SC seeks to bell the parking cat, Sets tough agenda for authorities in Delhi

Parking woes in Delhi
Parking woes in Delhi

The Apex Court also upheld the right of pedestrians to free footpaths and directed civic authorities to clear all encroachments. It also stressed on innovative solutions to parking woes 

Passenger vehicle sales in India have hit rock bottom, down 30% in August, the steepest fall since the year 2000. The sector is facing production shutdowns, portending widespread job losses and a deep recession in the Indian economy.

However, while the Indian auto industry is battling the problem of too few customers, the Supreme Court of India this week was seized of the problem of too many cars that are literally spilling-over from private garages onto the streets and open spaces in residential areas.

Taking cognizance of the land vs cars issue the apex court, gave a series of directions to the Government of Delhi to address the lack of parking spaces in residential areas in Delhi. The bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta was responding to a Public Interest Litigation filed by M C Mehta.

While the directives, pending a final judgement later this year, were issued in the context of the acute parking issue being faced in the Delhi NCR, they have a significance for urban planners, citizens and Resident Welfare Associations alike, across the country.

Three observations of the apex court have a significance much beyond the immediate issue and recognize three critical elements:

  • The need for immediate action by civic authorities
  • The right of pedestrians over footpaths and the need to address the issue of encroachments and
  • The parking issue and the exploding population of passenger vehicles is also linked to the larger issue of environmental pollution

But first, let us dwell a bit into the root cause of the problem.

India boasted a total of 262 million automobile domestic sales in 2018, up from just 55 million in 2001. Cars, jeeps and taxis comprised nearly 15% of these sales with customers in urban conglomerations lapping up luxury and mid-segment cars in numbers.  The bigger the car, the better, seemed to be motto with the size of the car being equated to the status of the family. Of course, the availability of easy finance and aggressive pricing by automakers helped. So, not surprisingly, the number of families owning more than one car increased, particularly in the metros.

The directives, pending a final judgement later this year, were issued in the context of the acute parking issue being faced in the Delhi NCR, they have a significance for urban planners, citizens and Resident Welfare Associations alike, across the country.

For instance, the Environmental Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (ECPA), which was earlier mandated by the SC to conduct a study and also run a pilot project in the Lajpat Nagar area of the city, noted that against a total 448 housing plots and the 1680 total floors therein, taken as a proxy for one family unit, the number of cars exceed by 109%. or 2.1 cars per floor/family on an average.

Therefore, where each of these plots, averaging 150 sq. meters in size, has a capacity of just one car, the demand is for 7-8 cars per plot. Not surprisingly, many of these cars are spilling out on to the streets causing severe clogging of streets and frayed tempers.

Taking note of the initial findings of the pilot project by EPCA, among other suggestions the Court made the following observations:

  • Large transport hubs such as bus depots, railway stations, metro stations, airports, etc.  should have adequate parking.
  • There should be “drop and go” arrangements for people frequenting these hubs
  • There should a statutory regime wherein before any person/authority is given permission to build and operate such transport systems, institutions and commercial areas parking needs for the next 25 years should be assessed beforehand and capacity created as such
  • Residents should meet at least part of the costs associated with providing parking spaces beyond the immediate plot area and should pay the RWAs which provide space, security and other services
  • RWA and local authorities should also explore Park & Ride facilities at a distance from the residential areas for a fee that should include the cost of commuting to the remote parking facility

Further, it went on to issue the following directives:

  1. All pavements in residential areas are cleared of all encroachments to ensure they are made usable by pedestrians. The persons who have encroached upon the pavements be given notice of 15 days to remove the encroachment and in case they fail to do so the encroachment shall be removed by the municipal authority/authority concerned at the cost of the encroacher which shall be recovered as arrears of land revenue. The authorities may also consider framing rules to discontinue municipal services to repeat encroachers.
  2. The draft rules of the Delhi Maintenance and Management of Parking Places Rules 2019 be notified at the earliest and not later than 30.09.2019. List for compliance on 04.10.2019.
  3. Once the rules are notified it shall be the duty of all concerned to ensure that the said rules are enforced in letter and spirit.
  4. The Govt. of NCT is directed to ensure that while granting permission to build any structures, there is a proper assessment of the parking needs for the next 25 years and requisite parking facilities are available.
  5. The EPCA and the municipal authorities are directed to take into consideration what has been stated in the judgment while evaluating the feasibility and effectiveness of the pilot project.
  6. The Govt. of NCT of Delhi, the municipal authorities and EPCA are directed to consider the viability and effectiveness of introducing RIFD tags, parking guidance and information systems and last-mile connectivity from parking spaces to commercial areas, institutions etc. and submit a report by 30.09.2019.

While these directives are specific to Delhi and its environs, it is worth taking cognizance by civic authorities across the country. With vehicle population going beyond control, inner-cities and particularly RWAs, are under pressure to find parking spaces for these new and old automobiles alike.

Real estate being a finite resource, it is worth for urban planners and authorities to explore innovative solutions to this issue that should include incentives, disincentives and out-of-the-box thinking for alternative business models.

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