Raahgiri Day co-founder Sarika Panda Bhatt is returning Gurugram streets to its citizens
“I always feel as though someone will kill me,” Sarika Panda Bhatt said, laughing about her cycling trips in the city. The co-founder of Raahgiri Day and a key force in the Haryana Vision Zero programme, Sarika has become an irrepressible voice in road safety and the movement to reclaim the streets for pedestrians and cyclists. Raahgiri, an initiative started by her and a few other residents of Gurugram in 2013, aimed to bring back sustainable mobility options to the cities like walking and cycling, but in her words was also an attempt to showcase that streets “belong to all.” She said, “The streets are not just an instrument of transport, but also a physical symbol of community building and binding.”
As a qualified architect and urban planner, Panda aspires that Gurugram will be a city that with safe and people-friendly streets, vibrant parks for families and children, allocated areas for street vendors, cycling tracks, and public spaces where one can move without fear.
Panda practices as she preaches. She does not use a car, and moves around the city on her cycle in the absence of adequate public transport — another cause she is fighting for.
Committed to her cause, she, along with other members of Raahgiri, presented the findings of a study to the district administrator. “The findings said that only 14% of people in the city use cars, and over 60% are pedestrians or cyclists, who are also the most vulnerable to road traffic accidents. How can roads be planned only for cars, ignoring the majority?” she said.
She was also a key force in the adoption of Haryana Vision Zero in 2017, in collaboration with World Resources Institute (WRI) and Nasscom India to reduce traffic deaths in the state.
Raahgiri, the concept of a vehicle-free street where people can cycle, walk, dance, play, exercise without the hindrance of traffic, was widely appreciated and, since 2013, has been replicated in over 70 cities in the country. She has also been awarded by the Haryana government for her contribution towards sustainable mobility in the state.
But, awards and successes aside, her logic is simple, “You won’t see a single unhappy face in Raahgiri. Women are laughing and dancing, children are playing around because they have a safe space for themselves.” She emphasises that over six lakh cars are parked in open spaces in the city which can instead have well-lit parks there, cycling tracks, football grounds. She continued, “Once planning is done inclusively — and not just for cars and condominiums — keeping 60% of the population in mind, sustainability will follow automatically. People will walk more, be healthier, the number of crimes will fall because the streets will be crowded, a vibrant community will exist.”
Her simple logic and passionate discourse finds her many supporters. Manas Fuloria, CEO of Nagarro, and an active member of Raahgiri said, “Sarika works out of pure passion. She works long hours, is constantly collaborating and bringing together corporates, governments and other functional bodies to create impactful changes that will positively help hundreds of people. She becomes the driving force behind every initiative she takes up and is tireless towards her cause. She does not want power and has truly dedicated herself to service.”