In land of Gandhi, no place for pedestrians

In land of Gandhi, no place for pedestrians

In a country where road accidents kill over 100,000 people every year, the rights of the pedestrians have been routinely run over. As Indian cities increasingly become intensely automobile-centric urbanscape, there is very little being done for those who may not be able to afford cars and other means of private transport.

Date, a veteran journalist, feels passionately enough about the rights of the pedestrians that he has written a book called "Traffic in the era of climate change: Walking, cycling, public transport need priority" (Kalpaz Publications, Pg 366, Rs. 890).

"Indian planners and engineers are obsessed with the motor car and its requirements. They have comprehensively failed to attend to the basic issue of providing footpaths for pedestrians. There is also the awful apathy of the political class.  It is shocking that this is happening in the land of Mahatma Gandhi," Date, a veteran journalist, told IANS in an interview  after the release of the book here.

"We forget what a great heritage we have in him (Gandhi) in every way. As for walking he gave it  dignity  and made it into a symbol of resistance to the British.   Ironically, at least as far as footpaths are concerned the British did a much better job. Our guys have made things progressively worse since independence," Date said.

"The book deals with the politics, economics and sociology of the motor transport in general, the craze for speed, the complete lack of democracy on roads and the loss of public spaces, caused by cars," he said.

Date believes that the neglect of pedestrians has something to do with "the rulers' attitude of contempt towards common people."

"Unlike in Europe, the upper classes in India do not walk on the road.  For them it is something below dignity. So the facilities for ordinary people suffer," he said.

Date also sees "a class and caste angle to this discrimination."  "The Vykom Satyagraha of 1924-25  was in response to the  authorities' refusal to allow Dalits to walk on  certain roads around the Vykom temple in Kerala.  In Pune, in the late 18th century Dalits had to  sweep the street  after they walked on it as the street does get `polluted with their presence' ", he said.

The author cites the example of the "much trumpeted new Bandra Worli sea link in Mumbai" which is exclusively for cars. "It could have easily provided an excellent walkway alongside and walking here would have been an exhilarating experience. Now with increasing  awareness about environment and walking, many people would  have liked to walk here.  Some of the most famous  bridges in the West do provide for  pedestrian walkways," he said.

Date believes that given India's high population density and hundreds of millions of  travelers it is an ideal place for public transport and pedestrian freedom. "It makes perfect economic sense to give priority to public transport  which uses much less fuel  and road space  and  causes much less pollution than private transport," he said.

" We can wean away people from  motor cycles and cars by  providing a decent public transport system.   In the West  the upper class  regularly  takes the  city buses and  trains.  We need to give more dignity to   travelling by public transport. Our rich have a bias against public transport," Date said.

Beyond the debate of whether cars are an inevitable consequence of economic growth, Date thinks walking should be encouraged generally because it has many sociological and health benefits.

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