No thanks to the traffic police

IT was hardly four days old when the newly launched Islamabad Model Traffic Police, donning a smart new uniform, were charged with the task of ensuring that the routes of the visiting Saudi king would be smooth and incident-free. Presumably, they must also have been tasked to ensure that the VVIP movement would cause the minimum of inconvenience to ordinary road users.

All apparently went well on the road for the Saudi king and his entourage during their two-day visit, but not so for the thousands of commuters who were caught up in massive traffic jams in various parts of the capital and in Rawalpindi as well, because of the closure of major roads for security reasons. The traffic jams would have been worst had it not been for the fact that most if not all federal schools and colleges were closed for two days.

Strangely enough, the new traffic police personnel were hardly seen around the city managing the chaotic traffic during the two days. In fact, in several places, the old uniformed city police personnel were seen trying to control the traffic, while in other places, some ordinary citizens were using their common sense to help direct traffic and ease the congestion.

Has the Model Traffic Police been established more to ensure the smooth and safe journey of VVIPs, both foreign and local, than to ensure an efficient road traffic service for the citizens? The fact that under the new traffic police, VVIP movement has caused more traffic disruption in the city than ever before is not an encouraging sign.

In fact, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate and professional if rather than a special wing of the police, a specialized road service department had been tasked with ensuring an efficient road traffic service in Islamabad?

The Islamabad Traffic Police may at best help to make drivers more obedient to rules and help make traffic somewhat more orderly. It has already launched a month-long awareness campaign in this regard to educate road users about the basic traffic rules and laws.

But the new force cannot by themselves ensure smooth flow of traffic nor make traffic jams disappear. Solving the growing traffic congestion problem for the common citizens (and not only for VVIP movement) is a comprehensive task which needs to be tackled from various angles.

First and foremost, several major road improvement projects need to be completed quickly, e.g., the Zero Point flyover, several other underpasses and/or overpasses at major junctions, and the widening of several major roads. During construction of these projects, the public should be kept informed of the roadworks, the delays and alternative routes through radio, television and the local press.

Equally important, an efficient public transport system, whether it is a bus service or a mass transit railway system, needs to be developed on a priority basis and the public encouraged to change their travel mode from the private car to public transport.

The pathetic state of the existing public transport system in the twin cities and the failure of the local authorities to resist pressures and replace the inefficient system of wagons with a modern bus service has contributed to the mushroom growth and use of private cars and taxis for mobility in recent years, resulting in traffic congestion even during off-peak hours in the evenings.

Traffic growth and the demand for travel is continuing to increase and it is generally accepted that road capacity cannot be provided to meet an unrestrained travel demand.

Modernization of traffic signal management is another important factor in maximizing the effectiveness of the road network and improving safety for the general public. Faulty traffic signals are a common everyday problem at major traffic junctions, thus requiring police personnel to be present to direct traffic. Delays caused by these faulty signals affect the efficiency of traffic flow and is costly to the road user in terms of increased delays and unpredictable journey times.

Investment and adoption of the latest traffic signal management systems, e.g., the Urban Traffic Control (UTC) system and Split Cycle Offset and Optimization Technique (Scoot), are needed to improve traffic flow. In areas where there is generally less traffic volume, the Microprocessor Optimized Vehicle Actuation (Mova) system and the simple vehicle actuation system are adequate for controlling traffic.

While electronic timers have been installed at most of the main junctions to facilitate the motorists, what is lacking at these junctions are signal/timer facilities for pedestrians (green man display means pedestrians can cross and red man display means pedestrians should not cross). Also lacking on the roads and streets of Islamabad are raised pathways for pedestrians. Unwieldy pedestrians crossing the road all over the place or walking too close to the road obstructs vehicular traffic and contributes to accidents and chaos on the roads.

Efficient management of car parking is also a key factor in a successful road management. The lack of proper planning for car parking and thus insufficient parking space in major markets, office buildings and schools/colleges, contribute to the traffic mess and congestion on the roads.

The importance of providing accurate and timely information to the travelling public also need to be recognized. Provision of such information should become an important function for the staff of the traffic police. This information can assist commuters to decide on the timing of a journey and which route to take.

There ought to be something like a traffic information and control centre which can provide up-to-date information on the prevailing traffic condition in the capital, and preferably a telephone hotline as well where commuters can get traffic information. Staff from this centre could disseminate traffic information to local radio stations, in the same manner as weather conditions are being disseminated.

Last but not least, overall road and transport development must be a properly planned one that is integrally tied with geo- demographic data. Both human and car population in Islamabad and Rawalpindi are increasing, and to support the people’s increasing economic and social demands for mobility and accessibility, we need an efficient road and transport system that will not at the same time become increasingly detrimental to our health, damaging our green areas and even changing the climate of the planet.

