Shimla, the erstwhile summer capital of the British Raj, is a pedestrian city and the walkers have the right to walk freely, the Himachal Pradesh high court has observed.
While making the observation, the court has frowned upon the Indian Army vehicles plying in the city, particularly on the restricted routes, without valid permits. The army has its offices located in the heart of the state capital.
"We are reiterating that army vehicles are being plied on sealed and restricted roads in a highly illegal manner. Even in the morning hours, on the sealed road... the army vehicles ply with impunity," a division bench of justice Deepak Gupta and justice Sanjay Karol said in a December 30 order, a copy of which was made available on Saturday.
The court said, "It's for the superintendent of police and the district magistrate, Shimla, to ensure that the army vehicles also ply in accordance with the provisions of the Shimla Roads Users and Pedestrians (Public Safety and Convenience) Act, 2007".
Assistant solicitor general Sandeep Sharma informed the court that a lot of army establishments are situated on sealed and restricted roads and, therefore, army officers may be exempted from the provisions of the act.
"We are unable to accept this contention. The army officials are also the citizens of India like all other citizens. They also have to go to office like any other government officials and if they choose not to walk...if they are using the sealed/restricted roads, they may only do so after taking (vehicle) permits under the act," the judges observed.
Favouring the practice of auto-free zones in Shimla, the bench directed the district administration that while granting permits to the vehicles, the authorities must ensure that the spirit of the act and the inherent historical aspect of the city -- being a pedestrian city and the roads are meant for persons who walk on foot -- are not violated.
"These restrictions should apply to all concerned from highest to the lowest. The law is equal for all," the order said.
Chief justice Kurian Joseph himself favours creation of more auto-free zones in the city to facilitate irritant-free movement of the pedestrians.
Speaking at a campaign 'Walk Shimla Walk' of leading local NGO Ashadeep in October last year, Justice Joseph said Shimla is an ideal place where a walk not only helps an individual to remain healthy but also helps reducing vehicular congestion and pollution.
The strolling culture of Shimla, a village in the state of Himachal Pradesh that between 1864 and 1939 served as the summer capital of British India, was developed by the British rulers.
The Mall and the historic Ridge, an open space just above the Mall, now a hub of commercial activity, were once 'British only' streets meant for strolling on.