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Monday, Jan 27, 2003

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Where are the pedestrian ways?

R. Desikan

In India, much importance has not been given to pedestrian pathways and crossings. And where they exist, they have been encroached upon by hawkers. Will the Government look into this and ensure pedestrian safety?

You need at least three metres to enable the pedestrians to move about. Only then would it be possible to prevent them from walking on the roads. Footpaths must be free for pedestrians," so said a very senior officer of the Government of Tamil Nadu. Some of us made a survey of the space available for the ordinary citizen-consumer of Chennai. And the case is not different in most cities.

My interest in this area of consumer protection developed when confronted with a rude experience a few weeks ago. On that day, walking on the edge of a road — an important road, I could not move even an inch to the left of the road as there was a pit covered with water. Absorbed in thought on how to approach the concerned authorities for consumer protection, I heard a loud horn. And I continued my walk, keeping myself to the edge of the road, as there was no pedestrian footpath. With a screech the car stopped and the driver hurled a curse at me and drove away. That incident re-inforced the thought that it was time to establish the right of an ordinary citizen-consumer of this country — in this case, the pedestrian. In most parts of the world, the pedestrian is recognised as the most important user of the road and respected too. Pedestrian paths are always provided on every road in the developed world. Wherever there is a pedestrian crossing (ZEBRA crossing) on any busy road, they are either manned or lights are provided, which can be operated by the pedestrian to stop the vehicles, to enable him/her to cross the road.

Here, even where there is such a facility (green lights for pedestrians), its duration is extremely short, and most of the times does not give adequate time to the pedestrians to cross the road. This means that you literally have to break out into a sprint to cross the road without encountering the `Stop' signal midway, giving the car driver some kind of a licence to kill you!

In countries such as the US, Australia, the UK and other European countries, no vehicle will cross a zebra crossing when a pedestrian is crossing with or without green signal for the pedestrian. But here in India, such rules are not being followed and there is no "safety" for the pedestrian trying to cross the road.

To drive across my point, I, along with a few like-minded friends, attempted to walk on a road, wearing a helmet fitted with a rear-view mirror. As we attempted to take out a procession on an arterial road in Chennai (in fact, this road does not even have a proper pedestrian way!), the police stopped us and objected to our procession. When we agreed that we will not go in a procession but will walk independently, each separated from the other, the police arrested us. But that will not deter us from carrying out the campaign to its logical conclusion. We would take it ahead till we, the citizen-consumers or pedestrians, have a safe pathway to walk. By the end of this month, we plan to appeal to every citizen of the city to contribute one rupee, just once, to symbolically join this campaign. Will all the readers join me in this symbolic campaign? The campaign is not for money, but establishing the right of the citizen-consumers to walk safely on our city roads.

The author is former Chairman, Federation of Consumer Organisations, Tamil Nadu. He can be reached at

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