If one were to see at the time of the Ashoka, the great Indian emperor, Ashok Rajpath, his royal lane would resemble crawling caravan of elephant and infantry, horses and harbingers passing smoothly with elegance and grace. It would be a sight to behold.
However, when traffic crawls in today’s supersonic age along Ashok Rajpath (royal lane), road named after the king in Bihar’s capital Patna, connecting old eastern part of city to the west, leave alone the grace, it turns out to be awful. One travelling through this narrow lane faces frequent congestions, engulfing smokes and deafening honk and horn of vehicles.
Near Gandhi Maidan, roughly from where east Ashok Rajpath begins until NIT more, the road is of two lanes and somewhat wider, but real ordeal begins afterwards. When on a single lane track, some point as narrower as 15 ft, one will see all the varieties of vehicles buses, rickshaws, tempos, hand carts, motorcycles and cycles and four wheelers etc. that huddle and muddle both ways.
“Driving along this road needs extraordinary level of skills as well as patience. You require to steadily move steering and in most part of the journey keeping foot on brake. Throughout the travel, I concentrate to somehow save my vehicle from scratch that seems to be a daunting task,” says, Amir Iqbal Khan an NRI who frequently travels to the city to stay with his parents leaving in a nearby locality.
Nonetheless there is nothing unusual in road being overcrowded and congested; these are rather part and parcel of the urban life, a bound to bear feature of city travelling. However, the travail of this century old road which leads to numerous historical buildings and institutions like St. Joseph Catholic Church, Patna Medical College & Hospital, Patna University, Khuda Bakh library, Pathar Ki Masjid, Patan Devi Mandir, Takht Shri Harmandir Sahib etc. goes well beyond the normal hustle and bustle of urban traffic.
For decades, Ashok Rajpath has been a lifeline for densely populated areas, Mahendru, Sultanganj, Gaighat, Sabzibagh, Alamganj, and old Patna City. Consequently, the road has overseen a compact business place growing along both sides. Besides regular commuters, the range of businesses and shops, banks, mobile outlets, educational institutes, restaurants and health clinics attract sizeable crowds. Because of insufficient parking spaces and walkways, parking of vehicles and pedestrian movement take place on the road, causing routine traffic jams. Further, in the absence of clearly defined stoppages, auto-rickshaws, buses and other vehicles frequently stop on the road to drop and take passengers.
Encroachments and cart vendors take the trouble to a further chronic height. During last two decades number of private four wheelers on the road increased exponentially. This is despite the fact that still majority of the commuters prefer two wheelers which has scope of diversion in adjoining narrow streets, in case of jam.
At the rush hours, generally during School and office opening and closing time, the traffic move at a snail’s pace. Political, religious and marriage processions impede the traffic into stand still mode for hours. Covering the distance of few hundred meters seems to have converted into a marathon march. Among those stuck in these jams are people in various degree of urgencies such as emergency patients, little school children, flight and train bound passengers, office going commuters etc.
“Despite making up time for traffic jams every now and then I miss my schedule,” Said Ashutosh Kumar, whose job as a Roaming Attendant requires visiting four ATM point all located at Ashok Rajpath, four times a day. The trial has become an essential feature of his daily toil.
Although few years back authorities had taken measurement and demarcation was done for expanding the road up to 30ft. Yet this could not materialize perhaps considering the costs at stake, particularly the political cost.
Under the constraints, the authorities have tried various measures and devised traffic plan to provide relief from the chronic congestions. In 2015, slight ease was felt when the road was declared one way, restricting Auto Rickshaws to run only from Gandhi Maiden to Patna City and not the other way round.
But now a new revolution has taken place, e-rickshaws have taken the road by storm, pushing next of its kin, tricycle rickshaw to extinction. Even though e-rickshaw is better in terms of pollution, noise and space it takes, its driver stops and starts vehicle haphazardly, thus worsening the plight of commuters.
This would be unfair to single out these new comers for indiscipline; most of the drivers on the road are inflicted with. They stop their vehicle when and where they choose without taking sides or giving space to others to pass by.
For now, only comfort at sight are two ongoing projects of parallel roads to Ashok Rajpath which are expected to share the burden of the traffic: First, ambitious Ganga Driveway project, Similar to the Marine Drive of Mumbai, on the bank of Ganga, work is underway. Second, a proposed six km road on existing nala (drainage) that goes through Saidpur Sanichra on the south of the city, the project is in the initial stage.
Yet, as the deadline of the Ganga Driveway project is extended to more than two years from its initial deadline of 2017 and the other project will also take time in completion, the problem is not going to subside anytime soon.