We want to walk. We are pedestrians. Please provide us encroachment-free-footpaths

free footpaths

Respectable way to check footpath encroachments in Hyderabad

March 18, 2019

By Professor B. R. Sant*

Encroachment-free-footpaths (EFF), is a part of beauty, culture, discipline, and tradition of any city in the world, more so the ones that are aspiring to become ‘global cities’.

However, almost all footpaths (also called sidewalks, pavements) on the two sides of any road, big or small, in Hyderabad are “encroached”, causing extreme hardship to pedestrians to walk safely, comfortably, and with dignity.

“Pavements” and “roads” are TWINS with clearly defined functions of pedestrian-traffic and motorised-traffic respectively.  When roads are kept “clear” and road traffic is regulated, why not the footpath also kept clear and the pedestrian traffic regulated?  The main reason is that the mind-set of the  civic agencies and  police officials, even today, does not “accept” the concept of pedestrian-traffic that keeps moving (slowly though), nor do they care to maintain encroachment-free-footpaths (EFF).   A city culture is reflected in the upkeep of sidewalks and safe-cum-smooth pedestrian-traffic movement.

Pedestrians and sidewalks are ‘orphans’

[The lack of] care for pavements and pedestrians is a clear case of step-motherly treatment to the “orphans”.  It does not stop here, there are two unfortunate and ugly by-products, unclean-cluttered-encroached pavements, and (as a result) pedestrians who are “forced” to go on to the roads at grave risk of injury and sometimes even death.

The law says pedestrians MUST walk ONLY on pavements, which by any interpretation means that the pavements must be ‘walkable’.  The law further states that “encroachment” of any kind is a criminal offence.

Who are the real culprits of encroachment?

It is often said that encroachments cannot be avoided because people do not listen, they are habituated to misuse and abuse of pavements for personal benefits, and more than anything else, there is “no supervision” by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and “no control” by City Traffic Police.

Structurally, a road is in the centre with two pavements on the two sides of the road, and house/building/shops etc. beyond them.  It’s a myth that hawkers/vendors are the main encroachers of pavements.  In reality, they merely use the pavements for short periods of time to do their business. They do not occupy footpath-spaces permanently.  It is the house/building/shop owners who occupy large chunks of pavements and cause serious disruption of pedestrian traffic. We have to make them demolish these encroachments and prevent new ones to come up.

Private properties [with registered sale-deeds] versus public pavements

Pavements are a well-marked and well-recorded sidewalks for pedestrian safety, whereas houses, buildings, shops, and the like are essentially land-based urban properties with “ownership” registered with the government in the form of a SALE-DEED.  The latter has a clear “description of properties, their measurements, boundaries, and maps-to-scale.  In simpler terms, every property has “four-walls” within which alone, owners can and ought to operate and under no circumstances, should they either permanently or temporarily occupy/take-away/encroach public places (read pavements).

Government policy statement and issue of orders

Everything stated above about pavements, pedestrian safety, sale-deeds, four-walls, encroachment of others’ properties etc. is well-known in law for many years.  What is noteworthy is the “four walls” concept to check footpath encroachments.  Our cities run into miles and miles of pavements and by simply correlating them with sale-deed measurements, we will have resolved a major issue of providing EFF to pedestrians.  The actual logistic exercise should not be difficult with all numerical data about city-dwellings and pavement statistics available with us.

Government now needs to make a policy statement and announce that property-owners must keep their construction and allied activities strictly within their four-walls, whether it is decorative gardens, steps, trees, inclined ramps, barricades, mini-parking places, and the like.  Property sale-deeds and recorded footpaths measurements are ‘legal’ documents and there is no reason for any conflict/controversy.

Respectability of the proposed New Strategy to check footpath encroachments

To plan and implement the proposed scheme, the “will” of the government/municipalities  is essential, followed by massive awareness programme at all levels, and supported by the attributes of sincere, hard, and honest work by the operating agencies, in particular the GHMC and the city traffic police.  The success of the scheme will largely depend upon “transparency-in-governance”, the principle that everyone is equal in the eyes of law, and sharp management skills. The issue is totally apolitical, but is highly discipline-oriented and people-sensitive.  It will therefore need utmost public cooperation and understanding, media-support, and some time for acceptance.  It may be necessary to make a couple of pilot runs in selected areas of the city.

Hyderabad has a well-knit resident welfare associations [RWAs] and senior citizens forums [SCFs], who can play an active role in in detecting pavement-encroachers and helping the government in de-encroachment drives.

The new strategy  is an all-in-one solution for EFF in the city of Hyderabad  by identifying  the footpath encroachers viz. “owners” of houses, buildings, shops, other constructions  running  alongside the two pavements of a road,  limiting their activities strictly to their premises [four-walls], giving an option to them to demolish voluntarily the encroachments they have illegally built, failing which GHMC to carry out the said task,  keeping a continuous inspection/monitoring tabs on owners’  sale-deed-defined-properties,  and preventing any future footpath encroachments.

As a part of the new strategy, we need to suitably evolve and design the sale-deed-measurement (SDM) card, more or less on the lines of Aaadhar card, PAN card, other identity cards.

The new strategy has made possible a “reformed” perception into the history of city-footpath-encroachments.  For example, hawkers/vendors are not a part of the above scheme because they have not “usurped” any government (footpath) land.  All these years, they were the unfortunate sole targets of footpath encroachments.   Government has to provide to them alternate sites for their businesses.

There are other innumerable benefits of the proposed innovative approach of checking footpath encroachments.  Notable among them are:  ‘swachha bharat’ and ‘tourism’, both from inside and outside the country’.

While submitting suggestions on the master plan for promoting Hyderabad as a global city, the present author has emphasised that EFF takes on the key role of mother of all infrastructures that go to build a global city.  For the success of the master plan therefore, it is imperative that the focus is on EFF and the proposed new strategy for checking footpath encroachments begins “now” in right earnest.  The respectable EFF plan for the city can make Hyderabad a pioneer in the country.

*Professor Sant has been a scientist, a teacher, a management expert, a motivational speaker, and an activist in pedestrian-safety. He is settled in Hyderabad, e-mail: brsant@rediffmail.com