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The commercialisation of the City?s footpaths

OVER THE years the Madhya Pradesh Government and the Bhopal City administration have paid little attention to building and maintenance of roads and footpaths so essential for safe movement of vehicular and pedestrian traffic respectively.

india Updated: Apr 12, 2006 14:19 IST
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OVER THE years the Madhya Pradesh Government and the Bhopal City administration have paid little attention to building and maintenance of roads and footpaths so essential for safe movement of vehicular and pedestrian traffic respectively.

Since vehicular traffic was minimal, the absence of footpaths was never an issue. Nobody ever thought that the City of Bhopal would expand the way it has done in the last 10 years. May be 10 years ago the City could do without footpaths and vehicular traffic without wide good roads.

Now Bhopal has a population of nearly 1.7 million and still growing. The number of motor vehicles has trebled. Since roadsides and the few available footpaths were freely encroached upon in the intervening period, a time came when pedestrians had no place to move but to get into the way of the dense traffic.

The deterioration in the situation led to an abnormal increase in the number of road accidents particularly those involving the unwary pedestrians.

After years of neglect and abuse, the Babulal Gaur Government woke up to the dangers inherent in such a situation. It moved on several fronts to improve the flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It took up the work of repairing old and rundown
footpaths and constructing new ones. Encroachments, hoardings and illegal constructions on roadsides and corners were removed zebra crossings were marked on the roads. Pedestrians heaved a sigh of relief hoping that they would now be able to walk freely and in relative safety from and to their homes.

Alas, this feeling has been short-lived. In less than three months, it is business as usual. Sundry kiosks, Sanchi/Saurabh milk booths, bookstalls, teashops, pan shops, cycle repairs shops, tyre repair shops and a host of other squatters have reoccupied most footpaths with a vengeance.

The Bittan Market subzi-haat has been held on footpaths for the last one year. Authorities concerned appear totally unconcerned. In some cases new kiosks have mushroomed. What is worse, more often than not vendors have been spreading chairs for their clients on the footpaths to savour delicacies on sale. This could not have happened without the active connivance of those in authority.

Very recently acting a PIL the Supreme Court of India issued a directive to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and other concerned civic bodies of Delhi to evict hawkers from footpaths and clear all encroachments from footpaths and public places of Delhi within the next fortnight or face consequences.

The Apex Court was emphatic that footpaths were meant for pedestrians and not for utilisation for commercial purposes as is the practice now and must be made available to pedestrians for their use and no excuse for their occupation for any purpose other than their use, as footpaths should be acceptable. It is a direction that has been welcomed by members of suffering pedestrians.

Since the bureaucracy has abdicated its responsibilities of administration, Courts are increasingly issuing directives to the executives on matters, which fall within the ambit of the executive. It is a bad omen but where is the alternative? I was aghast to see a signboard at a street corner in New Delhi with the following inscription: “HMVs not allowed on this road-By order of the High Court of Delhi.”

If civic bodies of Madhya Pradesh do not have the footpaths cleared of encroachment, a day is not far when responding to the public sentiments, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh will be issuing similar orders for roads in Madhya Pradesh.

It is pity that almost every City and town of India has been suffering from this problem that has been actively aided and abetted by members of the staff of concerned Municipal Corporations and myopic politicians alike. They encourage encroachments and illegal squatting either for a price or for inflating their vote banks.

The Bhopal Municipal Corporation will do well to take a cue from the present direction issued by the Supreme Court to the Delhi Municipal Corporation and start removing encroachments and squatters. Footpaths must remain footpaths.

The concerned authorities have to be alive to the growing menace and must consider putting on the mat all those who allowed this problem to come to this sorry pass.

First Published: Apr 12, 2006 14:19 IST