Every day, Mumbaikars make 15 million trips, long and short, on foot across the city. In 2016-17, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) made a budgetary allocation of Rs 5 crores for building new footpaths. But, ever wonder why the city’s footpaths are still badly maintained? Why Mumbaikars still have to battle motorists, hawkers, encroachment, poor lighting, garbage, badly-paved footpaths or no footpaths at all?
The issue, unfortunately, has not made it to any political party’s agenda yet.
In the last two BMC elections, the manifestoes of the ruling Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had no mention of providing better conditions for citizens to walk in the city. The major emphasis continues to be on concretising roads, building new flyovers and making more parking spaces available. There’s just a cursory mention of building subways at important traffic junctions for pedestrians.
Rishi Aggarwal, founder of The Walking Project, a group of citizens working towards creating safe and enjoyable walking conditions, said footpaths do not received much political attention as they are not big-ticket projects. “They are less glamorous politically. Announcing a new flyover or a new sewage treatment plant gains political parties more footage. Repair and maintenance of footpaths hardly even costs the BMC anything.”
In the last five years, the BMC made a budgetary allocation of Rs 64 crores for the repair and maintenance of footpaths in the city. However, barring the island city’s roads, it’s difficult to walk along the 2,000 km of city roads, Aggarwal pointed out.
Citizens have started demanding their right to walk on the city’s footpaths. Recently, a group of citizens under the ‘Free A Billion’ banner protested for better walking conditions in the commercial hub of Lower Parel.
According to the civic body, 51% of the total trips in Mumbai are on foot, more than 80% of these trip lasts for less than 15 minutes, mostly to the nearest bus-stops and railway stations. However, until recently, BMC had not even framed guidelines for city pedestrians. The new pedestrian policy released in December paves the way for walkways free of encroachment. A salient feature is categorising footpaths into three zones -- a major portion for pedestrians, a furniture zone for utilities and vendors, and a dead zone for entrances and steps.
Many citizens, however, feel the BMC needs to actively look at its implementation. Kumar Anand, from Free A Billion said, “We appreciate the BMC’s efforts but this new policy is just paying lip-service to pedestrian needs just before the elections. If BMC is serious about pedestrians, it needs to enforce existing laws – prevent encroachments, maintain hawking and non-hawking zones, use money allocated for footpaths judiciously.”