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Journey To Justice

Monday, April 28, 2014

An ADC-DraftCraft initiative to ensure the Right To Walk by questioning the arbitrary use of barricades and ensuing traffic mess at the Gateway of India makes a breakthrough, writes Gajanan Khergamker

It has been a long-drawn-out battle but one that seems to be reaching a logical conclusion. In its six-year-long fight to fetch pedestrians’ their Right to Walk around the Gateway of India, DraftCraft has been fervently protesting the arbitrary use of barricades on footpaths and the roads in the zone.

It all began after the 26/11 terror attack in 2008 when the police, in their bid to tighten the security around the monument, cordoned off the entire stretch of road around the Taj Mahal Palace from vehicular traffic. The police stopped all vehicular movement in the zone, for days on end.

After campaigns in the media and protests within sections of the public, the police were forced to make way for vehicular movement. However, the police continued to control vehicular traffic and parking in the vicinity with the help of barricades they placed in the zone. The barricades sometimes blocking the footpath and, at other times, helped the police divert vehicular traffic. What seemed to be a temporary solution to a security issue became a permanent fixture.

Barricades were being used flagrantly to divert vehicular traffic on a section of footpath right in front of the Gateway of India and openly obstruct the pedestrians’ passage in the process.

The entire Gateway of India stretch had soon became a maddening maze of pedestrians, hawkers, vehicles, police vans and barricades. DraftCraft has always maintained that the barricades, in no way, lend any sense of security but, in fact, adds to the chaos. Tourists visiting the Gateway for the very first time are left bewildered with the paraphernalia and have to walk endlessly to find an entry point between the barricades. Photographers attempting to run away from the police jump the barricades directly onto the flow of vehicular traffic opposite the Taj risking life and limb in the process.

In association with Afternoon Despatch and Courier, DraftCraft campaigned about the arbitrariness of the authorities when it came to the generic use of barricades, at the Gateway of India zone in particular. And, about how that meant ‘encroaching upon public space’ and depriving the common man of his basic Right to Life as guaranteed in the Constitution of India. The ADC-DraftCraft-led initiative continued over the years through a series of articles and documentaries created by DraftCraft Films which has finally resulted in the authorities finally taking cognisance of issue and proposing the Gateway of India stretch be made into city’s very first ‘Pedestrian-Only’ zone.

Here grab a look at ADC-DraftCraft’s journey to justice:

Police nod needed to remove barricades: BMC
Back in 2010, DraftCraft maintained that the arbitrary use of barricades was “unfair, undemocratic and a starkly lop-sided dispensation of justice,” in Afternoon Despatch and Courier.

The BMC had then refused to remove the security barricades erected around the Taj Mahal Hotel and Hotel Trident till it got an all-clear signal from the-then Mumbai police commissioner.

Barricades placed initially around both the hotels went on to stay for good over a period of two years creating huge nuisance and traffic problems for citizens and residents alike.

Following a series of complaints from local quarters even through the corporator Vinod Shekhar, the BMC A-Ward office issued demolition notices to the two five-star hotels for encroaching on public property. The ward office even sent a bill for penalty and stacking charges of Rs 6.4 crore to the two hotels for the period ranging from September 1, 2009, to May 31, 2011.

Later, the authorities concluded that for the security barricades, no fine would be collected as “they have now been authorised in a joint meeting of the BMC and the police.”

Arthur Bunder Road, which runs parallel to SB Road, is anyway very congested with parked taxis, tourist vehicles, private cars, tourist buses and the brightly-lit Victorias weaving in and out of the mess. To make things worse are the barricades that, most feel, ought to be erected within the hotel premises and not on a public road.

Back then the police sources claimed that they feared an attack similar to that on Hotel La Meridien in Pakistan where a truck laden with explosives was rammed into the hotel before being detonated in 2008.  “In view of such a high threat perception, it was decided to maintain the barricades,” they feel.

Despite all threat perception, it makes little sense for the authorities - both civic as well as police - to encroach upon public property and affect rights fundamental to the common man.

Security Sham
A photo-feature published in Afternoon Despatch and Courier, DraftCraft highlighted, “under the pretext of strict monitoring, the barricades propped up to prevent tourist movement to Gateway of India from the Taj side come as an unpleasant surprise for first-timers, who are left hunting for an entry spot and wander around aimlessly looking for the nearest opening in the absence of a board providing directions.”

