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The Siren City of India

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By Satish Aparajit

The Dehradun I clapped my eyes on almost five decades ago in 1975 was an enchanting place. The winding roads and undulating landscape with the Mussoorie hills in the backdrop and fresh air made for a heady combination. The sheer beauty and calm brought about a sense of tranquillity and peace. The people, from the shopkeepers to all whom one encountered, reflected this in their dealings, the whole town seemed to be in tune with nature.

The EC Road, with its canal that ran through parts of the town and supplied water to the fields in places like Badripur, home to the cultivation of fine basmati, was a vital artery of the town.  Dalanwala with its litchi and mango trees was a sleepy part of town with some beautiful residences and it seemed as though time had stood still there. Robert Frost’s line of “what I was walling in or walling out” held sway as green hedges abounded instead of boundary walls and created a sense of community. Paltan Bazaar, which was meant to serve the Paltan, was unique and, along its length, its character changed and was home to an unimaginable range of goods. The radial roads from the Clock Tower to Chakrata Road and Rajpur Road leading to Connaught Place and Astley Hall, respectively, had shops lining the way. This formed the shopping hub.

With pomp and fanfare on 9 November, 2000, the 27th state of India, Uttaranchal (Uttarakhand) was carved out of UP. It appears the doomsday knell had been rung for the valley as the transformation from a small town to a capital city changed the very fabric of the place. Every new state receives a huge amount of funding from the Central Government for development. Within five years, one witnessed the ugly part of development in terms of concrete jungle and, today, it is bursting at the seams; forest land has been taken over for various projects; land mafia has made inroads, and the beautiful forests and rivers are all being brought under the ambit of ‘development’. The beautiful Rajpur Road, quaint Paltan Bazaar, stately Astley Hall and Connaught Place have all lost their character, become loud, and painted with the same brush. This includes signposts, for shops’ individuality has given way to sameness. Sirens and loudness are all the price for development.

Today, driving in town has become a nightmare. Added to that is the VIP culture that has crept in. Every MLA, MP, Minister, Bureaucrats, all Police vehicles go past blowing sirens on the roads of the city. Many of these so-called VIPs also have a pilot vehicle that believes that the road only belongs to the VIPs. The latest addition is all the taxis that are hired by the Government are also marked “Uttarakhand Sarkar”, which have also installed sirens. Its well-nigh impossible to drive two hundred metres on the road without hearing the blaring sirens of these vehicles. The VIPs are destroying a beautiful city in the name of ‘Sabaka Saath, Apna Vikas”.

The other noticeable item on each of the government vehicles, including on the hired taxis, is a red coloured plate depicting the designation of the person in it. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the government probably wants to be recognised and flaunt their powers at the hapless citizens of the city. It, perhaps, also helps them break all the traffic rules and even receive a salute from the Police and the home guards.

Numerous VIPs’ “Uttarakhand Sarkar” vehicles, including the police, have often only the driver in it, but he too believes he is entitled to this privilege. These vehicles drive past red lights with scant regard for traffic rules or lights as these are only meant for commoners. I am witness to how a VIP’s cavalcade overtook an Ambulance. Police either have no control over these lawbreakers or are scared that action would be initiated against them if the entourage is stopped at traffic lights for violation of traffic rules. This is one of the few countries in the world where the traffic rules do not apply to the VIPs, politicians, police, and bureaucrats.

Narendra Modi, during his first tenure as the PM, had given clear instructions regarding “no lal batti and siren”. Well, it’s his own party-run state that flouts the instructions and are above the hands of the law – their sheer arrogance and the police forces’ aggression is unbelievable.

The politicians probably work for a few hours while the assembly session is on – that’s a couple of times a year – and are so insecure about the very people who elected them that massive and ugly road barriers are installed blocking already narrow roads. Traffic is diverted and one has to commute 5 to 7 kms extra to reach home. Of course, the personnel in khaki uniform are downright rude and their insolent behaviour leaves much to be desired. It is probably due to their closeness to the VIPs that they enjoy humiliating the commoners on the roads. The siren noise of all the vehicles during the session reaches a crescendo. Many of these VIPs park themselves in the Defence Colony, by far the quietest and well maintained, but the advent of these illegal occupants makes a mess of the place. Every time these politicians enter the colony, sirens blare. Why may I ask?

Delhi has the highest number of VVIP/VIPs but one hardly ever hears a siren on the roads.

The present Government will not take any action to correct this nuisance, but I hope that some sensible politician/bureaucrat will at least initiate the change and withdraw sirens from all the government vehicles including that of the top brass of the state.

(The author is a retired Wing Commander)