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Above: With huge congestion of vehicles, traffic moves slowly on the highway

Despite the Uttarakhand High Court’s injunctions to ensure that those coming to Nainital make advance arrangements for parking their vehicles, the situation is dire 

By Govind Pant Raju in Lucknow

The next time you plan to unwind with a road trip to scenic Nainital, make sure to check with hotel authorities there if the city has any parking space left. Things are not so rosy anymore as there is no place to park vehicles anywhere within the city limits. Most vehicles are parked several kilometres outside the city.

The limited space in the small Himalayan town, coupled with a significant rise in daily tourist influx, has created problems of traffic congestion, shortage of parking space and overcrowding in markets. Usually, most tourist places have welcoming boards on their outer boundaries. But in this hill station, the police had previously put up “Nainital Houseful” flexi-banners on the approach roads to discourage tourist arrivals. These banners had been installed at Bhimtal Chauraha, Kathgodam Police Chowki Crossing and Nariman Square.

Mahesh Chandra, in-charge of Nainital traffic police, told India Legal that these banners were installed because the authorities were facing a lot of difficulty in controlling the traffic. According to him, there are around 12 parking spaces in Nainital where a total of 2,000 four-wheelers can be accommodated, but there are some 4,000 vehicles coming into the city on a daily basis with a huge turnout of weekend tourists from Delhi and UP. “As the total parking available here is just around 1,500 to 2,000, we had to stop vehicles on Nainital’s outer periphery on three approach roads—Kaladhungi, Bhowali and Haldwani. In such a situation, we have no option but to urge the tourists to leave their vehicles outside the city limits,” he said.

Officials have appealed to tourists to leave their private vehicles outside the city limits. Even the Uttarakhand High Court has reprimanded officials over the poor traffic arrangements. Show cause notices have been issued by the High Court against senior district officials, including the district magistrate and the senior superintendent of police. The proactive steps were a result of this reprimand. The traffic hiccups have considerably irked entrepreneurs associated with the hospitality and tourism sector, leading them to call for a blackout.

Despite these initiatives, there is still major traffic congestion on approach roads to Nainital with kilometre-long lines of vehicles being allowed at a very slow rate into the hill town. “We came here to escape the heat of Delhi but are finding the same traffic issues here,” said one tourist.

Dinesh Lal Sah, president of Nainital Hotels’ and Restaurants’ Association, said that the tourist season was delayed this time due to the general election. He said: “It has picked up only recently due to the heat wave.” He said that they have submitted a memorandum of their demands to the chief minister through the office of the commissioner.

In April last year, the High Court had given directions to the state government to ensure that “those coming to Nainital with their own vehicles should first make advance arrangements for parking their vehicles”. However, authorities have not been able to ensure that. Now, with the city administration getting tough by restricting the entry of vehicles, it has disgruntled traders, hoteliers, and tour and travel operators who have warned of an indefinite bandh from June 17. The bandh has been called by the Nainital Nagrik Manch (NNM).

Kishan Negi, president of NMM, said: “The tourism industry has been badly hit by the decision of the authorities to stop the vehicles of visitors. The fact is that now nearly half of the public parking spaces are empty. If we take general parking lots and those available with hotels and resorts, Nainital has a capacity for parking nearly 2,000 vehicles,” he said.

Vinod Kumar Suman, district magistrate of Nainital, said that they were in touch with all the stakeholders and were trying to implement the High Court’s orders in the best possible way. The district administration has published advertisements in many national and regional newspapers advising visitors to first ensure that they have the requisite parking arrangements at hotels and resorts where they are planning to stay.

The situation is similar to what it was last year. While local residents and tourists coming to Nainital are strictly prohibited from parking their vehicles on Mall Road and other roads, the old rickshaw stand in Tallital area has been converted into a taxi depot by drivers. The locals said the authorities had imposed the no-parking rule by either putting a clamp on the wheels of vehicles or issuing challans to the driver on the spot.

On the other hand, the authorities act leniently towards taxi drivers in the town. These taxi drivers are also a huge source of congestion. Taxi operators had even created disorder at Tallital roadways bus station. Locals said that the shuttle service to Nainital zoo had also become a cause for traffic congestion and could lead to increase in accidents.

Unfortunately, the traffic problem in Nainital may not be easy to solve as the capacity of the roads and parking is limited and the fact is that they cannot be increased. The local administration has also been lackadaisical.

It’s not that these traffic problems are limited to Nainital. There is great traffic distress in other tourist destinations such as Mussoorie, Dehradun and Ranikhet, leading the locals to feel the stress in their daily commute. Even pilgrims for the Char Dham Yatra are not spared.

The bigger and far more fundamental issue here is that Uttarakhand’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and related ventures. The mounting inconvenience to tourists has caused a decrease in footfalls of premium visitors and cancellations in the hospitality business. This will have a cascading effect on the entire economy. It is time for the state government to work towards a sustainable solution to the traffic problem and bring in concrete measures and long-term solutions encompassing all stakeholders.

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