The recent directive by the Himachal Pradesh high court to ban the sale of vehicles in the state capital Shimla, till the buyer proves that he or she has parking space for the vehicle, has had a statutory effect.
The directive, which has been implemented over the last couple of months, has resulted in a sharp decline in the sale and registration of new vehicles in Shimla which was becoming infamous for its traffic snarls and parking chaos. Any visitor to the city can find cars and other vehicles parked alongside the highway and other roads stretching over several kilometres.
For the residents, daily traffic jams and blockages had become part of the daily routine and most residents actually heaved a sigh of relief when the high court stepped in after the state government failed to control the worsening situation. Driving had become a nightmare for even the local residents. For the tourists, trudging over long distances to their hotels and lodges was a bitter experience.
Though Shimla is not the first city in the country to make it mandatory to have parking space or garage before anyone is allowed to buy a vehicle, it is surely likely to prod several other cities in the country, particularly the metros, to think of such measures to deal with the fast-growing traffic menace. Singapore has had a rigid law in place for several years and in India, hill stations like Aizawl and Gangtok also do not allow the purchase of vehicles without proof of parking space.
Shimla being bigger than Aizawl and Gangtok and a popular destination among tourists – the population of the former summer capital of the British Raj almost doubles itself during the peak tourist season – the ban would send a shriller message to the other cities to seriously think of steps to curb their own serious problems of traffic management.
According to statistics available, around 80,000 vehicles are registered in Shimla and most of the owners do not have a parking space or garage in their homes. An officer estimates that over 80 per cent of these vehicles have to be parked on the roadside in view of the lack of parking space or inaccessibility to their houses. In addition, the vehicles are barred from plying in the central part of the city and owners of vehicles living in those areas have to park their vehicles elsewhere.
Another official pointed out that the city has proper public parking facility for only about 1,000 vehicles, but at least twice that number of vehicles enter the city everyday bringing in tourists and visitors.
Statistics show that the number of vehicles registered in the city marked a steep increase over the last 20 years from 16,450 in 1995 to about 80,000 now. Over 3,000 vehicles were registered in Shimla every month but the ban has had a statutory affect and the figure has come down to about 900 registerations of new vehicles per month. The rules provide that the prospective buyer has to approach the municipal corporation for a no-objection certificate. The corporation would send the application to the police station concerned and police personnel will have to physically visit the residence of the applicant to certify if he or she has a proper parking place.
There will be, however, every possibility of some people finding a way out to circumvent the rules. They may make a purchase elsewhere and retain that registration number, or purchase vehicles in the name of their relatives living in some other district. However, the ban would have a long-term impact.
Again at the directive of the high court the police have been asked to tow away and impound vehicles which are parked on the roads. This has put further pressure on the residents who have to park vehicles at a long distance and to take care that not an inch of road is occupied by their parked vehicles, or else these would be towed away.
Although it is a welcome relief to the residents as well as visitors, the current situation relating to snarls and chaos is not likely to ease in the near future as the planning is inadequate. There are of course plans to provide a ropeway from the main inter-state bus terminus to the heart of the city. Another ropeway is planned from the Cart Road to the Jakhu temple, the highest point in the city which is also frequented by tourists. A plan also envisages another bypass for Shimla through a five-kilometre long flyover. A bypass made several years ago has now almost merged with the main city with several new localities coming up around it.
While the high court deserves applause for forcing the government to restrict purchase and registration of vehicles, it also deserves credit for helping to make Shimla more beautiful. It has made it mandatory for all homeowners in Shimla to get their roofs painted red or green once in every three years. The defaulters will not only be fined but also have to pay for the painting done by the municipal corporation. The result is that while Shimla once looked a shanty town from a distance, it now presents a pleasing view with roofs painted in red or green.