If one is a guest of a member of the Cricket Club of India and are visiting the hallowed precincts of the rich, sophisticated gentry of Mumbai, the visitor cannot park the car in the club's parking lot. It is "Members only" rule precludes that. But now, the CCI has asked the civic authorities to takeover the footpath so that more members can park their cars near the premises.
This is weird logic. If the space for "Members only" rule precludes others encroaching on its space, how could the CCI even consider monopolising the public spaces around its premises? Does it believe that Mumbai's denizens have ceased walking and that everyone has a car? Of course, CCI is not the only such entity to think like that. The other elite club, the Bombay Gymkhana has taken over the entire sidewalk for parking of cars outside it.
There are other culprits too. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGB) has taken over the entire footpath on the Mahapalika Marg and reserved it for the corporators and officials as parking space. The lane which meanders between the Times of India Building and the MCGB also is reserved for the newspaper's employees to rest their cars when they are busy working within the building.
And on several arterial roads, major restaurants have valet parking arrangements and they facilitate parking of the cars on the footpath because the space on the roads' kerbsides taken up by others' cars, not the clienteles. In short, if you have clout or can work out an arrangement with the local traffic constable on duty, then the simple civic rule that sidewalks are for walking can be flouted.
Only for walking
But allow me to scream the reiteration that sidewalks are for walking and the civic body has been negligent in its duties in ensuring that it is used only for the purpose for which it is historically, as civilisation enabled cities to grow into organised entities, it is meant. It is the least of the facilities which any civic body should not only provide but also ensure that it is free of any other misuse.
It does not matter if hundreds of thousands do use the footpaths as on the DN Road stretch of Mumbai, the roads leading to Churchgate station or similar paths taken by the pedestrians elsewhere in the huge metropolis. It does not matter, if only a few people per day take it but the footpath is an entitlement of all citizens. They have to be kept clean, stumble-free and devoid of any obstructions.
What have we in Mumbai? Most of the sidewalks are taken over by hawkers, illegal extensions of shops who keep their wares there, police chowkies, pillboxes of the security forces outside places like Mantralaya, and what have you. In other places, people just live on them because there is no alternative for them to move to. This is a far cry from the days when all you found on the footpaths, apart from the pedestrians, only a cobbler at the street corner, a post box, a telephone junction box and of course the lamp posts.
So ubiquitous are the hawkers, at one estimate, some 800,000, that it seems the authorities have just given up. The Supreme Court's ruling that they be evicted from the most crowded centres to other locations has not met with any successful implementation. The hawker who depends on the daily footfalls along the place he does his business is scarce interested in shifting to a bylane where a buyer would be forced to make a detour to buy an item. The hawker's business model is dependent on the hurry of the pedestrian to get to his destination.
So endemic is the misuse of the footpaths other than the legitimate purpose for which it was laid out in the first place that some businesses avoid this unsightliness of the invasion by putting up flowerbeds. The authorities also have done that just along the Marine Lines because after the narrowing down and refurbishment of the footpaths, they did not want the homeless to return there.
One gets the impression that most of the skywalks that are coming up in Mumbai are tethered in the philosophy that if you cannot provide a safe passage for the pedestrians on the cluttered sidewalks, provide a skywalk. It costs much more, renders the skyscape uglier but then the pedestrian deserves a new uplifting experience. So, take him skywards.
So why the problem is not being even mitigated, it would be wrong to allow new ones to come up by agreeing to the plea of the Cricket Club of India to use the sidewalk to park the cars of its members or reduce the width of the footpath. As it is, most footpaths have given way to the widening of roads and in many places even disappeared. Remember, Mumbai has more pedestrians than car users. It is not that the city has to be planned only for cars!
Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Mumbai-based commentator and former deputy editor, The Hindu