Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Just as if we had never done this before

For several months now, members of my group have been asked to perform audits of the `model roads' where the Chennai Corporation has been trying to render the pavements usable fo pedestrians: Loyola College Road, Besant Nagar 2nd Main Road, Conran Smith Road, Police Commissioner's Office Road, Pantheon Road, SIET College Road, ... Of late, we have been concentrating on this last road, officially called K.B. Dasan Road. We had a big slogan-shouting and human chain event on it on December 3rd, the World Disabled Day. And we told people there we will come again periodically, especially including the 3rd of the next month, etc., to see if all our `sensitising` exercises had borne any fruit at all.

We went there again last week-end, armed with our hand-outs, drafts of model signs indicating that vehicles parked on the pavements would be towed away, etc., people from the Corporation Office located on that road itself and traffic police with loudspeakers trying to announce that pavements are meant for pedestrians and should be cleared. We had even informed friends in the Press so that our efforts would be publicised. And indeed our Press friends did not disappoint, as evidenced by this report next morning in `The Hindu'.

But there the good news ended. The pavements looked exactly the same as they had on December 2nd. Here is a quick run-through of some photographs documenting our experience that morning. As we started moving east from the SIET College gate, we ran into Domino's Pizza with its fleet of two-wheelers blocking the pavement.

And poor Smitha couldn't even get past these mopeds by getting down to the road, risking life and limb at the possible harm from speeding vehicles whizzing by; reason: the omnipresent two-wheeler parked in the way by  yet another inconsiderate driver whose mind must be where the `sun don't shine'.

 By now, about 150 minutes past the time we had agreed on meeting, some traffic police had come and we asked them to follow or come along with us so they could see our problems. The first one was caused by the wiring for the lamp-posts in a bright orange plastic tube that uncompromisingly guarded the pavement.

Then there was this example

to show that there could also be drivers of four-wheelers and bicycles with their minds up in that same dark place. And given the various marginalised sections of Indian cities, there are many who have to set up shop

on the pavements simply because they have very little option.

But where I draw a line is at the not quite-so-marginalised using the pavements as extensions

of their parking lots or show-windows. I will be glad to offer 10 to 1 odds on this being exactly the same scenario you will find a week later at this Ford Service Station or at the Sangeetha restaurant on the opposite side of the road which I did not have the cool to photograph because I was so mad at the attitude of the owners of cars and two-wheelers which were cavalierly parked infront of the restaurant and too intent on giving them a piece of my mind. Nor is it much more comforting when a hospital, which should be concerned with such things as being able to move patients in stretchers or wheelchairs, exhibits this behaviour at which all poor Smitha can do is scratch her head in despair:

Never mind, next month, I'll get enough photographs - including Sangeetha, for sure - and then present our case to the traffic police. I am convinced that with our total lack of civic sense, nothing will change unless people are threatened by police levying hefty fines or towing away their vehicles. With high probability, these same cars and two-wheelers will be continuing in their merry antisocial ways, blocking these same spots!