Pedestrians’ Predicament

Rajan Gandhi
Recent confrontation between IGP Traffic J & K and road encroachers has once again started the debate, for whom the roads of Jammu are built, traffic – public or violators of law who have infringed upon public space. IGP Traffic has succeeded in somewhat implementing laws, bringing along with a breeze of fresh air in the pathetic system of our state despite his controversial methods. One can see him removing encroachments from footpath , instructing shopkeepers to keep their commodities within their premises and in some cases asking them politely to get it done by next day to avoid punitive action but the million dollar question arises , is this the job of IGP Traffic ? It’s the duty of JMC with the help of police if required to get the footpaths, lanes, roads clear of encroachments. The Enforcement Wing of JMC discharges functions under the provisions of J&K Control of Building Operation Act, 1988 and is responsible for the Enforcement of provisions under this Act such as Enforcement of Building Bye Laws within the areas falling under the jurisdiction of Jammu Municipal Corporation. Jammu city is divided into three Zones with 71 wards with sufficient number of Khilafwarzi officers (now Enforcement Inspectors) whose specific job is to see no illegal construction or encroachment is taking place in their respective areas but one gets dazzled by the fact how in each and every market there are numerous shops, mini markets in markets without any parking plan and entrances from the adjoining lanes or from main roads itself in gross violation of law. Even courts have to interfere time and again and recently only High Court has directed JMC to clear the pavements, footpaths in a time bound manner and file the compliance report. JMC acts at one or two places with much fanfare and photo sessions but ultimately everything returns to earlier status quo.  The question which remains unanswered is how these eat points, mini markets , khokaas , reharis and open shops on footpaths have come up and has any accountability been ever fixed , has any departmental action ever been taken on these duty bound Khilafwarzi officers or for that matter any JMC official. The obvious answer will most probably be a big no and hence the resultant disaster for pedestrians. Such is the mockery of law that some of these showrooms and eat points have put pots on the road to mark their boundaries for parking caring least about the public on foot or vehicular traffic. Accompanied photographs tell the sorry state of affairs and one can conclude only one thing, without connivance and patronage of officials this can never happen.
Our city is full of chaos but one particular example we will like to highlight is of road from City Chowk to Purani Mandi to Parade. Despite intervention from High Court, road side market is flourishing just opposite JDA Market making mockery of court orders. Area of Purani Mandi where now a park has come up used to be a Khokha (temporary shop) market which got reduced to ashes during 1989 riots and subsequently all these Khoka owners were given permanent shops carved out of Central Basic School. But the most astonishing part is emergence of a new market in no time surrounding this park with tandoors, kulchawallas , juice corner and duppata dye counters very much on road with no authority to check this menace and hapless public is left on its own to get space for movement. One more interesting observation is half of the road surrounding this park is made of interlocking tiles. This road used to be of regular coal tar make but somehow JMC has shown their passion for this inter locked tiles which are not successful even in small lanes ,leave alone the main road and the result is this road has been laid thrice but it’s still in dilapidated condition. Can JMC explain why this wastage of public money? Questions are tough and unfortunately there are no answers.
In our Jammu city, on many roads sidewalks or pavements are non-existent – may be because those who plan the cities and build roads it seems they do not walk and therefore forget the pedestrian! Even where sidewalks exist, the surfaces are uneven and worse, full of crevices and pits, either caused by digging of the pavement by the civic authorities or as a result of the pavement itself caving in due to poor construction or bad maintenance. These are all unsafe enough particularly at night due to poor lighting. Planned growth of any city depends on effective enforcement. But at the same time, if violations are so rampant and widespread, it reflects poorly on the master plan and policy making, which entire public is not ready to respect and violation becomes a norm rather than exception. Will of the government is must for taking a uniform action against such large scale violation. There are no proper facilities for safe pedestrian crossings in Jammu. There are hardly any underpasses or foot over bridges on busy roads – whatever is there, their design is so pedestrian unfriendly – neither those with limited mobility nor senior citizens can climb those steep steps. One can also see the low priority given to pedestrian safety in the way the traffic signals work for pedestrians. How many traffic lights of Jammu have pedestrian ‘green signal’ to cross the road and how many are aware of it is another issue with the resultant fatal traffic accidents. Electrocution or accidental death caused by naked, loose, high tension wires left carelessly dangling by the roadside or on pavements, is another major pedestrian safety issue, particularly during the monsoon.
The roads are arguably the most important public spaces in cities and pedestrians are its largest users, but less than 30% of urban roads in India have footpaths. In the last few years, pedestrian fatalities have accounted for 30-40% of all road accident deaths in urban areas. With an increasing number of motor vehicles and diminishing pedestrian spaces, we need to ensure the protection and rights of pedestrians on roads. There are several acts that safeguard pedestrian rights indirectly like  IPC (1860) sections 279, 304, and 336/37/38 protects the public, which includes pedestrians, against rash driving and negligence by motorists, the Motor Vehicles Act (1988), Sections 7-38 about penalizing the motorists exceeding speed limits and license regulation etc, indirectly protecting vulnerable road users, furthermore section 138 clause (h &i) empowers the State Government to prevent motor vehicles from using the pavements for driving or parking. As per the Rules of the Road Regulation (1989)  it is  the duty of the driver to slow down when approaching a pedestrian crossing (Rule 8), that no driver can park a motor vehicle near a traffic light or on a pedestrian crossing or a footpath (Rule 15), that motor vehicles are not allowed to drive on the footpaths or cycle lane except with permission from the police officer on duty (Rule 11) and the Municipal Corporation Acts also protect public roads and streets by terming all obstructions illegal unless they are made with the prior permission. Lastly under the Persons with Disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act (1995), the Government must provide for auditory signals, engraving on the zebra crossings, slopes in pavements for easy access of wheel chair, and warning signals at appropriate places. Additionally, in India, agencies like the Indian Road Congress (1988) and documents like the Urban Design Plan Formulation and Implementation (UDPFI) (1996) have suggested standardizing pedestrian infrastructure based on traffic patterns, but these guidelines have largely been ignored by the implementing agencies. However it is a different story how many of these laws are applicable in J&K.
Though, the legislations recognizing the pedestrian’s interest are fragmented but they do exist, however their lack of implementation makes these minor provisions for pedestrian protection futile. With all these things there can be only two conclusions, either there is no rule of law in our city or all this is done with active support of officials of various Government departments. This is not the only case of old city but every nook and corner depicts the same picture which results in frequent traffic jams and just imagine the plight of small school going children daily stuck in the prevailing chaos in peak summer, passing through same ordeal every day. Getting roads/footpaths cleared should be the priority not resettlement of encroachers. The way our system supports encroachments, no Master Plan can bring changes to standard of our living and Smart City Project will remain a distant dream only on papers. One hopes the concerned authorities take serious note of the prevailing nexus and all the concerned departments own up their respective responsibilities to set the things right at the earliest.
“Fact is that good footpaths require will of steel!”