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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.

Police permission needed to remove barricades: BMC  

Back in 2010, when BMC was questioned about the barricades placed around The Gateway of India, it had replied saying that since it was the police which had placed the barricades in the area, the civic body will have to take the police’s permission before it can do anything about it.

The police, on their part, maintain that the barricades are necessary as it’s a sensitive area under constant terror treat.

It was in 2011 when the common man who had had enough, decided to take to the streets to protest against the barricades that were put up to block the entire street leading to and from The Gateway of India, as well as other parallel streets.

Over 400 families and 40 shopkeepers along with vendors and Victoria owners participated in a rally at Azad Maidan to protest against the ‘forcible takeover of public road.’ The police finally had to remove the barricades.

But, the removal of barricades came with a rider – the police had said that the barricades will be back if they get any information about potential threat.

The Gateway turns into a veritable mess post dusk
And, even though now the streets might not be completely blocked, the barricades still make their presence felt.

Three years since the barricades were ‘removed,’ there are still hundreds of barricades lining the streets, cordoning The Gateway o/f India, blocking parking space restricting pedestrian zones for ‘security reasons.’ Almost every evening the place is a complete mess with tourists, totally baffled by the barricades all around, running amok trying to figure out the way to The Gateway of India.

The area around The Gateway of India, complete with hawkers, tourists, police officials, parked police vans, taxis and vendors seem to be more chaotic than before the barricades were added to protect the monument.

The city police’s mock drills have, time and again, proved the impotency of the barricades.  Conducted regularly in the city to check preparedness if such a situation arises again, they have proved the inefficiency of the barricades placed apparently “for security reasons”.  Last November, when a drill was last conducted in the city, the ‘terrorists’ managed to easily pass through the security cover around the area and plant explosives at Radio Club and Ferry Wharf around The Gateway of India.

‘Security more of an illusion rather than a reality’ 

Around the same time, the executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management, which studies terrorism in south Asia Ajai Sahani reportedly said to a section of the media, “whatever the response after the Mumbai attacks has been, the objective has been to create the illusion of security rather than actually make the country more secure.” “But is India more secure, less vulnerable than it was on 26/11? The answer is an unqualified no,” he had maintained. Despite all threat perception, it makes little sense for the authorities - both civic as well as police - to encroach upon public property and affect rights fundamental to the common man.

The Gateway of India, which is thronged by thousands of tourists across India and the world as well as local joggers, has been barricaded in a high-handed fashion that reeks of arbitrariness.

In the absence of legislation or rule to prevent passage or regulate traffic, barricades placed on the roads aim to 'prevent parking' while at the same time themselves prevent the lawful passage of pedestrians and vehicular traffic. The rules for the pedestrian's right to passage and traffic movement have to be laid down and regularised.

The arbitrary use of barricades to create diversions and road blocks is a violation of the rule of law and against public policy. This needs to change.

The Right To Life as provided in The Constitution of India through Article 21 is closely associated with the ‘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!

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.

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