As the chilly winds made her hands tremble, a restless Meenakshi Dhiman wandered the streets of Kumarhatti in Solan district at 1.20am in the night in the search of a washroom. After a ten-minute search, the two-month pregnant Dhiman decided to relieve herself in a local’s washroom that was left unlocked.
“I felt like a burglar when I used someone’s washroom without permission. But what is a pregnant woman who has been waiting in a stationary bus for at least an hour suppose to do,” Dhiman said.
Dhiman, who was travelling alone, was one of the hundred passengers who were stranded in the quaint town situated in Himalayan foothills after heavy vehicles were stopped from plying on the Shimla-Kalka road for at least three hours on the intervening night of October 31 and November 1.
“The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) is building an overbridge besides four-laning work on the Shimla-Kalka highway and they have stopped trucks and public transport buses from plying on that road,” a Himachal Road Transport Corporation(HRTC) driver, who did not wish to be identified, said.
Neither the passengers nor the HRTC staff were informed in advance about the blockade that was put up at night for carrying out the construction work, he added.
“A long traffic jam on the Shimla road was an everyday affair in the daytime, but now buses are being stopped for hours at night as well. A few days ago, we were stuck at Kumarhatti for around six hours and reached Delhi at 12 noon against the expected time of arrival of 6am,” another driver said.
“Such situations can be avoided if HRTC staff is informed in advance by the local administration or the NHAI,” he added.
HRTC managing director Yunus Khan said the corporation had not received any advisory in this regard. “We usually take precautions and make alternate measure to avoid such inconvenience to passengers, but we were not informed about the blockade. We will take up the matter with the relevant authorities and ask for a detailed report on the blockade,” Khan told HT.
While HRTC claimed it wasn’t taken in the loop regarding the work on the expressway, other state agencies passed the buck on the matter.
Principal secretary (public works, transport, information technology), Jagdish Chander said, “We understand that building the expressway is important for faster connectivity but passengers and tourists should not suffer. We will take up the matter with NHAI and ensure that such incident is not repeated. Information on such blockades should be made public on time in newspapers and other means.”
“The local administration should have been proactive as disseminating information on traffic movement under their jurisdiction is their responsibility,” he added.
Solan deputy commissioner KC Chaman blamed NHAI for the lapse and said they should have informed the local administration and sought permission a week in advance.
“We weren’t sent an intimation about the blockade put up in Kumarhatti. Such incidents have taken place in the past, but the NHAI doesn’t always inform us about such traffic restrictions,” he said.
LOCALS SEEK ALTERNATES
As government agencies assured of action, many locals have made up their minds about alternate arrangements. “I no longer travel in HRTC buses at night. If hard-pressed for options I will take a long-distance cab to travel to Delhi from Shimla as small vehicles are often allowed to ply on such blockades,” said Krishanpriya Sharma, a Shimla-native.
“This lapse in communication shows that private contractors hired by NHAI and the company itself doesn’t care about commuters or the state government. But the local administration should have ensured coordination between all agencies and informed passengers a week in advance,” Tikender Panwar, former deputy mayor of Shimla said.
Nov 02, 2019 04:39 IST