort to ease pressure but people did not accept and we are ok with it. We tried it on two Sundays.
SUNANDA MEHTA: So what was the feedback?
People have got used to the one-way system. It did not result in reducing traffic on Apte Road and FC Road and that was expected. We interviewed people on this and I myself spoke to commuters. It seems that people are comfortable with the one-way system and so we have shelved our plan. This shows that the one-way system that was introduced as a short-term solution to our problem was the correct decision. And we also believe that it is one of the solutions to the problem as we have to work within the available space.
ANURADHA MASCARENHAS: But one-way traffic has not helped MG Road? We still witness jams and crossing the road is a big problem on all the one- ways.
That is still a better situation as it is one-way. If it would have been two-way, it would be even worse. I have to agree that crossing for pedestrians is a problem on one-ways. There are solutions. We have made raised pedestrian crossings, but sadly even that is not working.
PARTHA SARATHI BISWAS: While designing roads, pedestrians are given least importance. What do you have to say about it?
Sadly, it is true. We have suggested foot overbridges at many spots.
SUSHANT KULKARNI: Do you think there is a lack of coordination between traffic police and civic bodies? Both try to blame each other.
I do not do that. But having said that, even at the risk of sounding that I am blaming others, the roads are owned by the local civic bodies. So, whatever road infrastructure and road furniture as it is called, it’s their responsibility and it’s for them to look at. Our job is traffic regulation and our inputs to them are based on day-to-day observations. They have traffic planners, engineers, town planners and a better understanding of traffic planning. I have say that the coordination is not as smooth as I would like it to be.
MANOJ MORE: Are there ego hassles with civic officials? For instance, at Patil Estate flyover, PMC threw it open to traffic and then you ordered its closure. It happened twice…Is this not a case of ego coming into play?
There are no ego hassles at all. As for Patil Estate flyover, they (civic officials) are not supposed to announce it open unless there is a nod from us as it is we who have to manage the traffic, not them. The contractor was not paying heed to valid directions given by an inspector from our traffic division. They were already lagging on the deadline. This is a very heavy traffic road. Once they completed a small section of the bridge, they wanted it to open so that they could continue other work. They wanted pillars bang in the middle of the road and there was no alternative traffic arrangement for that. They wanted this for two months. There was no traffic planning by the contractor. We got a traffic planner from Mumbai, who worked on an alternative and then we opened the bridge.
MANOJ MORE: Another issue of the Nashik Phata flyover. People have to go one-and-a-half kilometer and come back the same distance which results in wastage of fuel and time. PCMC says this is because of the ego of the traffic DCP. What is your take on that?
I have told them not to open it. It opens haphazardly. How am I supposed to man the traffic at the signal below the bridge? Do you think we were kept in the loop when they planned it? If this caters to 10,000 vehicles, 200 will have to travel 3 km extra and will have to sadly suffer. I know it is not an ideal situation.
ANURADHA MASCARENHAS: Citizens have a lot of complaints about the signal timings. Some of the junctions do not get enough time.
When people complain about signal timings, I would say it is an individualistic view. Let me assure you that these timings have been set after due traffic engineering and study of traffic flow during day time.
ALIFIYA KHAN: If one compares traffic of Pune and Mumbai, there are some stark differences. One is a lot of under-age kids riding bikes.
Yes, it is true and we are acting on it. But I have to accept that our action is not enough. Some steps have to be taken by parents too. Is it not wrong on their part to allow 14-15-year-olds to ride and drive? Mumbai has twice the number of two-wheelers and thrice the number of traffic cops. They have a separate traffic branch in the municipal corporation and they are allotted funds. So their planning is much better. Here, I have a staff of just over 1,000 traffic cops to look after a population of 70 lakh and around 40 lakh vehicles. I am not trying to hide facts as they have to be told.
ALIFIYA KHAN: Is this also the reason for people not following lane discipline and other basic norms?
Are there any lanes marked on the roads? They are not. You will say I am blaming the civic bodies, but it has to be done by them. Recently, we ourselves painted zebra crossings. We can tell them once, twice, thrice. But then at least they have to act.
PARTHA SARATHI BISWAS: There is hardly any traffic regulation in fringe areas…
Yes that is true and we are working on it. We are conducting extensive drives.
SUSHANT KULKARNI: What duties do traffic police have to perform apart from traffic regulation?
We have to issue several no-objection certificates including for traffic signages. The licence renewal exercise is also our responsibility. We have to issue NOCs for all the constructions and repair work that is carried out on and around the roads. We have to issue NOCs to telecom companies, gas companies, power utilities etc., apart from granting permissions for functions and protests on roads. VIP movement route recce is also our job. Road furniture is constructed by civic bodies based on our inputs. Tackling media is also one big job too!
