Monday, 28 April 2014

Gateway Stretch To become 'Pedestrian Only' Zone

By Gajanan Khergamker

A DraftCraft Initiative, to free the Gateway of India zone of barricades and traffic irregularities, has met with success. After six years of arbitrary barricading in and around the heritage site, following the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai that left the zone garrisoned beyond recognition, the authorities have now planned to rid the Gateway of India of the ugly fencing and barricades. This follows a fervent advocacy drive undertaken to help the common man reclaim the ‘Right to Walk’.

Chief Secretary J.S. Saharia, who chaired a meeting with the BMC and police last fortnight, has reportedly asked the traffic police to work out the modalities and submit a report. A feasibility plan is underway and the idea is to “create more space for tourists, women and children on the sea front.” So, although visitors to the monument will be screened where the pedestrian zone begins, vehicles that are headed to Taj Mahal Palace & Tower will be given a dedicated lane. Even plans to erect a fixed fence around the Gateway of India may be dropped. The area from the Regal Circle till Radio Club is all set to become a ‘Pedestrian-only Zone’.

The city’s prized tourist attraction, the Gateway of India, has witnessed two devastating terrorist attacks. Back in August 2003, a taxi bomb claimed eight lives and then in November 2008, terrorists stormed the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower killing 31 people in a three-day siege. In August 2005, a Manipuri, Ngakuimi Raleng and friend Leishichon Shaiza were stabbed at the Gateway of India in front of several bystanders. These incidents formed the basis, however debatable, for the spurt in security in and around the zone. Similar occurrences at other terror-hit spots in the city haven’t fetched such heightened security bringing in the element of arbitrariness in police action. Sadly, under the guise of security, the common man’s Right to Walk too was quashed over the years.

Now, on an experimental basis, one lane of the road between Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and the Radio Club will be opened up as a pedestrian path in the days to follow. After an evaluation of the response, a final call will be taken. Incidentally, the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee which had also opposed the proposal to fence the monument has welcomed the new idea.

Locals are more than exhilarated with the decision and, rightly so too. Over the years, it has become impossible to walk around the Gateway of India. Barricades are put to every possible use in the stretch. Right from ‘creating footpaths for pedestrian movement’ to ‘forming a divider’ to bifurcate the road and control vehicular flow, the use of barricades is arbitrary and quite excessive. Worse still is the high-handed behaviour of the police authorities in the vicinity who behave like a law unto themselves.

In the absence of any proper laid-down rules for parking or movement, it’s a virtual free for all at the Gateway of India. A security vehicle stands parked for good opposite the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower bang on a footpath ‘meant for pedestrians’ and a ‘pigeon feeding zone’ created with barricades keeps the very humans who feed the pigeons, out of the way.

The creation and control of barricaded zones has been left entirely to the discretion of the police and continues to bewilder the common man who has little option but to walk around in circles at Mumbai’s most prized tourist zone.

India-based think tank DraftCraft has been raising pertinent queries with regard to the common man’s Right to Walk – in and around the Gateway of India over the years. After all, the Right to Walk is an extension of the common man’s fundamental Right to Life as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

Monday, 21 April 2014

DraftCraft Win: Public Interest Upheld

Gateway Stretch To Be City's
First 'Only Pedestrian' Zone

By Gajanan Khergamker

Now, after six years of twiddling their thumbs following the terror attack in 2008, the authorities have decided to make the Gateway of India stretch right from Regal Circle to Radio Club - the city's first 'Only Pedestrian' zone. This comes as a huge relief to the millions of tourists who have been dodging parked vehicles, traffic, flowerpots, barricades and you-name-it all in the guise of 'security'.

Under the Right To Walk campaign initiated by DraftCraft, we've been agitating through media, generating digital content, even creating documentaries to urge the authorities to address the issue that affects the public adversely.

The decision to make the Gateway Stretch - the city's first 'Only Pedestrian' zone is a victory for common man who has successfully reclaimed his Right To Walk in Mumbai's most prized locality. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Barricading the common man’s liberty

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation recently fined Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Rs one crore for ‘illegally blocking’ the street that leads to BSE towers, since 2011.  The BSE had put up bollards as well as barricades blocking the street soon after the serial blasts that rocked the city in July 2011. Reportedly, the blocking of the road causes chaos in the busy streets near BSE buildings.

According to BMC, the permission to put up barricades on the street was only given temporarily after the bomb blast in 2011 but the BSE continued with it over the past few years on its own accord; ignoring repeated complaints from residents and office goers who have to deal with the chaos on a daily basis.  The use of barricades for years on end, in the guise of security, has become a trend in Mumbai, especially in South Mumbai.

