Monthly Archives: September 2013

Pavement! where art thou?

As I drove across GK2, Alaknanda and CR Park, I could not help noticing that all men, women, children and the elderly were walking on the road.

All pedestrians had to negotiate through moving traffic, sidestepping parked cars and other impediments; on some stretches, even forced to walking close to the center of the road.

There is no pavement to walk on. Vast stretches of pavements have been completely occupied for parking, ramps, flower beds and shrubs. They have been occupied by hawkers, mechanics, odd structures, cigarette vendors, fruit and vegetable sellers and make shift shops.  At places open drains and manholes, alongside the pavement, present a serious challenge to life and limb.

I noticed old ladies carrying bags laden with groceries looking hither and thither, over their shoulder and craning their necks to get a view across the parked cars. This is no doubt an impulse created out of self preservation against accidents.

I saw children, so young and often reckless, screech to a stop while walking or cycling.

Clearly we have learnt to live like this. We are adept at navigating through the chaos and the risk presented constantly.

The entire area of Greater Kailash II and Chittaranjan Park were originally laid out with proper sidewalks along all the major and minor roads. Infrastructure services like water supply, sewage, storm water drainage, etc., were laid below the footpaths, and trees were planted at intervals. The sidewalks were generally raised 6” to 7” above the road level. I am not sure whether similar sidewalks were provided along the roads in the SFS Housing and NRI Housing areas. However, with the increase in the number of cars in recent years these footpaths have either disappeared or been extensively encroached upon.  In most areas cars are parked all along the outside boundary of the house plots at right angles to the road. The level difference defining the sidewalks has disappeared. There is therefore no option, other than to walk in the middle of the road. With the steady increase of traffic and considering the fact that some roads have become major thoroughfares, this is a situation that has to be addressed and cannot just be ignored. It is true that attempts to resolve this will put the backs up of many people, but in the interest of long-term safety something has to be done. Solutions will not be easy to find but an attempt needs to be made.

As for land, we have devised a peculiar concept of use. Personal land is for personal use, Govt. Land is for Government use but public spaces are to be ‘misused’ by all.

We are oblivious to these issues, habituated as we have become in accepting that the roads and pavements are chaotic in nature.

There may be solutions to all such issues. The solutions must have a cultural fit. Importing western solutions will simply not work.  We will need to work out our own local indigenous solution.

The Background

Our proclivity for convenience and having everything next door does get in the way. parking, mechanics, provisions, retail, cineplex, stationary, grocery, fruits and vegetables must all be within, ‘walking distance.’ Funnily, there is no provision for walking easily!

The emotional idea of convenience is overpowering in our culture. Pitted against the strategic idea of planning and discipline, hankering for convenience has resulted in our city becoming inconvenient.

This matter, needless to say, is as highly political as it is cultural. The planned part of the city is western (only though in its basis of planning) and the unplanned part is a rural setting trans-located on to the urban landscape.

Despite Urban planners and environmentalists raising concerns, virtually nothing has been achieved in clearing the pavements for people to walk.

It is a pity that in all recent urban development we have largely adopted the Western planning approach and not looked at any of our traditional examples. Our traditional bazaars were all pedestrian oriented and planned around a system of moving on foot. Chandni Chowk and its attached framework of by lanes, were based on a pedestrian safety system. It is a pity that over the course of time, cars were allowed into this area and that has now resulted in total chaos. In such a situation, it is worthwhile to take a look at the market at Sarojini Nagar. Perhaps it was not consciously conceived as such, but today it is an absolute pedestrian space with all cars outside the periphery. Teeming with people and abuzz with activity, it is in many ways an amazing space. Unfortunately we do not emulate such examples, nor do we develop new concepts based on this kind of approach.

And here are the challenges:

The option of having a designated area for vendors and hawkers, with strict rules on their being responsible for cleanliness and waste disposal, can be met with resistance from many residents, who would, actually, want them close by!

All such activities need to be properly planned for. If space is properly organized with proper provision for movement, servicing, functional and suitably located toilets, proper garbage disposal arrangements, perhaps some landscaping, it would transform such spaces, and positively overcome resistance from residents.