To achieve this, we need a dynamic road service department to work hand in hand with the new traffic police. Meanwhile, residents of the twin cities dread the thought of the next visit by a foreign VVIP.

An inspiring figure

WHEN Dr Ruth Pfau last month announced her retirement as head of the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre and adviser on leprosy to the Pakistan government, she made it clear that she would continue with her humanitarian work.

Her retirement, at the age of 76, marks the end of an era of dedicated work that began in 1960 when, as a young doctor trained in many disciplines, she made a stopover here on her way to India to join a charity there and decided to stay on. She traded her German town of Leipzig, where she was born in 1929, with Karachi, a deal she has never regretted. Later, she did go to India, but only to equip herself with advanced training in leprosy treatment.

Back here, she helped set up the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre. She inspired and trained a swelling team of volunteers.

“Now I can spare time for many tasks earlier that I could not do,” Dr Pfau said in an informal chat with Dawn last Thursday. “I talk to cured patients and try to rehabilitate them. A man who has been treated successfully and is too active to be kept with handicapped people at our Manghopir facility typifies the sort of problems we face. His family is not willing to accept him. He cannot return to his former profession as a butcher because his hands are deformed by leprosy. He wishes to become a hairdresser, but again his hands stand in his way...,” says the doctor who has received many national and international awards and won the love and admiration of millions of Pakistanis.

She says she is happy that God gave her a life that was spent in the service of her fellow beings. She is also satisfied with the working of her colleagues and moves around in the centre to see where she can help without disturbing anyone.

Mostly she sits at her laptop computer and works on a book she has been writing for some time. The book seems to be a guide for her staff. She lives in a room set aside for her in the MALC hospital and her day begins at around 6am, when she attends service at the St Patrick’s Cathedral.

The MALC now has scores of branches, or outstations, with hundreds of staffers, including doctors, nurses and technicians. In the NWFP alone, there are 36 centres set up by the MALC. Greater Karachi has 10 outstations.

It has not been an easy task. Dr Pfau climbed mountains to reach out to patients living in houses perched at high altitudes. “I have visited places in the tribal areas, the NWFP, Azad Kashmir and Balochistan so many times that I remember each and every village and hamlet there,” she said.

When her pioneering volunteers actually hugged the ‘untouchables’, the onlookers stood aghast. Talk to any of the senior workers of the leprosy control programme, and they have spellbinding stories to share.

It was also an uphill task to persuade donors, such as the German Leprosy Relief Association, to ensure a steady flow of funds for this programme. Now, when she has announced that leprosy has been controlled in Pakistan, it also means a gradual drying up of the stream of donations.

Dr Pfau has never been short of ideas — both for her patients and her staff. First she introduced the Blindness Prevention Programme and then launched the TB Control Programme. For both these tasks she arranged comprehensive training for the staff and collected funds. The project under way now is called the Extended Leprosy Control Programme.

“There is a lot to be done,” says the doctor. “The Afghans who have fled American bombings, living in unplanned settlements, and not recognised as refugees. There are about 35,000 Hindus living on the Lyari riverbed with their houses being demolished...”

Not sugar alone

TWO separate queues of men and women run from opposite directions and join at the shuttered Utility Stores outlet off Sarwar Shaheed Road in the Saddar area. In gaudy, shining colours, fleets of limousines and land-cruisers whiz by, blowing clouds of dust into the faces of the lined-up people.

It is about 1.30pm on Thursday. The utility store’s staff is on its lunch break. The people in the queues will have to stay put for some more time before the staff returns.

And what will these waiting people get? Only two kilograms of sugar each. Sugar sells a little cheaper in these stores than in the open market. But every customer is given this precious commodity as a supplementary item with other purchases. Shopping for sugar alone is not allowed.

Once these stores had a lot of utility. They sold ghee, sugar and wheat flour at lower rates. People with limited incomes flocked to them. They were as many as 168 across the city. Since the government withheld subsidy, their number has shrunk. There are only 35 state-run utility stores in the city now. And they too seem to be discouraging people.

IT institutes

Last Monday, the provincial adviser on information technology inaugurated a free IT institute in Landhi. His predecessor and now city nazim had set up many such institutes as IT minister.

IT institutes are all over the city. But their teaching standard is highly questionable despite the high fees they charge.

Many more free IT institutes are needed in low-income localities to provide children with an opportunity to access this modern and vital technology. But it also needs to be ensured that these institutes are adequately equipped and run by efficient persons.

— Karachian


Nehru and the pretenders

Before he became prime minister, Jawaharal Lal Nehru was a mass leader who cut his political teeth in the peasants’ movement of Uttar Pradesh and in the prisons of British India. He then won all three elections he fought to the Lok Sabha from the Phoolpur rural constituency, near Allahabad. It was in this region that Gandhi had sent him to work among the peasants in the 1920s. He may have had many flaws, usually in the form of wrong, often communal, Congress colleagues.