Barricades line the entire Gateway of India stretch

Ever since the 26/11 attacks in 2008, the police have painted the city yellow - placing barricades outside various ‘prominent’ structures in the city for ‘security reasons.’  For instance, the streets and footpaths around the Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Colaba have been inundated with yellow barricades creating diversions or blocking passage altogether. The barricades that are put up around The Gateway of India, with police officials manning the entrance with metal detectors and haphazardly placed barricades for the teeming crowds to meander through, seems more of a ‘show of security’ rather than fulfilling any purpose. Just like The Gateway of India in Mumbai has been cordoned off from all the sides limiting people’s passage, Delhi’s India Gate laws has been recently barricaded by the police.

The Delhi police faced the public’s brunt for cordoning off the India Gate’s lawn and parking lots around the area from the common public, once again for ‘security reasons.’

India Gate does a repeat of Mumbai’s Gateway fracas

Recently, a petition was filed in the Delhi High Court seeking the reopening of the India Gate lawns and parking lots adjacent, to which the Delhi police has opposed saying that the area has been blocked from the public owing to “security concerns”.

The Delhi High Court had, while hearing the petition, asked the Delhi police to file a proper reply. “You (the Delhi Police) file a reply to the petition within four weeks,” Justice Manmohan said, adding that the response, received from the police under the Right to Information Act, did not cite the reason which was stated in the court. “In the RTI reply, you (the Delhi Police) said it was closed following an oral order,” the court said.

The matter has been listed for further hearing on April 23. “Respondent no. 1 (the Delhi Police Commissioner) has made verbal orders for closure of India Gate lawns for the public, which is a clear violation of the fundamental rights under Articles 21....of the Constitution, guaranteed to every citizen,” the court added.

Barricades near BSE caused civic body monetary losses

In Mumbai, the BMC, in the case of Dalal Street, has maintained that the barricades the BSE put up caused the civic body monetary loss. Apparently, vehicular traffic has been stopped on the street since 2011 and the BMC had to shut one pay and park facility in the area as well, causing the BMC loss of revenue generated from the public parking facility it provided.

Accordingly, the BMC, taking into account the losses of revenue because of it, including the interest, will charge the BSE around Rs 2.5 lakhs a month, for all the months the street was blocked without permission from the civic body and caused inconvenience to the public.  It has been reported that the BSE had been given the no-objection certificate by the Mumbai police to put up barricades soon after the civic body gave BSE the permission, as the BSE has been on the hit-list of the terror outfits.

The BMC’s attitude, however, seems skewed since, in an almost similar fashion, barricades are put up on the streets and footpaths around The Gateway of India and have been around for a longer period and for similar reasons. But, the BMC has turned a blind eye towards it.  Here too, a pay and park facility had to be stopped and barricades have been placed next to the footpath so that vehicles can’t be parked. And, the pay and park signage, complete with details of parking charges, put up for the purpose, has been removed as well. But, the BMC does not seem like it has any problem losing out on revenue in this matter.
Moreover, there are permanent cemented flower pots constructed on the roads, which work as ‘road dividers,’ that fall on the BMC’s blind spot. According to the law, it is unlawful to construct any permanent structures on public property in such an arbitrary fashion, threat or otherwise.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Right to Walk - A DraftCraft Productions Film

The Right To Life as provided in The Constitution of India through Article 21 assures all an associated Right To Walk. Over the years, it has become nearly impossible for the common man to walk in public places, along public spaces and exercise a right that is intrinsically associated with your very Right To Life. Your Right To Walk is associated with an inbuilt guarantee of safe passage without risk of injury or threat to life and property. But, are you assured of your Right To Walk? Hardly!

There are obstacles and impediments of all sorts on footpaths and roads alike, in cities all across India. With hard-nosed residents parking vehicles, often arbitrarily, in front of entrances to residential structures in violation of the local civic law; situations where the civic authorities turn a blind eye to barricades dumped unceremoniously onto footpaths, even in the middle of the road, posing a risk to motorists and pedestrians alike; to instances of corporates working closely with the authorities to collectively usurp public space and property lawfully meant for the pedestrian, the common man's Right To Walk risks being completely subverted.

This campaign undertaken by DraftCraft is aimed to educate, inform and advocate for the common man's Right To Walk.Through the Right To Walk campaign, DraftCraft will provide legal support by way of drafting RTI applications, pose legal queries before pertinent civic officials, even represent affected groups and individuals at relevant fora; hold workshops, exhibitions and talks to help bridge differences; create content by way of editorials and films to drive home the point and urge the authority to intervene and resolve; help provide targeted advocacy for niche causes and Be The Change!

DraftCraft is an India-based media-legal think-tank that endeavours to research, document, film and advocate on behalf of the most ignored, under-reported, marginalised sections of society. DraftCraft has been initiated by Gajanan Khergamker - independent editor, legal counsel and documentary film-maker - with over three decades of experience.

(Disclaimer: 'The Right To Walk' has been produced by DraftCraft Productions in public interest, in good faith and without prejudice. It can be copied or distributed freely. However, anyone doing so should use it 'as is' without any change and retain creative attributions)