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Pedestrian problems unlimited

Traffic regulations around the Secunderabad Station area, instead of easing the problems, seem to have only compounded them. With street hawkers, walkers, vagabonds and rag pickers monopolising the now easy-to-move roads, it is the pedestrians who suffer this nightmare, writes SUDHEENDRA PUTTY.

Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

DESTINATION DILEMMA: The chaotic scene near the Rathiifile Bus Station in Secunderabad.

ANY PERSON stepping out of the Secunderabad Railway station would hardly think of this place to be a Cyberabad, as is being projected in the media and by the media-savvy Chief Minister.

For what confronts a person outside the Secunderabad Railway station is dust, filth, the most unhygienic surroundings, and super high decibel levels of noise and a thoroughly chaotic situation.

Indeed, few places in town can lay claim to such epithets as can the Regimental Bazar area of Secunderabad. Regimental Bazar is a historic place in Secunderabad.

The Railway station, the bus terminal, the Ganesh temple and the Gandhi Hospital (old timers still know it as KEM Hospital) make it one of the busiest areas in town.

A little over a year ago, the area and its problems were highlighted in these very columns and some changes were made that were perhaps long overdue. The traffic diversions for instance.

A one-way traffic system was introduced from the railway station to clock tower to Sangeet Cinema back to station. Bus terminals were staggered from near Himmat Nagar to Bhoiguda, and to the Gurudwara yonder.

Parking was strictly prohibited and even a few road dividers were erected. Amidst all these changes - which doubtless caused the commuters some difficulty, and true to Hyderabad style, they accepted it without a protest - one thing never changed.

The chaotic traffic and visage of the place. If anything, it only got worse. The pedestrians increased many times over thanks to the large distances they now had to cover moving from one bus stop to the other adding to the peak hour, criss-cross traffic.

Buses, autorickshaws, stray cattle, vagabonds, rag pickers, hawkers and vendors (each using lung power as a means to invite customers), prostitutes and pimps and the hapless pedestrians jostle with each other for street space.

The traffic police have little work to do with the road users following their own set of rules for the road. Never mind if their rules intrude upon yours. Even physically.

The area across Secunderabad Station is a real nightmare for the pedestrians for various reasons. The shifting of the bus terminals spanning across an area of nearly a kilometre has meant that most commuters have to walk large distances to change buses.

This was introduced as a measure of easing the traffic congestion but, apparently, it isn't having the desired impact.

Walking on the roads has become an ordeal by itself. Says Sushma, an office goer and a regular commuter, "In principle a one way traffic system must certainly ease the traffic congestion, provided, it is indeed a `one way'. The footpaths must be for use by the pedestrians."

In reality, though, the footpaths are anything but that. Public urinals, spittoons, and make shift shops is what they are. "Where is the place to walk?" she asks.

Adding to the confusion is that the one-way traffic restriction notwithstanding, a bizarre cyclist appears from nowhere on the opposite direction.

That way, the traffic restrictions may have caused more problems than provide solutions. "There was some opposition when the restrictions were introduced initially, but now it appears that the people have got habituated to them," says Ravi Kumar, a resident of the area for over 20 years, reflecting the laidback Hyderabadi attitude.

The traffic diversions notwithstanding, life is hell during peak hours. With many colleges and schools situated in this area and working people using the public transport system, traffic goes haywire almost daily from 4 to 7 p.m. and even beyond.

The roads already bursting at the seams get congested even further with the street hawkers appearing everywhere.

Hundreds of street hawkers - selling anything from fruits and garments to cosmetics and flowers to food and fish, flood the roads and the air with their shouting.

"This has come to be accepted that the vendors will be here, so much so, people are no longer bothered about the inconvenience they cause on the roads," says Preeti another commuter.

The police too, are helpless. "We evict them and fine them. What is the use? Within a few hours, they are back doing the same business as briskly as ever. Quite a few of them also have political backing," says a police official.

It is the case with the autorickshaws as well. "No Parking" signs mean little to them; nor does the "bus-bay" deter them. In fact, the bus bay is the place where they get most of the customers.

"But," says the police officer, "the situation is a lot improved today than it was earlier. Some regulation is better than no regulation at all."

As the sun sets, and the evening traffic begins to peak, the darker side of life of the city begins to emerge. The narrow lanes and by lanes, the dingy corners and the kind of activities that go on brazenly, remind one of the descriptions in some Dickens' work depicting the Victorian underworld.

As darkness spreads, so do the gaudily dressed prostitutes overtly making sexual overtures to the passers by in a most nonchalant manner. The kerb crawlers are ubiquitous. Even atop the railway tracks and yonder the Oliphant Bridge. "It becomes so sickening and

TRAFFIC TRAVAILS: Traffic snarls at peak hour are a regular feature.

awkward for people to walk across. Even the bus stands are not spared and they seem to be there everywhere," says Gowri a college student who returns home after tuition. Customers are solicited and deals struck in the main road amidst the hustle and bustle of the traffic anytime after 6 p.m. everyday.

The police officials are aware of it and admit to be helpless. `We know this is a big problem for the public. But, we are helpless. We apprehend them and book the cases; barely within a week or fortnight, they are back in business having served the term and paid the fine," says Venkat Reddy, Inspector of Police, Gopalapuram Police station. Supposedly, even the Magistrate expressed serious concern over this problem.

"This has to be viewed more as a social problem than as a law and order problem. I think a permanent solution to this can come only if the NGOs come forward to rehabilitate these people. They need to be provided an alternative source of livelihood. Otherwise, they are bound to be in the same business. Punishment does not deter them beyond a level. Our booking cases will serve no purpose,' says Venkat Reddy.

That is hardly something that would provide solace to the hapless commuters though.

Says the manager of a hotel in the area, "it also affects our business. Families find it difficult to come in with pimps around everywhere."

The area is already one of the dirtiest in the city and prostitution can only add to this unhygienic milieu.

The area is also infested with vagabonds and rag pickers, who too, are a social menace.

Vinay, a shopkeeper in the area says, "most of these people do nothing - just laze around begging or simply while away time. The poor feeding (a daily affair) at the Ganesh temple provides them lunch and they are just unwilling to work. Drunken brawls at night and child abuse too are on the rise and if unchecked, this can turn into a law and order problem."

As one of the residents in the area says, "this is going on for a long time. Nothing new about it.'

This too, maybe requires a social answer to sort matters out.

But amidst all this, the average Hyderabadi citizen is unfazed by all that is happening and the myriad problems - civic, hygienic, traffic or otherwise - simply don't affect him.

He sits there in one of the many Irani cafes for a few hours every day (morning or evening) gulping cups of tea and discussing anything from Kalpana Chawla to his sweetheart with his friends.

A traffic snarl, a drunken brawl or a pimp being hauled up doesn't matter to him. He simply gulps another cuppa and smiles, Mereku kaiku? That says it all.

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