The good news is that pavements are returning to the city. After the Corporation famously dragged its feet over the implementation of a High Court order and got rapped on the knuckles for it, work has begun in right earnest on constructing one at NSC Bose Road. The civic body has also managed to get one of its (and most residents’) favourite schemes going – building a walkway that will double up as a heritage corridor in Mylapore. Coming as all this does after the Corporation’s success with pavement reclamation on Sir Theagaroya Road in T’Nagar, these steps make for some commendable effort. The question is how long will these walkways last?
The NSC Bose Road story is a long and tortuous one. Years after activist ‘Traffic’ Ramaswamy filed a Public Interest Litigation in the High Court of Madras demanding decongestion of the area and eviction of hawkers and the Court instructing the Corporation to take steps, nothing much happened. Now, if you happen to walk along the area, you can see plenty of evidence of work in progress. The pavement is more or less complete just opposite the High Court as the accompanying photograph shows. Bollards have been fixed and the pedestrian walkway has been designed in such a fashion that it broadens out at the ends so that it also encloses a bay in which two-wheelers can be parked.
To a casual stroller it all looks fine. But as always it is in the details that plenty can happen to trip the Corporation up. True, it has evicted all the hawkers from the area, or, at least, that is what it claims. The reality is that several are back to where they practised their trade, on the new pavement, and, above all, enjoy patronage from the lawyers of the Court and the policemen/women on duty! Also if the popular perception is that the hawkers are responsible for the mess, here is another thought coming, courtesy some research by The New Indian Express – there are 44 restaurants and 11,169 commercial establishments along the stretch and just ONE has parking space for its patrons and employees! The end result is that 600 two-wheelers, 140 four-wheelers and one lakh pedestrians jostle for the space that is left. The Corporation has now promised that it will tighten up its rules for licences to these offices/eateries – they will get permits to operate only if they provide parking space. But where are they to go for this? None has an answer. One option could be the multi-level parking lot at Broadway bus-stand. But this has never got off the ground chiefly owing to lack of interest among civil contractors.
Compared to this, the Mylapore pavement may be a cakewalk. The Luz Church section will be relatively easy as it does not have any vendor issues but the North Mada Street section is likely to pose the same challenges as NSC Bose Road. One option here could be to declare the four streets surrounding the tank a pedestrian area. Madurai has already done this. Why can’t chennai do the same? But the establishments in the area are completely opposed to the implementation of such a scheme.
The Corporation needs to take all stakeholders into consultation, declare its intentions and debate solutions. It also needs to provide answers to the problems of all. While the interests of the pedestrian and general safety are paramount, those of others cannot be neglected, particularly after they have been allowed to get away scot-free for years without any regulation. Unless this happens, such pavements may look good on paper but eventually degenerate into the chaos that now prevails.