The option of asking house owners to stop using the illegal occupation of pavements for car parking, construction of ramps and personal verandahs, and the planting of shrubs and flowers, will be met with howls of protest and severe resistance. There is a sense of ownership that has developed over years. There are problems regarding the parking of cars. Multiple flats on singular plots simply do not have parking spaces for all owners who own multiple cars.

Cars could be parked alongside kerbs but with multiple apartments to a plot, the decision on slots will result in ego based conflicts.

Parking is an issue that needs to be effectively addressed and systematically organized. This needs detailed planning area by area – there is no standard solution for all situations. In new developments parking should be part of the proposal within each site. The current solution in the form of a stilted floor for parking at ground level needs proper enforcement, with a clear check on the number of parking spaces sanctioned, and as actually put to effective car parking use. Currently stilt areas are being used for other utilities and cars remain parked outside

Not all existing constructions on pavements can be removed.

Kiosks have spilled onto the pavements; any regulations against those, will get the small trader seriously upset.

Any attempt at law enforcement will fail since a significant number is now trapped in a tradition of land misuse.

Very little history of community self regulation exists in urban settings, but this needs to change. Perhaps we need to begin by effectively organizing and cleaning up a small area and slowly extend it outwards to larger spaces. This could be one of the objectives of community groups and RWA.

Under these circumstances some very creative solutions will need to be devised bringing all stakeholders including the usurpers on board in a community initiative. That seems to be the only possibility under the circumstances.

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Poster Magic takes over

Poster Magic takes over.

There is something magical about posters in our city. It’s as if all our problems vanish, when posters proclaim so. No matter what the problem is a poster makes it disappear. Appears poster, disappears problem!

Lack of leadership: No problem, just put a hoarding across the constituency or city, showing a photo shopped image with a beaming smile – a face plumped with collagen and reconstructed with dental artistry – who can challenge that.

The leader has arrived. Mortified competitors will respond with a barrage of posters, showing a bevy of supporters; this will be a bigger poster too! The bigger the better.

But the deed is done. The posters have a secret formula- Leadership is directly proportional to the formula:

L= {nlog( Ps+Lp+Psk)x log.e.Mcoma.x Nasp.}÷Rn

This is based on Intel reports. This code has to be deciphered before it’s too late.

Ps- poster size

Lp- location of poster

Psk- Photoshop capable support

Mcoma- coefficient of Municipal apathy

Nasp- number of aspirants

R- Number of residents

e- Natural log base 2.718

Here is a look at how posters are solving other problems:

Sewage/drainage problem: No problem. Poster on multiple project inaugurations will magically appear. Who cares if the roads are dug up endlessly and nothing happens. Poster to hai naa! Sub kuch theek hai. Such is poster power, that the public feels reassured even when it can’t get to work, when workplaces get flooded, and the fire-brigade and ambulances siren themselves into a tizzy.

Security problem: Thefts and break-ins, underpaid guards who look like they need more help than they can offer; beat constables, clearly not seen in the presence of the needy –  no problem yaar,  Posters on polices, ‘neighbourhood watch schemes,’ shall appear magically. All is well. Criminals, of course, are scared of posters.

Traffic jams: Arre why worry.  Poster on new connectivity project supported by another poster of minor leaders following the guidance derived from another poster of major leaders with even better Photoshop capability will show us the way

Health care and disease, dengue, exceedingly high levels of cancer causing pollution.  No new public healthcare. C’mon people don’t be doomsayers. Don’t listen to serious research. Look at the bright side of fancy hospitals offering discount schemes on clogged arteries and other miseries our city is being subjected to. Did you miss the life enhancing poster of the environment minister promising plantation and tougher emission norms? You must be an irresponsible citizen.

Hungry and deprived: No problem, posters on free meals will appear. The puri could double for a Frisbee, but why worry – just look at the poster – all the kids look well fed and happy.

Things have come to such a pass that posters have set up their own body. The posters clearly mean business.  The All Poster Power and Rights initiative (TAPPORI) has been set up.

Now the posters are discussing among posters!
Only posters can be members. They will have all the powers.

