A quick drive (or, better still, a short walk) down any one of our roads will immediately bring this question to mind. It would appear that public thoroughfares, the most common example of public space, have been completely made over to the public, sans any kind of discipline on what they can be used for. And given that we as the public imagine that we have only rights and no responsibilities, these roads are being greatly misused as extensions of private space. A largely apathetic civic administration (and this is true no matter who is in power) looks on benignly.
There are several glaring instances that can be highlighted. The most common are the so-called modern highrises, complete with every kind of luxury built in – except what is increasingly becoming a luxury in our city, parking space. Thus, most buildings are now planned with parking space assumed for one car per flat. But what happens in reality is that in our passion to encourage the auto industry, each family has two or three cars and any number of two-wheelers and all these spill out on to the road, thereby restricting space for movement of vehicles and pedestrians. Similarly, no private apartment complex has parking space for visitors. How is it justified that these apartment owners usurp road space for the parking of their visitors’ vehicles? Do they pay any sort of fee to the Corporation for this?
The problem with such Government initiated ‘improvement schemes’ is that they do not benchmark themselves against world standards in plan, execution and, above all, maintenance. They are all put up on the basis of PWD standards which, we all know, amount to little. And all this is done at a tardy pace that would make the ancients who constructed our temples wonder if we have progressed or regressed with time. Finally, there is never any maintenance. Given that even broken fittings are replaced based on a tender, they take ages. So to what end these improvement schemes?
The same goes for commercial establishments as well. Office complexes take over the roads for parking with impunity. Valet parking in five star hotels may give the impression that all is well, but you only need to ask in this regard about the experience of some of those who live in the vicinity. The valets park vehicles anywhere and these sometimes block private gateways, thereby completely barring the possibility of entry and exit for those who live within. Hospitals are even worse offenders. Patients’ vehicles and those of visitors are perforce parked all over the locality. This destroys the neighbourhood immediately. Wedding halls also fall into this category. Most have no space for parking vehicles and depend on the roads. There is complete chaos in their vicinity each time a wedding takes place.
The way shops and establishments have completely aggrandised the whole of T’Nagar into one vast parking area, and the way the Corporation has chosen to look the other way are instances of blatant misuse of public space.
At the lowest end we have car repair outfits that convert the entire stretch near their establishment into workshops. Cars are assembled, dismantled and often speed tested as well in bylanes where women, children and the elderly walk. There is scant regard for their safety.
Our roads have also become convenient places for storing construction material. There is no authority that regulates this. Bricks, blue metal, cement bags and construction debris are all dumped on the footpath (if it exists) or on the road. Very often steel rods are also thrown around and these, being stored at floor level, make for a very dangerous hazard for pedestrians.
Why does the Corporation not monitor all this? What are the various local officers and, above them, the Councillors doing? Do they go on inspection drives and, in case they do, do they take cognisance of these things? How is it that what is plainly visible to many of us seems to be not at all visible to those who are supposedly taking care of the quality of our lives? And do we need to complain each time we notice these things before they rather reluctantly, if at all, take action? Why can they not proactively prevent violations of this kind? Why is it that such matters are not discussed at the Corporation Council meetings?