Residents slam Church St mela

They say the pedestrian-only weekend initiative leaves them trapped at home

People living on the street say they are inconvenienced by the ban on vehicle movement. DH Photos by Pushkar V

A citizens’ group is planning to approach the courts against the Church Street First initiative, which makes the posh street vehicle-free on weekends.

Nitin Noronha, president of the Central Bangalore Welfare Association, says DULT has failed to acknowledge residents’ concerns.

Three weeks ago, when Sameera Fernandes was returning home after a meeting at 11.30 pm, her cab was stopped. She was forced to terminate her trip and walk to her apartment.

She saw loud drunk people along the street, and felt unsafe. “Why shouldn’t I be dropped off at my doorstep?” she wonders.

The reason? A Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) initiative to limit Church Street to only pedestrians on weekends. DULT is a Karnataka state government body.

The Church Street First initiative was launched in November 2020 and was to end by February this year but will now continue till May 31.

It is a hit, and despite pandemic restrictions, attracts thousands every weekend.

Senior citizen woes

Most who live in the area are senior citizens. “In areas such as Church Street, Lavelle Road, Vittal Mallya Road and D’Souza Layout, loud music from pubs and restaurants keeps residents awake. Now, this vehicle ban has made it impossible for them to even get around,” he says. 

To go anywhere, most rely on their children, living in different parts of the city, or on drivers.  “What happens in case of an emergency?” Noronha wonders. DULT says resident passes provide access to the road as usual, but residents say the system isn’t working.  “When a car tries to enter the street, it is met with angry pedestrians. And, for older people, these experiences are extremely harrowing,” he says. 

Sameera, whose father is a resident at Ghar Apartments, the oldest apartment building in the area, agrees.

“He was driving back home after 7 pm mass. He was verbally abused, and people started blocking his car. I was inside the car, thankfully, so I got out and screamed at them,” she says. 

Trapped at home

The initiative has curbed household routines. Sameera’s mother, for example, who takes out her scooter to buy milk from a nearby Nandini parlour, was harassed by onlookers. “She started crying. No one came to her aid,” she says. Resident passes are not handed out for two-wheelers.  Joe Cherian, software product manager, was told by the marshals that a vehicle can enter and exit the street only once.

“I should be able to come and go as I please. Why should my movement be restricted?” he says. 

For those with travel plans, getting to the airport can be a nightmare. Food and grocery delivery persons are forced to park elsewhere and lug the items. All residents received a letter saying visitors can park at the Shoba commercial complex. “It seems extremely unethical for a government body to recommend a private establishment,” says Joe. 

Underage drinking

Scenes of 18-19 year-olds getting drunk and throwing up have become common. Many buy beer from nearby liquor stores, drink on the road and throw the bottles around, says Noronha.

Hundreds gather around an artist or musician. While it is great that they have a platform, there has to be better crowd control, says Joe. 

Unkept promises 

Citizens feel shortchanged. “V Manjula, DULT commissioner, was in regular contact with us and took notes of our concerns,” says Joe. “But once the initiative was rolled out, DULT became unresponsive.” Many letters and emails have gone unanswered. “It is as simple as creating a ticketing system. People can raise complaints that are treated as a ticket, and they can track the status. I work in software, I can create it for them,” says Joe.

Glint in cops’ eyes

Police pick up vehicles and slap visitors with fines, people living in the area say. “I have seen policemen picking up two-wheelers and moving them to no parking zones and then levying fines. When we ask them, they say they are carrying out orders and their hands are tied,” says Nitin Noronha of the Bangalore Central Welfare Association.