SUSHANT KULKARNI: A lot of times unilateral decisions are taken by defence establishments by citing security reasons. What is your take on that?
Yes. Several times we are not even asked about road closures. But we do take up the issue on our own. Now, the government has taken a strong view on these unilateral road closures.
NISHA NAMBIAR: How much time does it take for an NOC or permission?
It takes at least two to three days.
MANOJ MORE: What happened to the helmet drive? Why has it slowed down? Have you developed cold feet or have the police turned jittery?
No, it has not slowed down and neither have we developed cold feet… the drive continues. Around 4 lakh people have been fined for not wearing helmets in the last three months. But it is physically impossible for me to make everyone wear helmets. There are 25 lakh two-wheelers and taking into account the pillion riders, around 40 lakh people ride on bikes. So, look at the extent of violations and how many can we fine. It is finally up to people to wear helmets. The drive was conducted to send a signal and I think it has shown results. It has not slowed down at all.
MANOJ MORE: But we want to see entire Pune wearing helmets. When will that happen?
It is not my sole responsibility… it is the responsibility of every Puneite…
SUSHANT KULKARNI: What are the new initiatives that you are planning? Some initiatives have been taken using technology, but some were discontinued.
We start initiatives but they are not in isolation. For example, the Traffi-i-cop initiative by former DCP Manoj Patil had received an award for best innovation at the national level. We are now trying to revive it and are going to add that app on phones of our men. We are also ready with the CCTV network in the Zone I and will be strictly identifying traffic violations. We will try to fine people based on snaps procured from CCTV’s. Our office is now Wi-Fi and all our traffic divisions will be connected digitally to collect and collate data.
CHANDAN HAYGUNDE: What is the punishment for repeat offenders?
The fine amount goes on increasing. In case of drunk driving, there is also provision to suspend licence. We have a separate prosecution bench.
SUNANDA MEHTA: What is the big picture for Pune’s traffic in future?
Much of the solution to traffic woes of the city lies in the public transport. We suggested that BRTS on Nagar Road and Sangamwadi should start as soon as possible. We do not have Metro and there is no proper local train service. So, people are forced to use personal vehicles. Even city planning is an important aspect. We need to ask ourselves how do we want our city to expand.
ANURADHA MASCARENHAS: What about the health of your men on the roads?
Yes there are issues. We have tied up with Jehangir Hospital and we regularly conduct their health check-ups. National Institute of Ophthalmology will soon conduct eye check-up for our men.
SUSHANT KULKARNI: How do you rate Pune’s traffic as compared to what it was 10 years ago? Good, bad or ugly?
It is bad. And it not just reflects on traffic police but also public and stakeholders including the civic bodies. Our attitude is that traffic is about everyone else but me. But this approach is not going to help. Even if I have 2,500 men, they can regulate traffic but who will discipline it. People themselves, right? We can serve in the framework that the planners have given us. Are there alternate roads for congested roads? No. Holistic town planning should take place and it’s not happening. Even though vehicles have increased, the number of accidents have not gone up proportionately. In 2003, Pune city had over 13 lakh vehicles and there were 324 road accident deaths. In 2014, we had over 41 lakh vehicles and accident deaths were 399. We have done a study to understand the pattern of accidents and have come up with some crucial facts.
AJAY KHAPE: PMC had sought inputs on Development Plan? Has the traffic department submitted its inputs?
We submitted our inputs in the past. We have given suggestions about new roads, underpasses, road widening etc.
SHRIKRISHNA KOLHE: What is the speed limit in city?
It is ideally 30 kmph. We have even introduced speed breakers at spots where we felt people would overspeed. We have seen people crossing 80, 100 kmph.
ANURADHA MASCARENHAS: Accidents take place more during the night. And accidental deaths are of major concern.
Yes it is. The most accidental deaths occur in the age group 25-34, which is the earning population. Pune-Bangalore highway has maximum deaths. A study has shown that three days in a week (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) witness more accidents. In 2014, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays saw 62, 61 and 60 accidents, respectively, while Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays saw 50, 54, 46 and 45 accidents. As many as 214 deaths were of bike riders. Of these, 213 were not wearing helmets. These are all 2014 figures. We found 319 under-age kids riding bikes in high speed. How did their parents allow them to do that? Pune lacks a traffic culture and my effort is to instill that.
SUSHANT KULKARNI: What do you do to clear the jam in your head?
I vent it out, I don’t keep things bottled up! I read and spend time with my family. I like to go out for movies. I am currently reading Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Some of my favourite books are Everybody Loves a Good Drought by P Sainath and Rajdeep Sardesai’s book on 2014 elections.
(TRANSCRIBED BY SUSHANT KULKARNI)