10,000 people come together in Gurugram to celebrate 5 years of ‘Raahgiri’
At 7am on Sunday, over 10,000 people gathered in Sector 4 to mark the fifth anniversary of Raahgiri Day, a public initiative that began in Gurugram on November 17, 2013, and has, since then, spread to over 70 cities across India. Derived from the word ‘raah’ (meaning walkway or path), Raahgiri Day is one of India’s longest-running campaigns for improved pedestrian infrastructure and road safety.
In Gurugram, Raahgiri Day is observed with the support of the district administration every Sunday, when streets that are otherwise reserved for vehicles become fully pedestrianised. The space is then used for cultural events, cycling, sport, talks and other activities. Transport experts say that Raahgiri, which was inspired by the Ciclovia movement in Bogota, is an important foil for the dominance of private vehicle ownership in developing cities, and demonstrates the need to reclaim public space that is lost to the excessive use of vehicles.
The movement has attracted political support in recent years, with chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar announcing in April that Raahgiri Day will be observed in all 22 districts of Haryana. At present, Raahgiri Day is observed on every second Sunday across all districts in the state, with the exception of Gurugram and Karnal, where it is observed every Sunday. In 2017, Rao Narbir Singh, minister of state for public works and forests, offered to help fund the initiative through both his offices.
Singh, who addressed the gathering at Sunday’s event, stressed heavily on the role of vehicles in contributing to air pollution. “Almost 40% of pollution comes from vehicles. An initiative like ‘Raahgiri’ shows the need to curb vehicle use not only for the sake of health, but also to give public space back to the majority of our citizens.”
In Gurugram, Raahgiri Day has been observed in various locations over the years, including Sector 56, Sushant Lok, Palam Vihar, Sector 49 and Sector 4. “Next, we are taking it to MG Road and Sector 15, and have plans for four other locations,” said Sarika Panda Bhatt, an advocate for sustainable transport and one of the founders of Raahgiri Day. Bhatt also explained that the initiative has been more successful in parts of Old Gurugram, where private vehicle ownership is quite low. “By contrast, in the newer parts of the city, we find less participation as vehicle ownership is ingrained in the people’s lifestyle. Raahgiri Day in that sense has helped to uncover a major class divide in the city”.
While the movement was organised through private efforts for the first two years, between 2013 and 2015, a Raahgiri Day trust was established in 2015, and currently oversees the organisation. Bhatt said that it has been a challenge to sustain Raahgiri Day over five years.
“We have in the past gone on hiatus for several months because of funding issues and lack of administrative support. However, after consistently campaigning for so long, we are finally seeing tangible changes in Gurugram,” she said.
The Municipal Corporation of Gurugram, for example, has refurbished each of Raahgiri’s locations to become more pedestrian friendly, while the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority has built cycling tracks in some parts of the city. “There is a lot of work left to do, and we will not stop hosting Raahgiri days until the district administration moves beyond token demonstrations of public interest, and commits itself to developing a robust framework for pedestrians, cycle users and other vulnerable road users,” said Bhatt.
She also revealed that the Raahigiri trust is in talks with Rao Narbir Singh to fully pedestrianise a five-km-long stretch on Netaji Subash Chandra Marg, which should be done by next year.
According to V Barhadath, a resident, Raahgiri Day was the day he “discovered Gurgaon”, after moving here from Hyderabad three years ago. “You don’t really have many accessible public spaces in this city. ‘Raahgiri’ helped me meet people when I was new here, and get a feel of the place.”