The Madras High Court on Wednesday ordered Greater Chennai Corporation Commissioner G. Prakash to be present in the court on Monday to explain why most pavements across the city were either being used as vehicle parking lots or were under the illegal occupation of hawkers and other traders.
Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and N. Seshasayee passed the order after expressing their displeasure over Corporation officials turning a blind eye to the difficulties faced by pedestrians who end up walking on main roads, thereby exposing themselves to the danger of being hit by speeding vehicles.
With specific reference to the NSC Bose Road, situated right opposite to the High Court campus, the judges asked how the officials could allow hawkers on pavements, when a case related to it had gone up to the Supreme Court, and when it was declared a no-hawking zone long back.
The judges also wanted to know how a family had instituted a temple under a shed right at the corner of the pavement, near the entry to Armenian Street from NSC Bose Road. They wondered whether the family was in legal occupation of the premises and whether it was provided an electricity connection.
The questions were raised during the hearing of a public interest litigation petition filed by 60-year-old chartered accountant Vandana Zachariah of Kilpauk, seeking a direction to the Corporation as well as police officials to lay good pavements across the city and maintain them properly without any encroachments.
A laudable idea
In her affidavit, Ms. Zacahriah recalled that the idea of pavements was a laudable one, since it was aimed at providing unhindered and safe movement for pedestrians on a higher pedestal than the road used for vehicular traffic. It was possible due to the Paving and Lightning Act, passed by the House of Commons in 1766. However, most pavements in the city were unavailable for the general public, and instead get encroached by hawkers and shopkeepers, the petitioner said. “They misuse public pavements for private use such as extending their kitchen, placing signboards, keeping their goods for display, letting their customers park vehicles, installing umbrellas and so on,” she said.
Such encroachments force pedestrians to walk on the main roads, posing a serious safety hazard. “The plight of senior citizens is unimaginable. They have to literally manoeuvre through such obstacles. All this is having a cascading effect on free vehicular traffic movement,” the petitioner’s affidavit read.
She sought for a direction to the Corporation and police officials to undergo training at the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) on maintenance of pavements and then establish a special team for laying and maintaining footpaths. She also insisted on creating a web-based grievance redressal forum exclusively for maintenance of pavements.
The litigant said the police must be made to inspect all pavements within their jurisdiction, on foot, on a daily basis, and maintain a diary that could be accessed by the people through the Right to Information Act of 2005.