Last week I was going to a branch office about 25 km away from my home. There are two ways to reach the office. The shorter one has a barrier in the form of the railway level crossing which remains closed most of the time and hence taking that route is risky. I preferred the route via NH24 which a bit longer but a safe bet.
NH24 starts from Delhi and as far as I know it goes upto Lucknow, about 500 km away. The road lies on the left of my habitation. It’s a four lane road for about initial 60 km from Delhi and thereafter it’s a two lane road when I last travelled on this road to Nainital. I don’t know if any further widening has been done in these years. It’s my daily commuting road to my office and I travel about 15 km daily on this road till its end at Delhi side. That day I was taking the opposite route.
Getting into the road is a bit difficult task these days (just about a km from my house) as lots of construction activities are going simultaneously in the approach road to NH24. An underpass is under construction for last two years, construction of overhead metro rail has started and few arterial roads are being laid simultaneously. It’s a cacophony of assorted vehicles and pedestrians at the junction where you hit NH24 from the approach road. It’s a daily affair now and as far as I see everyone has adjusted well to the situation. The shared autos don’t give way, the pedestrians cross the road and the junction as if they are taking stroll in a park, buses and trucks vie with each other – abuses are hurled by all and sundry to, again to all deaf ears as nobody gives a damn, ‘poor’ carwallahs like us honk for no avail and we shout at all of them without realising that our voice would not reach them as the car windows are never rolled down to save us from dust, fume and noise (and of course the car AC is on).
Managing to cross the junction comfortably and hitting the NH24 is a sort of achievement. I did it on that day after about 10 minutes waiting at the signal. Thereafter it should have been a smooth cruising as it was opposite traffic. Most of the daily commuters were going towards Noida and Delhi whereas I was moving in the opposite direction. So for me it should have been a smooth movement. Just about a km down the road, I noticed that vehicles ahead of me are taking the extreme left lane. I had to follow them. Then I noticed a stream of two wheelers and few 3 wheelers coming from the opposite direction on the lane on my right. The opposite lane was choc-o-bloc with traffic. For about next two km, traffic in my direction crawled in the left lane only as the other three lanes- two in the opposite direction and one in our direction were taken over by the oncoming traffic. After two km, it was normal again.
I started thinking why it was so. As I gathered my memory about this place I was getting to the reasons of this daily chaos. I don’t know when NH24 was built (I can Google but that is not the point). I have been living in this area for last 21 years. I have been using NH24 for the last 21 years. When I had moved closure to NH24 in 2003 – about 13 years back, there was little habitation around NH24. I vividly remember that on NH24, after crossing the UP gate, there was hardly any habitation till you reach the next habitation at a place called Pilakhuwa near Hapur, about 30 km away from UP gate. One of my friends used to live in Pratap nagar, an upcoming locality in Ghaziabad. To reach his home I used to take NH24 on my scooter and the drive of 20 km was just about 20 minutes, smooth and flat. No movement after dark as the road was deserted and avoided. In last 13 years, a great suburb has taken root along the highway. The 10 km stretch along the highway after UP gate is now full of habitation. Residential, commercial, educational, medical, governmental…you name them; all kinds of constructions have come up and are fully functional. Millions of people have moved in. The villages around NH24 which were sleepy once upon a time have become shelter for low income group of people working in factories, commercial establishments, educational institutions, hospitals, eateries and at households. Cost of living gradually moved up and people started to move down further in search of low cost living. NH24 was and still is the only lifeline between these habitations and the workplaces at Noida, Ghaziabad, and Delhi and beyond. People from both sides of the road have no choice but to hit NH24 even just to go the other side.
I don’t know if any other road has witnessed such humongous development around it in a short span of 10 years. I don’t know if any other road has been left high and dry to face the monstrous onslaught of such scale of development. If you see the central verge on the road, you will understand the negligence NH24 faced over the years. The verge is cut, overridden, crossed, used illegally at will by the traffic of all kinds daily. There has been no repair of the verge since the time I have been using the road. Forget repair, there has been no cleaning of the verge over the years. The iron railing on both sides of the verge has disappeared at many places. The shrubs overgrown and left unattended are at nature’s (and of course, at users’) mercy. With the development of habitations around, the development of NH24 should have been taken care of by the authorities.
I really don’t blame the people around NH24 for its misuse. They don’t have any choice. Nobody likes to drive on wrong lane, nobody likes to risk his/her life daily, nobody likes to reach workplace late, nobody likes face daily traffic jams, nobody likes to waste precious fuel, nobody likes to live far away from the workplace, nobody likes to spend extra amount on commuting daily, nobody likes to share the rickety, good-for-nothing vehicles daily. But is there any escape from these daily hassles? Only if the road was better, the traffic would have moved smoothly and life would have been good if not great. I observed that two wheelers were the most on the wrong lane. Why? Because two-wheeler drivers are kind of life line in business these days. They are the delivery men, take any industry.
The two km’s and about 15 minute’s drive compelled me to think the plight of NH24 and its users. I am sure there are many such NH24s in my country where the growth around has not touched the road and the users are jostling with each other for the same space on the road, daily.