We want our footpaths back, say citizens

ByJeet Mashru, Niraj Pandit, Shashank Rao and Sajana Nambiar
Mar 22, 2023 07:56 PM IST

As BMC continues to duck High Court orders to clear the walkways, Mumbaikars play hop-skip-and-jump between road and footpath. Citizens brave the uneven roads to accompany Team HT on a test drive across the city and suburbs

Mumbai: In April 2018, the Bombay High Court had stated that citizens have the fundamental right to good roads and footpaths. Despite multiple rulings and orders by HC, the civic body seems to find it impossible to provide seamless walking experience for Mumbaikars.

Freya Mistry says on the entire 400-meter stretch between Bhagwan Parshwanath Chowk and Nana Chowk circle, the paver blocks and tiles have either come apart or are strewn around. There are patches of mud and sand lying at intervals. Whatever is left has been claimed by vegetable and fruit vendors. (Bhushan Koyande/HT PHOTO)
Freya Mistry says on the entire 400-meter stretch between Bhagwan Parshwanath Chowk and Nana Chowk circle, the paver blocks and tiles have either come apart or are strewn around. There are patches of mud and sand lying at intervals. Whatever is left has been claimed by vegetable and fruit vendors. (Bhushan Koyande/HT PHOTO)

Citizens, who have consistently reached out to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for better footpaths were compelled to approach HC to reclaim what was rightfully theirs. For instance, in November 2022, HC ordered the civic body to clear encroachments from the footpaths after four citizens from Mahim filed a PIL following inaction from the civic body. HC in its order dated November 14, 2022, stated that if encroachments and illegal garages from the footpaths on Senapati Bapat Marg and Mahim are not removed within the stipulated period in the clause, the concerned civic officer would be held responsible for the inaction.

More recently, on February 6, 2023, HC reiterated that footpaths are meant for pedestrians including the elderly and disabled, and asked BMC to ensure walkable ways by removing encroachments by unlicensed hawkers. The court also asked the civic body to file an affidavit identifying specific problems and indicating the solutions it would offer to deal with the issue.

Despite multiple rulings, citizens’ woes on footpaths persist. After walking with beleaguered Mumbaikars on Monday, HT accompanied some others in various parts of the city the day after to see how they are strategizing and repeatedly failing to claim their space.

When this was brought to the notice of Additional Commissioner (Projects), P Velrasu, in-charge of roads, bridges and traffic department, he responded with a cryptic ‘no comments’ text message. Likewise, BMC commissioner and administrator Iqbal Chahal also refused to comment.

On March 20, a poll was conducted by popular Twitter handle @RoadsOfMumbai, asking social media users to take a pick from four options -- accessible footpaths, selfie points, illuminated kerbs and redoing dividers on roads. 77.1% of the 581 users voted for accessible footpaths.

According to the now-shelved Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP) released by BMC in early 2022, 46% of Mumbai’s population prefers walking – a large chunk consisting women, children and the elderly. The MCAP also said that only 22% of the roads in Mumbai are walkable.

Despite its own reports highlighting the need for increasing pedestrain infrastructure, the focus of civic body seems to have been shifted to ‘illuminating’ Mumbai and replacing dividers under the Mumbai beautification project with no on-ground implementation of its own pedestrian first policy.

Dhairya Shah, 32, businessman

Route: Malad East: From passport office to the railway station

My experience: I use this route to go to work every day. There are various obstructions that force me to walk on the road. Since this is a busy station area, I have the added challenge of cleverly dodging traffic. The civic body should swing into action and clear the footpath of all encroachers. Those who have set up shops here should be asked to pack up.

Dangers flagged: Local shop owners have usurped Sati Marg, a pedestrian walkway on this stretch; and if this were not bad enough, vehicle owners have seized whatever space remained to use as parking spots. Apart from this, the road has also moved into the space meant for footpath there.

HT observation: This road connects the Dindoshi metro station on the Western Express Highway to Malad railway station. Between the two ends, are commercial offices, a major government establishment like the passport office, apart from eateries, a regular grocery store and other shops.

At several stretches along this route, these structures have illegally extended onto the footpath, leaving no space for people to walk and causing vehicular clogs.

Kasber Augustine, 55, social activist and director of Kasber Dance Academy

Route: Thane: From opposite Alok Hotel to Gaondevi temple

My experience: The footpath is not free for walking at any time of the day. Citizens who travel by local trains find it a challenge to negotiate this space, which is close to the station, as it is congested. One has to step off on to the road two to three times during that one-minute walk. It is unsafe as autos are either parked or driving by right next to the footpath.

