The tragic death of a union cabinet minister has once again brought into focus the state of road safety in India
Hundreds of families are devastated day after day as road accidents bring many emotional trauma, physical strain, and financial burdens. Sometimes the families are already impoverished; some others become so on account of fatalities and disabilities resulting from road accidents.
On Indian roads -where there already is no margin for error – Pedestrians and cyclists are seen negotiating a common mobility corridor with motorists and other heavy vehicles. In such a situation, the plight of the cyclist and the person on foot is worse than ever. They clearly stand little chance of avoiding an injury when pitted against a mechanized four wheeler in the event of a collision.
Over the years several sensitization and awareness programs undertaken by NGOs and the government have failed to deliver adequate results on the ground. Several think tanks and seminars have delivered studies and papers on the subject, yet people continue to face the brunt of a terrible road safety situation in India. Pedestrians and cyclist continue to risk their lives.
As a citizens’ collective, we have been grappling with this situation and carrying out community based discussions and ‘pavement walks’. We have invited the executive engineer of the PWD, we have invited the area MLA for these initiatives and we have made several representations to the Government to this effect. Not a single request, made on the basis of protecting the rights of walkers, walking as a healthier alternative, and reducing vehicular emission load etc has been heard, either by the authorities or by the occupiers of footpaths
I do not know of any neighbourhood in Delhi (the Lutyens building zone, excluded) which has free to walk footpaths – and this, despite several plans proffered by NGOs, architects, the DUAC and bodies like the UTTIPEC.
In my view a paradigm shift in thinking is required to deal with this issue. It has to move from an awareness based initiative to a strict law enforcement based system. Illegal Occupation of public land is a criminal offense and should be dealt with as such.
When citizens are made to face the legal consequences of illegal activity they may prefer not to occupy the footpaths for personal use.
The expectation that vehicle owners and potential car buyers will drop the idea of parking on footpaths out of the goodness of their heart, concern for the environment and respect for the rights of pedestrians, has failed to the best of my knowledge and belief. It has failed to deter buyers and it will fail in preventing the occupation of footpaths for parking. Further the other instincts that cause people to occupy footpaths will also not stop through moral imperatives. The proclivity to grab public land for extending a room or a green patch is endemic in our society. In our South Delhi neighbourhood, car mechanics, building material suppliers and the ‘very wealthy’ of Greater Kailash 2 have all occupied the footpath
The only way to stop this menace is a strict and persistent enforcement of the rule of law. When people realize that they cannot park at all on a footpath or in a no parking zone they will begin to consider other methods of transportation. When the strong arm of the law ensures that walking, cycling or taking public transport is an alternative to trampling over pedestrians or occupying footpaths, other means of mobility may begin to carry greater appeal.
As a citizens’ collective we know the daily harassment a walker or cyclist faces in our area, as footpaths have been occupied illegally.
The police are of the view that, given the number of cars, it is only natural that footpaths will be used for parking. It appears that the natural requirement of a resident to walk on the footpath is not seen to be quite as natural as the instinct to grab public land.
Needless to say society is complicit in this and the urge to occupy common spaces continues unabated.