Can a fast-paced modern planned city like Chandigarh, groaning under frequent traffic jams at key locations due to its residents’ preference or attraction to motorised modes of transport, ever be able to entice its residents to an active lifestyle, with a dedicated timeslot meant only for leisure, but without the ever-present noise of traffic — primarily cars.
A beginning in this direction has been made with the introduction of Raahgiri Day, India’s first-ever sustained car-free initiative, introduced in Gurgaon in November 2013.
Every Sunday morning, key city roads are temporarily blocked for motorised traffic and opened for people. Raahgiri brings together two ideas. Raah – a path or way, which has in it, a sense of self discovery and transformation, a journey towards a final goal and Giri, inspired from Gandhi Giri, which is about taking charge of our lives.
The Raahgiri Day is more than an event. It’s a milestone meant to galvanise citizens to participate in a shared vision of an active and inclusive lifestyle. In our cities, where motorised vehicle use is on the rise, it is hoped that such ideas will encourage people to ditch their motorised modes of transport. Physical activity will also be promoted by influencing residents to get up, get out, and get moving. The day was conceptualised to ensure road safety, keep air pollution in check and get residents and motorists attuned to the idea of controlled speed. Promoting physical activity remains a major objective as a report by the World Health Organization estimates that more than 4.3 lakh premature deaths happen every year in India, due to lifestyle changes.
Another objective that the Raahgiri Day promotes is inclusive development by promoting interaction between cross-sections of the society. The outcome of this social segregation is manifested in social unrest.
Raahgiri Day has been a game-changer in terms of bringing a mind-set and lifestyle shift among residents and is now present in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Indore, Bhopal, Hyderabad and now Chandigarh.
These cities realised that roads are for all category of road users and private mode is just a mode on transportation.
Another realisation was that non-motorised modes of transport is what is needed to be encouraged in the cities and therefore, it is important to reverse this trend by building dedicated cycle tracks and footpaths. In Chandigarh, there are cycle tracks that are not used due to various reasons. the UT administration needs to look at its road infrastructure and install traffic control measures.
There is usually resistance from private automobile users when it comes to dedicated infrastructure for non-motorised transport. Most such protesters are not fully aware of the need and importance of the Raahgiri Day. It is important to sensitise such people to the benefit of non-motorised transport and active lifestyles. The shift to sustainable modes of transport needs to be a lifestyle choice, willingly embraced.
(The writer is project manager, Embarq- WRI, India)