STAYING ABROAD, I visit Guwahati from time to time. I studied at the Assam Engineering College and after graduation, I worked in a technical consultancy organisation in Guwahati till 1995 before migrating to the USA.
During a recent visit, I had the opportunity to observe the city from a close perspective. I thought the best way to experience the city would be to travel through its roads, streets and footpaths. I used all modes of public transport available with rickshaws and battery rickshaws on the inner roads, and city buses, taxi services (Uber) and private cars on the main roads. Of course, I walked wherever possible. People rushed to their destinations on the streets and footpaths across fruit and vegetable vendors, pan shops, fast food joints, restaurants, cloth and liquor stores, hardware shops and the like.
Crossing the roads was a task. Nobody seemed to know the significance of crosswalks meant for pedestrians. As drivers and policemen are ignorant of the pedestrian crossings, why have these white lines marked on the streets in the first place?
Guwahati is one of the fastest growing cities in India. The 2011 Census put the population of Guwahati at 9.57 lakh. The current population is estimated to be around 20 lakh. Drivers have to exercise the greatest caution as they manoeuvre the dense traffic with vehicles coming in freely from their left and right sides. In the US, vehicles are allowed to cross only from the right side making driving much safer.
The bylanes in Guwahati are narrow and the size of big footpaths in western countries. People here build a boundary wall before building a house, and this wall is built on the road itself. In the USA, a city is developed in a planned, scientific and systematic manner. One can only build or purchase a house after the plot has been developed by the city. Such a plot will have all utilities like water supply, sewage disposal, covered drainage and electricity connected to the house before one is allowed to purchase the plot. The city, in turn, will charge the tenant by way of a monthly bill for the services provided. The city tax is paid annually for maintaining streets, footpaths and landscaping services. Roads and footpaths are constructed prior to purchasing the property. The footpaths adjoining the streets are owned by the city. No one is allowed to build a wall along the footpaths. Ownership starts from the inner edge of the footpath. The owner can only build a fence on the back and sides of the house. In addition, the owner must have lawns on the front, back and sides of the house which have to be maintained on a monthly basis. If the front lawns facing the street are not specifically maintained, a notice is served on the tenant by the home owners� association. These rules give a clean and aesthetic appearance to the house as well as the neighbourhood.
The footpaths are not crammed. All side roads in a neighbourhood have two lanes on both sides with a broad divider lined with trees. These side streets from different neighbourhoods connect to state highways, which then connect to inter-state highways or freeways which are very long flyovers over many miles. Smooth flow of traffic at all points is maintained by automatic traffic lights. The police, with their computerised patrol cars, monitor the streets at all times. Services like �house watch� are provided by the police if one is on vacation or away from home for up to three weeks. Most people normally live in the suburbs of a city in the setting described above. In fact, the same concept prevailed in Assam in the past � ekhon phuloni aag fale and ekhon baari paas fale. The main city area normally houses offices and businesses along with some high-rise apartment buildings.
Coming back to Guwahati, there is severe water scarcity. Tempos run throughout the day supplying water to households in the absence of a city water supply system in a lot of localities. Water, being a basic necessity, should be easily available to the citizens of the city, especially with the Brahmaputra running along it. The development projects are in limbo. Apart from the traffic snarls, haphazard parking on the streets and bylanes is causing a lot of congestion. There is need to appoint more GMC workers to issue parking tickets and collect revenue. Parks along the Brahmaputra river in the Panbazar, Fancy Bazar and Bharalumukh areas are in a total mess now.
On the brighter side, the Dighalipukhuri area and the Nehru Park have been given a facelift, and there is four-laning of the NH-37 bypass with a provision for expansion into six lanes in the future. The Saraighat Bridge has also been expanded. Another welcome feature is the collection of garbage from different neighbourhoods and the seats provided for ladies and senior citizens in city buses. During the recent Advantage Assam meet, trucks on the NH-37 bypass were not allowed to ply for three to four days. The streetlight posts on the dividers were decorated with ornamental lights and a ride from Basistha Chariali up to Jalukbari area at night felt like one was in a foreign country. What is, of course, the most endearing aspect is that the common people on the city streets still use such terms of address as baideo and khuri for females and dada and khura for males, thus expressing mutual warmth in the urban setting.