By Brij Khandelwal
Agra: This year’s monsoon has left most roads in Taj city Agra in shambles. Except for a few roads in Agra Cantonment, all exit and entry points to the city are in a terrible state. Thus, getting to the world-famous monument of love is no mean achievement.
“You call this a road!” exclaimed a visitor from Australia as his vehicle got stuck at Hathi Ghat on the Yamuna Kinara Road leading to the Taj Mahal.
The Mahatma Gandhi Road-II, meant to ease traffic pressure on the main Mahatma Gandhi Road, the lifeline of the city, is in a shocking state of neglect, after layers were washed away by monsoon rain.
“You dare not pick up speed on these roads,” said Avinash, a tourist taxi driver from Haryana. “From Noida to the entry point of Agra, you can manage in just two hours (on the newly-opened Expressway). From there to the Taj Mahal can take an eternity. On these roads, you’re driven to trust god!” he added.
Most roads in the city have huge craters and gaping holes, and you ride a string of hills and holes that go by the name of road. “Drivers are put through obstacle races,” Avinash said.
It is not surprising that each day accidents are reported, many resulting in serious injuries.
“No government department comes forward to accept responsibility. The Agra Municipal Corporation blames the Agra Development Authority, which passes the buck to the state Public Works Department, which in turn points an accusing finger at the National Highway Authority.
“Not a single road is serviceable. This, in an international tourist centre that attracts millions of visitors annually,” said Shishir Bhagat, president of NGO Wake Up Agra.
The authorities say they are taking action. “We will start road repair work soon. In some areas work has already begun,” municipal commissioner D.K. Singh told IANS.
District magistrate Ajay Chauhan had directed the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) two weeks ago to repair the national highway immediately and ordered last week that a comprehensive directory of roads be made urgently so that responsibility could be fixed.
Tourists who arrive in Agra by the newly-opened Yamuna Expressway get the shock of their lives when they reach.
“It’s not just traffic jams. Parts of roads are missing, the gaps are gaspacious,” exclaimed insurance agent Sudheir Gupta.
“We have the high-speed spectacle of Formula 1 races at one end and, at the other end, the authorities could start obstacle races to test the nerves of ordinary motorists,” quipped Surendra Sharma, owner of Goverdhan Hotel.
Citizens’ groups have demanded immediate repairs and re-laying of the Mahatma Gandhi Road and the Yamuna Kinara Road that are the most commonly used in the city. They have also sought streamlining of the street lighting arrangements.
An official of the Agra Development Authority said the biggest threat to roads in the city came from encroachers and squatters.
“All efforts to beautify the city of the Taj are doomed if the encroachers and squatters are not deftly dealt with,” social activists Anand Rai and Sudershan Dua told IANS.
What repair work has already been undertaken, citizens complain, will not solve the problem.
Sooraj Kumar, a motorist, is an angry man: “The patchwork on the Delhi-Agra Highway won’t work. It’s no use filling up potholes, when the urgent need is to re-lay the whole stretch. Why does the NHAI collect toll tax if it cannot maintain the highway?”