The Gateway of India, located on the water front at Apollo Bunder in South Mumbai has been converted virtually into a fortress with hundreds of barricades propped up to prevent free tourist movement.  Post 26/11, security fears were real. But the sham of arrant obstructionism around the Gateway of India seems to be aimed at two things - being a major irritant to locals and tourists and indulging a downright lazy constabulary led by its officers.

(Mis)Rule of the law
That a World Justice Report places India among the last few rungs in the list of nations in evaluating their guarantee of the Rule of Law may be argued as excessive or simply ruled out as biased but it does bring to fore the fact that there is something wrong...drastically wrong in our approach. The authorities are selective and very biased.

As published in this newspaper earlier on December 4th 2010, the police and BMC played the blame game when it came to the issue of removal of barricades in and around Taj Mahal Hotel and Trident Hotel but acted swiftly against hawkers in the same zones. Encroachment held different meanings when it came to two different entities. It was outrightly unfair, undemocrative and a starkly, lop-sided dispensation of justice, we wrote, back in 2010.

Barricades which are used rather arbitrarily during bandobast, nakabandi or in case of VIP visits, are employed quite arbitrarily, for agonisingly long periods of time triggering traffic snarls and preventing right of passage for inordinate periods that defeat the very purpose of police action.

Why, even the very presence of security gates / metal detectors at Churchgate Railway Station and CST among others quite defeats the purpose of security itself. Accompanied with the huge posse of policemen either sitting, chatting or eating in and around them, they don’t really do much in the furtherance of law.

Yes, they do, however, manage to delay and stall smooth passage of travellers and pedestrians particularly at a time when meeting deadlines and alighting time-bound trains is a priority. The entire idea isn’t just lost, it’s defeated.

Concurrently, the right to passage of a select few - politicians, celebrities and VIPs - is offered on a platter, at the cost of the common man’s convenience. And that, is a flagrant violation of the rule of law. Similarly, barricades placed in and around the Gateway of India continue to harrass the common and plague passage but the authorities continue to look the other way.

After all, it’s the common man who’s hit the worst...not too many celebrities visit the Gateway. And, all roads leading to the Taj are laid bare open - free from pedestrians and other traffic when it comes to the passage of a VIP or a politician.

And, most recently, on April 7th 2014…

Barricading the common man’s liberty
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation recently fined Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Rs one crore for ‘illegally blocking’ the street that leads to BSE towers, since 2011.  The BSE had put up bollards as well as barricades blocking the street soon after the serial blasts that rocked the city in July 2011. Reportedly, the blocking of the road causes chaos in the busy streets near BSE buildings. 

According to BMC, the permission to put up barricades on the street was only given temporarily after the bomb blast in 2011 but the BSE continued with it over the past few years on its own accord; ignoring repeated complaints from residents and office goers who have to deal with the chaos on a daily basis.  The use of barricades for years on end, in the guise of security, has become a trend in Mumbai, especially in South Mumbai.

Just like The Gateway of India in Mumbai has been cordoned off from all the sides limiting people’s passage, Delhi’s India Gate lawns had been recently barricaded by the police.  The Delhi police faced the public’s brunt for cordoning off the India Gate’s lawn and parking lots around the area from the common public, once again for ‘security reasons.’

Recently, a petition was filed in the Delhi High Court seeking the reopening of the India Gate lawns and parking lots adjacent, to which the Delhi police has opposed saying that the area has been blocked from the public owing to “security concerns”.

Moreover, there are permanent cemented flower pots constructed on the roads, which work as ‘road dividers,’ that fall on the BMC’s blind spot. According to the law, it is unlawful to construct any permanent structures on public property in such an arbitrary fashion, threat or otherwise.

The Right to Life as provided in The Constitution of India through Article 21 assures all an associated Right To Walk.

Over the years, it has become nearly impossible for the common man to walk in public places, along public spaces and exercise a right that is intrinsically associated with your very Right to Life.

Your Right to Walk is associated with an inbuilt guarantee of safe passage without risk of injury or threat to life and property. But, are you assured of your Right to Walk?

Hardly!

With inputs from Prerna Pandey

‘All Rights Preserved’
The Right to walk
http://youtu.be/Iaay-emQKzw

Now, Where Do You Walk?
http://youtu.be/Y-Q9SuiH9qU

A protected monument
http://youtu.be/UGotGY4HYS0

Where Did That Footpath Go?
http://youtu.be/jztZGqly_Xc

Old Yet Risking Life and limb
http://youtu.be/69RWoq1-jsY

Readers keen on seeking help on drafting RTI applications may write in to rti@draftcraft.in or call Gajanan Khergamker on 022-22841593 for any assistance on RTI or to have their findings / issue featured on this page

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