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Who’s responsible?

india Updated: Sep 12, 2009 23:17 IST

Thank God it’s Sunday and, if we want, we can stay home and not go out. Because driving in Delhi during the last three days has been a dispiriting and deeply disillusioning experience. I don’t know who’s responsible for the traffic police but they couldn’t have done a worse job than what I witnessed on Thursday and Friday.

First things first. We know that when it rains the traffic lights collapse. We don’t need to wait to find out if this will happen. It occurs every time. Without exception. So why weren’t traffic policemen immediately positioned at every critical junction to ensure that traffic flowed?

Their absence was the single most important reason why Delhi ground to a halt at many places over the last three days. Where they were present, the traffic moved, though abruptly or sporadically. Where they weren’t, gridlock ensued, with traffic jams building up for miles and helpless, hapless millions caught, literally, like sitting ducks.

Actually, although it rained almost continuously on Friday, it did not rain heavily. It was a light, almost-English drizzle. Yet the lights failed, the lines of stalled cars stretched for miles and the Capital snarled up.

My sister Premila, who was driving to the R&R Hospital to visit Mummy, spent three hours trapped between the Olaf Palme Marg and Rao Tula Ram T-junction and the hospital. Yet it’s only a two mile journey!

For periods of time that lasted over 40 minutes, her car didn’t move at all. Not an inch. When it did, it crawled a few feet and then stopped.

Later that afternoon, I attempted to reach the R&R from Safdarjung Enclave via the inner Ring Road. Aware of Premila’s horrific experience, my heart initially lifted with joy when I found access to the Ring Road open. And I positively levitated when the Ring Road seemed clear. But this heady feeling lasted for just a few minutes. Well short of the Nanakpura Gurudwara all movement ceased. The rest of the journey — a mere mile or so — took hours. Quite literally.

Anxious drivers, frustrated if not furious, built up five to six lines of traffic on a road that probably cannot handle more than three. We weren’t just bumper to bumper but door to door, then window to window and, finally, we ended up like cramped insects crawling for escape.

How do the authorities in Delhi explain this? Who should we hold responsible? Indeed, at what level does the responsibility begin? She may not be responsible for law and order, but is the chief minister not accountable for traffic? And what about the rest of her administration?

This time round I’m not talking about drains that have overflowed. We’re used to that. I’m not talking about the power supply which fails. It always does. Those are failures that define Delhi. I can’t imagine what this city would be like without them.

I’m talking about people waiting endless hours neither because the rain was heavy nor because the traffic suddenly exploded. But because no one bothered to ensure the presence of traffic police at critical junctions to keep the traffic moving. I’m talking about sheer negligence and irresponsibility.

I would like to see the authorities apologise. I would like them to stand up and bow their heads, if not their bodies from the waist, and say “I’m sorry. Forgive me.” They owe it to us.

But will they? I doubt it.

The views expressed by the author are personal.