Last week, I got an opportunity to host an official event at Rotary Club on the famous Mall Road in Shimla. I was mesmerised to see the kind of management that prevails here since ages. This road is a vehicle-free road and, consequently, pollution-free. It would be quite beneficial if this kind of a practice is followed in the busiest and the most polluted parts of our Valley too; Lal Chowk, for example. At the same time, this is worth knowing that vehicle-free zones exist in a large number of cities around the world.
Since the time when India was ruled by the British, this stretch of Mall Road, as long as seven to nine kilometres, has been witnessing a unique feature: no vehicle, except an Ambulance, a Fire Service Truck, one police jeep and the governor's car, is allowed to ply on this beautiful road. Straightaway from 'The Scandal Point'—the name being derived from a conspiracy weaved against the then Maharaja during the British rule—upto the end of Mall Road, where it descends down to merge with the road that runs across the base of the mountain, Mall Road remains vehicle-free; no loud horns, no smoke-emitting trucks and no pollution. This is undoubtedly the biggest measure with the help of which Shimla government has been successful in keeping this part of Shimla unchanged. The Mall Road breaks into two branches at the start; one runs towards the ridge and further runs to the famous 'Wood Market', or 'Lakad Bazar' in the vernacular language, and the other branch splits to form the main Mall Road. Footprint-like steel impressions have been installed on Mall Road dividing it into two lanes. Often, two well-dressed policemen are seen walking about on these impressions and asking people to maintain their lanes while walking. On the contrary, in our Valley, lanes are not maintained even by vehicles, not to talk about pedestrians! Our policemen themselves violate the rules of following lanes and the higher the policeman's rank, the more the severity of the violation! This is our biggest misfortune!
The need for such measures was felt as early as 1952 when London was struck by the devastating Smog. As a response, Safety Zones and Car-free zones were demarcated in London. Later on, in 2003, 'Congestion Charge Zones' were identified in London wherin one needs to pay through nose if one wants to drive inside such an area. One needs to pay as much as £ 11.5 a day to drive inside a CFZ. It has been observed that the increased volume of traffic has seriously been detrimental to the quality of air. Polluted air and smog pose grave threats to the health of the people. A study conducted in The United Kingdom has shown that on an average, a person in UK spends 106 days of his life in search of Parking Lots. Consequently, measures have been taken in one way or the other to tackle the problem of increasing volume of traffic and the resultant air pollution. For example, 'Odd-Even formula' was first introduced by Paris and a Smog reduction of 30 % was observed during the first couple of months. The Delhi NCR also experimented this formula recently. Similarly, 200 miles of cycle-lanes were constructed in Copanhagen.
Punchline: Kashmir Valley is beautiful and known for its beauty and rejuvenating air. People come here to sit on the banks of Dal Lake and breathe in fresh air. But, unfortunately, the quality of air here too is decreasing at an alarming rate. This fact may be experienced by one who walks about the roads in Lal Chowk. The air remains full of smoke. If this is left unabated, there will be hazardous air all around us in future. Just like the cities I mentioned above, who were twice shy after bitten once, we too need to think about it seriously. The time is now. Our main market areas like Lal Chowk and Batmaloo must be made car free. Alternative means of movement can be introduced, for example, rikshaws, carts, etc. Measures like Restricted zones and dicouraging vehicular movement must be taken without delay.