With footpaths and pavements being encroached, pedestrians are forced to walk on busy roads of Chennai. In some areas, the encroachments are massive that even children on their way to school end up walking in the middle of the road. Statistics show that in the city alone, as many as 1,193 pedestrians were killed between 2016 and 2018. According to the police, these victims were walking along the roads and knocked down by speeding vehicles.
Over the last 10 days, a visit around the city showed that most of the footpaths and pavements are occupied by two-wheelers, vendors, tea stalls extending their stands, signboards kept by shops keepers, mannequins, hawkers and some people have even put up small houses with plastic sheets, leaving very little space for pedestrians.
For instance, at Mylapore and Luz Church Road encroachments are rampant. Pedestrians are left with no option but to walk on the road. Many roads here are quite narrow with commercial establishments on either sides and this stretch has now become unsafe.
Parking a big problem
Shopping hubs including T. Nagar and Pondy Bazaar where thousands of people walk in and out have lost their footpaths and pavements to two-wheelers and some of them even park their cars. The newly constructed spaces (under the Smart City project) for walking on Pondy Bazaar are flooded with vehicles. A shopkeeper, who runs a flower business, said that this was routine and they would continue parking. “What rules and regulations. They will come and raid for one day and then forget. Or they will ask us to pay money and the authorities will not turn up after that,” he added. At Pinjala Subramanian Street in T. Nagar, large shops have barricaded portions of the footpath.
The story is the same across the city. If you look at Anna Nagar West, a big shop on 12th Avenue has converted footpath into a parking lot for two-wheelers. Similarly, on 2nd Avenue in Anna Nagar, a handful of restaurants are using the space meant for walking as parking lots.
In the IT corridor, space meant for walking is occupied by tea vendors. A. Shalini, a techie who works in an IT firm at Perungudi, said, “I don’t see any harm in hawkers and vendors occupying the pavements. We have tea outside our office gate. If this is removed I need to walk 500 meters to have tea,” she laments. Harris Road, NSC Bose Road, Mint Street, Vadapalani, Egmore, Triplicane have all lost their walking spaces.
Encroached by temple
At Thiruveedhi Amman Koil Street, R.A.Puram, the footpath has been encroached by a temple. A resident here said, “We have made several requests regarding this but it is of no use.” He added, “Please don’t quote me then the encroachers will come and dump garbage into my house. They did that to one of our neighbours recently.”
“I have been yelled at by a motorist for walking on the footpath. He abused me for not giving way for his bike,” recalls Balaji, a techie.
At Langs Garden Road, encroachments were removed after years of struggle and the Chennai Corporation built wide pavements with parks on the Cooum River side for the people to walk. But encroachers are back, not only occupying the pavement fully but also some portion of the road on one side.
‘Regular drives a must’
Activist V. Santhanam said that encroachments along several roads including Rajendra Prasad Road, Radha Nagar Main Road, CLC Works Road and Station Road need to be removed in Chrompet area. “Regular drives must be conducted to remove encroachments,” he said.
Eleven different hawkers and vendors who have occupied space in footpaths and pavements told The Hindu that they would lose their customers if they migrate to another place.
‘People don’t care’
One of them said: “Nothing will happen. I know the police and local politicians here.” This was the response of several other people who have been misusing the footpaths and pavements across the city. Another hawker explained that this is a huge cartel which involves several people who just don’t care. “We are not occupying this space free of cost. We do pay money to several people including police and local councillors,” he said.
The Chennai Corporation had adopted a Non Motorised Transport Policy, widened footpaths and developed pedestrian facilities following a campaign by The Hindu a few years ago. The project to widen the footpaths to 2 meters along 471 bus route roads has however led to a rise in encroachment by vendors. “Enforcement should improve. Otherwise pedestrians may lose the right to walk on footpaths,” said V.Sukumar Babu, former corporation floor leader.
Last week, the management of Don Bosco School in Perambur visited Rippon Buildings with a request to prevent encroachment on the footpaths near the school campus. Accidents have been reported because of encroachment on the footpaths near the school.
According to a study, more than 95 % of Chennai roads do not have proper footpaths. Even roads such as Pantheon Road with wide footpaths are overrun with encroachments. Officials said they were unable to remove encroachments on footpaths because street vendors have been permitted to do business there.
The Chennai Corporation has planned to demarcate no vending zones and vending zones after the local body elections this year.
S. Krishnan, a resident of Mylapore, questioned why does the government even renovate these footpaths and pavements when they know they cannot monitor or manage.
He suggested that the government should install more CCTVs near footpaths and pavements and keep an eye on encroachers.
A senior police official, who wished anonymity, said that several drives have been organised to evict encroachments from footpaths in coordination with the Chennai Corporation authorities. “But the encroachers come back after a while…it is just not traders or dwellers but vehicles as well. Even a few months ago, encroachments were removed from the pavement along the Harris Road (Pudupet) but the automobile businesses are back fully occupying the footpath,” he said.
(with inputs from Sangeetha Kandavel, S. Vijay Kumar, Deepa H. Ramakrishnan, Aloysius Xavier Lopez, R. Sujatha and Sunitha Sekar)