But if Nehru had a religion, he did not wear it on his sleeve. His secularism flowed from his avowed atheism, not from any balancing act of obscurantist lobbies as his party does today. He spoke flawless English and Urdu. He wrote many famous books and countless essays and letters that inspired many a generation of Indians. His grasp of history was formidable. His understanding of world affairs shaped free India’s foreign policy. His economic world view gave India a vision for the future and, unfortunately, also rich resources for his successors to plunder.

From his recent utterances Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to be comparing himself with Nehru. He needs to check himself out against the few attributes of Nehru listed above. The result will not flatter him. At a press conference last week, he was asked why he did not have a foreign minister at such a critical time for Indian diplomacy. Dr. Singh replied that even Nehru didn’t have a foreign minister. Then in response to another question, he mumbled some equally frail thoughts on the Non-Aligned Movement, which Nehru had nurtured with firm hands and care.

Historian Ramachandra Guha recently captured the charisma of India’s first prime minister thus: “The admiration for Nehru was evident during free India’s first general election, held in 1952. In campaigning for the Congress party Nehru travelled 25,000 miles in all: 18,000 by air, 5,200 by car, 1,600 by train, and even 90 by boat. He addressed 300 mass meetings and many smaller ones. He spoke to about 20m people directly, while an equal number flanked the roads to see him as his car whizzed past.

“Those who heard and saw him included miners, peasants, pastoralists, factory workers and agricultural labourers. Women of all social classes turned out in numbers for his meetings.”

Seasoned sceptics like Nirad Chaudhuri were compelled to express their respect for Nehru. “If Nehru goes out of politics or is overthrown, his leadership is likely to be split up into its components, and not pass over intact to another man. In other words, there cannot, properly speaking, be a successor to Nehru,” wrote Chaudhuri in 1953.

As Chaudhuri saw it, the Nehru of the 1950s harmonized the masses with the ruling classes. “Nehru is keeping together the governmental machine and the people, and without this nexus India would probably have been deprived of stable government in these crucial times. He has not only ensured co-operation between the two, but most probably has also prevented actual conflicts, cultural, economic, and political. Not even Mahatmaji’s leadership, had it continued, would have been quite equal to them.”

True Nehru did not have a foreign minister. That’s because he did not need one. Nehru also did not have a media adviser. He did not need one. He was himself a great journalist and had friends like Chhalapati Rau to bounce back ideas that mattered. Nehru did not flaunt himself as an economist. But he had US Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith, a liberal economics high priest, eating out of his hands. He was not a communist, but he had the Soviet leadership entranced by his world-embracing ideals.

Wednesday’s press conference produced headlines like “I am not a weak prime minister” and so on. That is not the only reason why Nehru would have squirmed. Like Dr. Singh, his media adviser Sanjaya Baru also comes across as a Nehru admirer. In fact he likes Nehru so much that he sees him in Atal Behari Vajpayee. He sees Nehru in Manmohan Singh. It is another matter that if you cut out Nehru from the frame, Baru would happily identify a clear similarity between Manmohan Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee.

In a tribute to Vajpayee, in the belief that the BJP would return to power, Baru wrote a signed editorial in the Financial Express of February 24, 2004. Titled “Vajpayee’s Nehurism”, it said the reason why Vajpayee looks so winnable today (sic) in the run-up to the general elections is that he has taken the BJP to the Nehruvian ‘middle’ by pursuing the economics and politics of ‘inclusivism’, recalling the Nehruvian dictum of ‘unity in diversity’.”

Elsewhere he says: “In writing this I run the risk of being charged with currying favour and of sycophancy, putting my professional credibility at stake. But any objective analysis of the economics, politics and foreign policy of Prime Minister Vajpayee has only one story to tell: his undisputed leadership of the Indian ‘political centre’. There is no other national leader of any stature who can challenge him in this intellectual space today.” Does Baru continue to harbour his non-sycophantic, objective opinion of Vajpayee today? It might suit Manmohan Singh if he does: because both are claimants to Nehru’s legacy, as the adviser would have us believe. It is another matter that to the rest of the world they would come across as pale shadows of Nehru if not outright pretenders to his legacy.

* * * * *

IN PERHAPS the biggest tuberculosis breakthrough in two decades, Delhi’s National Institute of Immunology has identified five key genes that enable mycobacterium tuberculosis to acquire iron it needs to grow and promote infection in humans. The Hindustan Times quotes experts as saying that targeting genes of this cluster would help evolve better drugs to cure TB, which affects 15.4 million people worldwide.


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