By Professor B. R. Sant
A nation-wide mission for Encroachment Free Footpaths (EFE) is apt to be part of the challenge set Prime Minister Narendra Modi for transforming the country into a ‘New India’ by 2022 — the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.
Footpaths and Pedestrians
Everybody is a pedestrian at one time or the other and have to walk, both by law and convention, only on footpaths (also called pavements or sidewalks). But definitely not on roads which are meant for motorized/vehicular traffic.
The two are equally essential, important and concurrent to each other for the wellbeing and safety of citizens of any city or large town for that matter. In reality however, footpaths are often neglected and accorded step-motherly treatment by both town planners and citizens themselves.
Just visualize, twice the length of roads, footpaths or sidewalks are actually very valuable asset (imagine their land value!). To put a number to it, India has some 7935 urban agglomerations (cities and towns of all classes). As of March 31, 2015 the country had a total road network of approximately 5.7 million kilometers, of which nearly 8.5 percent or 4.7 lakh kilometers are urban roads managed by local civic bodies. With footpaths on either side of the road, the total urban footpaths are thus estimated to be 4.7 x 2= 9.4 lakh kilometers. The GHMC area in Hyderabad alone has some 9204.15 kms (May 2017, The Hindu) of roads that would correspond to 9204.15×2=18408.30 kms of footpaths – large enough to be used, misused, and abused.
Most importantly, EFFs and good roads have a built-in safety against accidents and natural disasters. They must therefore be taken care of, protected, and maintained well.
PEDESTRIANS HAVE A RIGHT TO DEMAND FOOTPATHS AND THE GOVERNMENT IS MANDATED TO PROVIDE ENCROACHMENT-FREE-FOOTPATHS (EFF) WHICH ARE THE HEART AND ESSENCE OF ANY BEAUTIFUL, CULTURED, CIVILIZED AND MODERN HABITAT.
Pedestrians have a right to demand footpaths and the government by law is mandated to provide encroachment-free-footpaths (EFF), both in residential and non-residential areas. EFF is the heart and essence of any beautiful, cultured, civilized and modern habitat across the world and all aspects of city planning and development. However, pedestrians are a helpless and a hapless lot, and they need the support of government and society.
Encroachment of footpaths
Encroachment by definition is nothing but usurping others’ properties and prohibited by law. Remember, footpaths too are a property (of the government). Many people, rich and poor, have a tendency to grab and occupy others’ properties thanks to their greedy nature. And the same goes where they encounter footpaths that are easy picking.
There are three main types of encroachments and encroachers.
- Category-1: Street vendors/ hawkers/ make-shift shop owners. Some keep moving while many occupy self-reserved footpath spaces of their own free will. They are virtually daily-wage earners and of meagre incomes.
- Category-2: Shopkeepers, small, medium, and some large. Their encroachment style is extending to occupy additional space in small measures by a variety of means and in all directions. They are generally well doing businesses and professionals.
- Category-3: House-owners, building-owners, and the like. They virtually invade (illegally) into footpath spaces in front of their houses/buildings by constructing decorative gardens, sloping ramps, tree plantation, and mini-parking areas. They are generally rich, affluent, influential people. At times this category also includes government departments themselves who encroach ostensibly for a social cause to build public toilets/transformers/municipal kiosks/stairs of FOBs etc.
Strategy for Restoring Footpaths Mission (RFM)
In general and unfortunately, whenever there is a discussion on encroachment of footpaths, the reference is usually is to the Category-1 encroachers. Strangely, many either do not know or pretend ignorance of Category-2 and Category-3 encroachers. A massive awareness drive on the topic is thus warranted across the country for the lay public using all communication channels and outreach through NGOs and social organizations at all levels.
An equally pressing need is an in-depth awareness programme on EFF for our law-makers, MPs and MLAs numbering some 5000. Perhaps for the first time, and as a first step in this direction, the author wrote to Speakers of all the State Legislative Assemblies seeking permission to distribute a book authored by him (Where are our Footpaths?) to all the MLAs through their secretariats. As of December 31, 2017, Speakers of 24 big and small states have accorded permission and some 3400 books have already been sent to them for distribution to Hon’ble MLAs. A few State Assemblies like Telangana, Karnataka, Pondicherry have not responded.
Finally, the most challenging task of de-encroachment of footpaths anywhere in Indian cities is the magnitude and sensitivity around the problem. But the chaos and the near-anarchic conditions on footpaths should prompt us to resolve the encroachment issue on priority.
There is thus a dire need to change the mindset of people especially of government and civic body functionaries, city police, the law-makers, the city-dwellers or the common man or aam admi and all those connected with urban development.
To succeed, any new strategy will have to first target the Category-3 encroachers, who generally comprise the rich and powerful. This will have a salutary and psychological impact on the other two categories also. Once the word goes around about the seriousness and sincerity of the drive, subsequent EFF/RFM operations with Category 1 and 2 will become easier and more effective with a higher degree of acceptance. The actual implementation though will have to be preceded by pilots in a few cities to be replicated on scale across the nation.
As one can imagine, the magnitude of the footpath coverage is colossal, besides being a sensitive subject that poses its own unique challenges. Therefore if implemented innovatively on a mission mode, the campaign for reclaiming footpaths can be a game-changer, not just for better living, but also as an employment generator.
In fact the campaign for Encroachment Free Footpaths (EFE) is apt to be taken up as part of the challenge set Prime Minister Narendra Modi for transforming the country into a ‘New India’ by 2022 — the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.