Dangers flagged: Hawkers occupy half of the footpath. The rest of the space is occupied by auto drivers who stand here to approach passengers. Apart from this, there are electric poles and boxes and a damaged floor.

HT observation: The footpath located in one of the busiest parts of Thane city needs regular surveillance from authorities who can rid the space of unwanted congestion and make it a safe space for citizens to walk. Shopkeepers should be prohibited from using footpaths for dumping their waste materials. CCTV must be installed to keep a watch and citizens’ complaints to the civic body must be acknowledged.

Vipul Joshi, 57, doctor

Route: Ghatkopar: From Pushpa Vihar Road to Shanti Path

My experience: I reside in Garodia Nagar, Ghatkopar East, and my clinic is three kilometres away at Ramabai Colony. I should be able to walk to work with ease. But that is impossible – the footpath from Jain Upashray on Pushpa Vihar Road to Sambhavana Towers on Shanti Path is not for walkers.

One can see a long queue of autos parked, some are even washed on the road and the footpath on Shanti Path. On Pushpa Vihar Road vegetable and small eats vendors have set up their shops. There is only a 30-meter road next to it. How can one walk here?

Danger flagged: Our complaints to the civic body have remained unanswered.

A freak accident occurred a few months ago on Shanti Path Road. A two-wheeler rider had parked his vehicle near a food vendor’s shop and plugged his mobile phone for charging. The vehicle suddenly started and dashed four people who were walking on the road.

HT observation: Vehicles are illegally parked on the footpath on Pushpa Vihar Road. A majority of old housing societies, which have limited or no parking facilities, park their vehicles on the footpaths.

Sarika Sharma, 49, life coach and fitness influencer

Route: Sindhi Society, Chembur: From Luv-Kush Towers to Sindhi Gymkhana Hall

My experience: I live in Sindhi Society in Chembur, and as a runner and fitness influencer, I am always on the lookout for a good walkway. But there isn’t one nearby.

In our society, a footpath is built on both sides of Road Number 2, but it is of no use as it is either encroached upon by vegetable vendors in some parts or is uneven in the rest.

I walk on the road every time I step out to drop and pick up my child from school.

Many housing societies opposite Vivekanand High School have staked claim on the footpath by creating a slope from their internal path to the main road for a smooth drive-through. The footpath on Road No 2 ends abruptly, thanks to a pile of debris thrown on it.

Dangers flagged: An accident is waiting to happen here as most schoolkids walk on this road.

HT observation: Senior citizens cannot walk on the footpath on Road Number 2, thanks to the menace created by hawkers. They need to walk an extra 1.5 kilometers into the Golf Course Road, to reach a 150-meter clear footpath.

Meenal Vagal, 50, homemaker

Route: Mahim West: From Tulsi Pipe Road to Dadar West

My experience: Walking on the footpath here is to make peace with a hop and skip routine, all the while anxious that a moving vehicle may dash against me. Additionally, I fear falling down because of the unevenness.

The government has made footpaths mandatory but it should also take the responsibility of clearing them; afterall, we pay taxes on time.

There are around seven schools in the area which see swarms of children in the afternoon. With everything dug up, there is no space for them to walk either. Whatever little space is left is encroached upon by vagrants. Moreover, BMC has built toilets on both sides of the roads blocking complete footpaths – it is joke in the name of urban planning.

Dangers flagged: There is a narrow footpath along the road from Mahim to Dadar, where construction material is placed by BMC’s Road and Bridges department. With heavy vehicular traffic in the area, pedestrians who are compelled to walk on the road face the danger of accidents.

HT observation: The area has space but lacks planning. Roads department has dumped all construction materials on the already narrow footpath. There are ongoing construction works by BMC and railways due to which footpaths are inaccessible, and BMC has not made any provision for a temporary footpath.

Freya Mistry, 27, bank employee

Route: Gowalia Tank: From Bhagwan Parshwanath Chowk to Nana Chowk Circle

My experience: On the entire 400-meter stretch the paver blocks and tiles have either come apart or are strewn around. There are patches of mud and sand lying at intervals. Whatever is left has been claimed by vegetable and fruit vendors. During peak time, people are seen jostling for space.

Dangers flagged: The unevenness and encroachments can lead to people tripping or missing a step. It is painful especially for senior citizens. I have been tweeting to BMC for more than two weeks but it is yet to take any action.

HT observation: This stretch of road connects important areas like August Kranti Maidan, Kemps Corner, Nana Chowk and Grant Road station. Yet this footpath looks like a warzone. People are forced to walk on the road, which is narrow and heavily congested.

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