Bhaskar Prabhu, 50, was thrilled to see that the footpath at the junction of the bustling SS Wagh Marg and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Road in Naigaon, Dadar, where he lives, were being repaired last November, after a period of three years.
But after the work was over, Prabhu realised that the footpath was uneven and the quality of materials used seemed poor.
Prabhu, a veteran Right to Information (RTI) activist, then decided to take up the issue of shoddy work and bring the civic contractor to book.
After frequent complaints to the ward office, which got him no response, Prabhu decided to procure the work order issued to the contractor in charge of the maintenance work.
“When I compared the materials mentioned in the work order to those used, there was a stark contrast,” said Prabhu.
“The quality of sand to be used to level the surface before paver blocks could be laid was so bad that it had pebbles and shells.”
When Prabhu went to the civic officials armed with evidence, the local ward office had no choice but to send ward engineers to examine the site.
“The officers cooperated. The contractor was made to remove the old material and re-plaster the pavement,” said Prabhu, who believes that “it is up to citizens to be vigilant about civic amenities in their locality”.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation claims to have spent a whopping Rs. 131 crore in the past five years on the city’s footpaths alone. The expense clearly does not show on the footpaths. When was the last time you walked on a pavement without having to jostle through hawkers, garbage or shanties, dodge broken paver blocks and signages blocking your way?
Not everyone is as vigilant or persistent as Prabhu, though. It is one reason why the few footpaths that Mumbai has are in such bad shape.
In 2008, some activists launched a movement to recapture pedestrian space. Called the Sahasi Padayatri movement, it fought for the rights of pedestrians. Four years on, when Mumbai is in dire need of a campaign to protect its footpaths not just from hawkers and shanties, but also from big-ticket infrastructure projects such as the metro and the monorail, only traces of the movement are left.
Krishnaraj Rao, the brain behind the campaign, said: “Footpaths are undoubtedly in a sorry state and there is a need to pedestrianise a large section of our streets. But citizens need to be involved on a larger scale. A bunch of activists can only do so much.”
The cause is not all lost. Prabhu and his fellow activists have started conducting audits of footpaths to ensure that the BMC is not taking you for a ride.
“Instead of complaining about the poor work, citizens must take charge and demand action,” said Prabhu, convenor of the Mahiti Adhikar Manch, which fights for citizens’ rights to information.
“Unless you demand change, it will not happen.”
For greater citizen participation in ensuring better pedestrian facilities, the BMC, in March, issued directives making it permissible for citizens’ groups, shopkeepers’ associations and NGOs to adopt and beautify footpaths.
“Hawker encroachments are a major issue on footpaths. Citizen participation will help secure the footpaths better,” said Mohan Adtani, additional municipal commissioner.
Indrani Malkani, founder-secretary of Little Gibbs Road ALM on Malabar Hill, said: “We support the recent circular as local problems are best taken care of by local people.”