By Syed Shamsuddin
BEFORE CONCLUDING the instant write-up, it pertinent to advert to very interesting piece appearing recently in a regional Urdu daily (Daily Salam dated 30.09.2019) whereby the learned writer Nabi Wani, depicted the traffic scenarios obtaining in Gilgit-Baltistan. He aptly portrayed the situation rather in a succinct manner which may well be evocative of the interest of the readers as well as in bringing it home to those at the helm of affairs. Tersely putting it, he says it is not the very first road crash on the Babusar road and the KKH but that several such incidents have taken place so far. It seems to him that the transport companies have been issued licenses which become open-ended in the sense that with the exception of a very few, all of them own obsolete, worn out and for that matter, technically or mechanically unfit vehicles not worthy of being made on the road. Moreover, the drivers employed by them demonstrably are not that caring in most cases seemingly which result into a state tantamount to wanton disregard of human life as stemming from many a scene of occurrence.
As often as not, the tempestuous speed the drivers on this route being resorted to is a precursor to precarious situations enroute. Sadly, no workshops, whatsoever, are held frequently by the relevant authorities to underline the significance of strict adherence to and compliance with the prevalent traffic regulations and limiting speed in keeping with the difficult terrain all along the precipitous road sections of the area and especially on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) or the Kaghan road. It cannot be gainsaid that the impending hazardous situations can be averted and dreaded scenarios addressed to a great extent by strictest application/ enforcement of the traffic/highway regulations.
One is really flabbergasted to note that another menace resulting into dreaded road accidents is the reckless use of cell phones by all drivers of heavy as well as light vehicles which goes quite unnoticed. Even bike-riders too can be seen indulging in this practice. Quite sadly, they all escape the eye of the law-enforcers as is to be seen no one being ever intercepted for their egregious errors and misdemeanors.
In such a landscape, blood-curdliing occurrences of the sort cannot in anyway be ruled out. What then is necessitated under these circumstances is the transport companies to make itsure that while employing drivers, it becomes mandatory for each case to produce (physical, mental health certificates) besides necessary clinical test reports to the effect that none of them is addicted to drugs. In the case of the rest, stringent enforcement mechanism has invariably to be put in place and pursued vigorously.
In the developed countries, signboards envisaging the speed-limit prescriptions are invariably displayed across the road or highway sections whilst monitoring the flow of traffic with modern electronic equipments. It is said that for all the companies plying vehicles on these roads and highway there are strictly required to get their passengers insured with a view to ensure that their lives are safe and secure on the other hand, is ours – a system in which not enough is done to ensure abidance by the prevalent regulations with a lackadaisical approach. The writer Nabi Wani tells his own experience of travelling on KKH obviously between Gilgit and Rawalpindi noting oftentime that the drivers of buses and coaches handover the vehicle to the ‘conductor’ and themselves go to sleep in the wee hours – a time when most accidents occur. To writers enumerates myriad other facts that may becomes cause of accidents and complains that everyone of us experiences such episodes but nevertheless, no one is ever bothered about agitating these issues. Even when one seldom does it, the respective institutions d tend not to lend an ear and an ostrich mentality gets all along underway ad nauseam.
It may also pertinently be pointed out that the transport companies or groups quite uncharitably get the seating space squeezed with the result that each seat is to have a very tight space to fit a passenger while the rowing too, is resorted to in a similar fashion to the discomfiture of the passengers. Thus the individual passenger gets seated with difficulty in the tight seat literally finding him/herself squeezed into it precariously where no space becomes available for stretching the tired legs all along the long and tortuous journey. This is done mainly to maximize the number of seats to extract more fares, to the detriment of the passengers who find themselves desperately encaged and trapped. If God forbid, any unhappy occurrence takes place that requires immediate evacuation or ejection, it could be absolutely impossible for the individual passenger. It is all the more sp difficult for the elderly, women and children. This issue too, needs be paid serious attention in the matter of seating capacity of each vehicle being plied on long routes. Admittedly, public transport between Gilgit-Baltistan and Rawalpindi matters the most. It is in short, the common people’s prop in seeing that firstly flights between Rawalpindi and Gilgit are purely subject to weather. Moreover, it is beyond the tether of the common man to seek airlifting obviously because of the rising air fares. Most of the people therefore constrained to travel by road between Rawalpindi and Gilgit-Baltistan and vice versa. Public transport thus play a critical role form them. And it is the responsibility of the state to ensure its unhindered availability. In addition, the streaming of thousands of people from the plains of the country are taking to this region especially during the peak of summer for sight-seeing and finding an escape into the mountains during the grueling hot in the cities in down country, Their number was put around a million in the very first instance, and hence is multiplying year by year. All of them obviously have transport of their own and hence many resort to and depend squarely on the public transport. The KKH during those days especially, remains under heavy traffic.
In the circumstances, the transport business in this realm is lucratively thriving with a large number of individuals and groups readily offering cars and land cruisers for hiring trips on Gilgit-Sakrdu, Rawalpindi as well as on intra-regional routes. As alluded to, by the above writer, innumerable road crashes concerning such vehicles too, has occurred in the past. To regulate the sort of traffic too, is needed focus in order to ensure that only fit vehicles are made on the road. This all makes it imperative that long term planning gets underway to make travel on KKH safe and secure. The first and the foremost is making it binding on all the transport companies and transport groups to get their vehicles periodically examined for the ascertainment of fitness or otherwise, in addition of make sure that both mentally and physically healthy and compliant drivers alone used to driving on the terrain are employed. Most importantly, the drivers on reaching their respective destination id est Gilgit or Rawalpindi on one trip, must be allowed complete rest for two days to make them very well poised for the second trip. NATCO is said to own an obsolete feet which many allege, are unworthy of being plied. The relevant authorities must therefore, thoroughly examine these vehicles to ascertain their fitness.
Surprisingly enough, while anybody loudly expressing political dissent would be hauled away by the police right away, and a whole lot of cases registered against him, no law-man ever bothers to intercept and arraign the violators of the traffic-related laws/regulations for the egregious acts and misdemeanors and thus playing with thousands of lives daily. There is therefore, dire need of introducing iron-jacketed legislation to punish them.
In conclusion, it is pertinent again to revert to the above writer lamenting that the prevailing antediluvian system whilst living in the 21st century cannot serve the purpose. The citizenry here in Gilgit-Baltistan faces great hardships in the matter of having uninterrupted internet facility whilst the rest of the country is preparing to have the fastest 5G internet facility as opposed to this region where the DSL system too, is oft-plagued with intermittent disruptions resulting into mental perturbation of the SCO’s customers but those responsible for bringing about a positive societal transformation are busy in adulations and self-aggrandizement, he bemoans. But how long, says!
The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor, blogger. He can be reached at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org