I am told that TAPPORI is now leveraging with US president Obama to not waste his time over war and resources on the Syria issue. They have offered posters all over US and Syria to declare ‘no problem’. Putin will be dealt with through posters in Moscow

As it turns out a public meeting between posters is taking place. The all Delhi Convention of Posters convened by TAPPORI is planned in our neighborhood. Their agenda is to decide how posters will have greater rights and powers over citizens in the future. A poster empowerment bill is in the offing to be tabled in the next session of the parliament

In hush tones people overwhelmed by poster power come and whisper. I receive missed calls and ghost e mails. Mystery is afoot.

 

Written way back in 1997

हौसला 

बदल  सके  तू  रुख़ हवा  का, येह  तेरे  बस  में  नहीं

हसरत-ऐ-परवाज़  हो, तो  कोई  मंज़िल  मुश्किल  नहीं

कुछ  दरख़्त  हैं  जिनकी  छाओं का, ग़ुलाम  हर  मुसाफिर यहाँ 

ग़र पखेरू हो सके,  है नहीं हवाओं  की  कमी 

 

बस  में नहीं  तक़दीर,  तेरी  बात  सच  है येह  मगर

सिर्फ़ किस्मत  के  सहारे  मिल  जातीं  मंज़िलें  अगर 

मिसाल  दी न जाती  कभी  संसार  में कर्मवीर  की 

और  तदबीर  के  बिना  सब  पूरा  कर  लेते  सफ़र 

 

लेकिन  बना  इतिहास  उनकी  हिम्मत  पर  जिन्हें 

रोक  ना पाया  कोई जब  ठान  ली  की  चल  सकें 

जिस  रस्ते  पर  चलने  की खाई  थी  इक  दिन  क़सम

हों  मुश्किलें  मुस्तक़िल  डगमगाएं  गे  ना कदम 

 

तो  दे  दे  चुनौती  तूफ़ान  को , केह  दे दिखा  अपनी  ज़िद  मुझे 

थाम  ले  आसमां  को, जो  डराता  की  बिजली   गिरे 

चीर  जिगर  पहाड़  का, खुद  काट  अपना  रास्ता 

और  आग  से  भी  खेल कर, धूल  चटा दे ख़ाक  को 

 

ग़र  कभी  येह  डर  लगे,  की सामने  मुक़द्दर  खड़ा 

याद  रख  बदकिस्मती  का साया,  कर्महीनों  पर पड़ा 

ढूँढते आसानियों  की  छाओं  उनके  लिए  नहीं 

येह सब  लिखा  मैनें  जो  तूनें  आज  मुझसे  है  सुना 

 

याद  रख जो  बेबसी  की देता  दलीलें   बार  बार 

सच  हो जाती  हैं कमज़ोरियाँ उसकी,  येह बात सार 

हमदर्द  होते  हैं,  दोस्त  होते नहीं बलहीन  के 

और  भीड़  मैं  जो हो अकेला  उसके  हमसफ़र  हज़ार 

 

खुद  को  बस  में  कर , बस  इतना  ही  काफ़ी  है अभी 

मत  फ़िक्र  कर,  ढून्ढ  लेंगे  लोग  अपने  रस्ते  भी 

डर  है  तुझको  छोड़  देंगे,  साथ  तेरा  वोह  जिन्हें, 

तू  साथ  लेकर  आया   नहीं,  क्या  साथ   जायेंगे  कभी 

 

इस सफ़र  में  आज़ाद  होना  मुक्त  होना  है  लाज़मी 

आज़ाद  हैं  वोह जो,  आज़ाद  कर सकें  औरों  को  ही नहीं,  अपनों  को  भी 

मुक्त  हो  ना  सकेंगे  वोह,  जो आज़ादी  की  चाह  में 

जकड़  कर  रखे  हुए हैं चाहतें  संसार  की 

 

है  येह  मुमकिन  पा  ना  सकेगा  वोह  सब  जिसका  अरमान  था 

हार  जीत  मन  में  तेरे  येह  तुझसे  पेहले  भी  कहा 

ग़र समझ  ले  रस्ते  पर चलनें  का  तरीका  सही 

हिम्मत  तेरी  कायम  रहेगी  और  बना  रहेगा   हौसला 

 

आशुतोष १९९७