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‘Footpaths essential but not mandatory’

Saturday, November 05, 2011

An assertion by BMC chief Subodh Kumar that footpaths weren’t mandatory met with resistance from the public, legal experts and activists alike. The citizen’s right to safe and secure passage is sacrosanct, feels Gajanan Khergamker

In a sharp turnabout, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation Subodh Kumar told the Adarsh Judicial Commission that "footpaths are absolutely essential,'' but admitted that pavements "have not been made mandatory under the law". Mr Kumar had, despite having stirred a hornet’s nest, concurrently laid a finger on an anomaly in the legal system which needs to be plugged urgently.

Kumar had told the judicial commission of Justice (retired) J A Patil and member P Subramanian that he would have to “check whether footpaths were mandatory” sparking outrage among legal experts and activists.

The following day,  after a surge of outrage among citizens and sections of the media, the civic chief maintained, "Footpaths are essential for pedestrians’ safety," and that "it (pavements) is part of the road width - road width comprises both carriage way and footpath on either side. The Indian Road Congress recommends, footpaths should be a minimum 1.5 metres wide on either side of the road." However, he maintained, in the city's development plan, the width of pavements was not specified. "The Development Control (DC) Rules too do not mention the width of a footpath," said Kumar.

In the absence of any mention of the width of a footpath, the BMC isn’t quite bound to maintain a particular width. And, it is in a furtherance of this very logic that pavements across the city are being trimmed and cut in size to enhance “parking space” and permit vehicular movement.

Under Section 61(M) of the BMC Act, the municipal corporation is duty-bound "to make adequate provision for the construction, maintenance, alteration and improvement of public streets, bridges, culverts, causeways and the like".

According to Section 3(W) of the BMC Act, a ‘street’ includes a footway or footpath.

Mr Kumar did admit though that the reality in Mumbai was far from it as, "Sometimes on narrow roads, BMC has provided footpath on one side of the road only.

Sometimes, the footpath width has been curtailed to accommodate larger carriageway (for vehicles), which of course is not desirable and should be avoided."

Mr Kumar had earlier this week told the Adarsh Judicial Commission that all roads in the city did not necessarily have footpaths adding that footpaths were not mandatory and that he’d have to check up if footpaths were mandatory in Mumbai.

What matters more than the civic chief’s assertion that footpaths weren’t mandatory is the fact that there do exist faux pas on paper regarding the law on footpaths vis-a-vis Development Control Rules which need to be altered through procedure on law. If the need for pedestrian passage is expected to veto any conflicting need for vehicular movement, the law on the same needs to be clear.

Mr Kumar’s views on the situation courtesy his deposition before the Commission bring to fore the urgent need to rectify the snag.
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