Traffic jams amid Chinese Speaker’s visit trouble Valley commutersChaotic traffic gridlock highlights the city authorities’ incompetence.
On Monday, Rabindra KC left his Satdobato home at 9:30am for Putalisadak, where he was to take a ‘mock test’ of the Pearson Test of English (PTE) at 11am. The distance between the two spots is about seven kilometres and on a regular traffic day, it takes 20-30 minutes on a vehicle to reach his destination. KC had thought that he would reach the exam venue early on his scooter, so as to buy a window of time for some last-gasp preparations. Little did he know that he’d get stuck in a traffic jam at Lagankhel and have to use an alternative route. KC was in for an odyssey.
KC took the inner alleys from Lagankhel to Krishna Mandir at Patan negotiating the narrow roads and the hustle and bustle of the rush hour. He finally managed to reach Kupondole, where he was stuck in another traffic jam—this time, for nearly two hours, he said.
“When I finally managed to reach the centre, it was already 12pm,” KC said. Dejected, KC returned home after requesting a rescheduling of his test for Friday.
Like KC, thousands of commuters in Kathmandu on Monday faced traffic jams throughout the day. The immediate reason behind the jams might have been the visit of the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Li Zhanshu, but it exposes, once again, the failure of city authorities to manage the Valley’s notorious traffic.
Although Kathmandu Valley Traffic Police Office said that it had published the schedule of jams expected to occur from 9am to till 4pm in different areas of Kathmandu, many were unaware of the notice. The police office had published the notice on its Facebook page at 9am on Tuesday, at the time when many were preparing for office.
“If only such a message was relayed on Monday, I would have left home quite earlier,” said 23-year-old Radha Paudel, who was stuck in a jam while travelling to Teku Hospital for a check-up from her home in Kirtipur. “I was suffering from fever and body pain and was so exhausted, but the bus I boarded got stuck at Balkhu for over an hour. The whole experience was a nightmare.”
Senior Superintendent Rajendra Pradad Bhatta, also the spokesperson of the Kathmandu Valley Traffic Police, said his office delayed the circulation of the message on purpose, “for security reasons.”
“We immediately published the route of the Chinese delegates’ motorcade after getting clearance from the Home Ministry,” said Bhatta.
He said that if they had received the information about the high-profile movement on Monday, the commuters wouldn’t have to go through the ordeal. “It was for security reasons,” Bhatta said. “We were not allowed to give that information.”
Although the Valley Traffic Police said there would be traffic jams only at Tinkune, New Baneshwar, Singha Durbar, Thapathali, Teku, Kalimati and Soaltee Hotel and Ravibhawan areas at around 11:30am, their knock-on effect had spread throughout the Valley. The gridlock stretched until the evening.
The Chinese delegation’s movement and authorities' inability to manage the traffic troubled many from dawn to dusk. Many commuters took to social media to complain about the traffic havoc and criticised Kathmandu's traffic regulating body.
Nischal Basnet, a film director and actor, posted a picture of an ambulance stuck in a jam on his Facebook wall.
“Someone should convey to those foreign VIPs that our VIPs have kept even the life of a patient writhing in pain inside an ambulance at stake,” Basnet wrote. “No matter how high-profile the visit is, the traffic should not be stopping ambulances, a VIP movement should not be more important than human life.”
According to the Kathmandu Valley Traffic Police Office, the number of vehicles that ply the Valley roads at present is 1.75 million, a rise from 1.4 million just a year ago.
“The traffic jam continued in Kathmandu throughout the day because we could not manage the flow,” Bhatta, the Valley Traffic’s spokesperson, admitted.
Bhatta recalled the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Kathmandu in October, 2019 when the government had announced a public holiday for the second day of the Premier’s two-day state visit. “But this time there is no holiday, and this visit is also very sensitive in terms of security,” said Bhatta.
The traffic chaos could have been solved easily if the authorities had exercised prudence, said Bhim Prasad Dhakal, a former chief of Kathmandu traffic police who was the in-charge of Valley’s traffic police during the Chinese president’s visit to Kathmandu.
“During my tenure, we published the VIP movement routes two days before the trip, and asked the public to take alternative routes,” Dhakal said. “Also we put restrictions on heavy and public vehicles entering the inner city from the Ring Road. Even the Chinese delegates had thanked the Valley traffic for our traffic management skills.”