Aditi Nigam [email protected]

Having strayed into the mundane world of business journalism, the misfit gets a high from politics, cinema, theatre and street food, especially in the bylanes of Old Delhi.

Cycle of despair

Smooth one-way city roads and flyovers, the so-called symbols of ‘progress’, have literally pushed pedestrians and cyclists out of the way.

In June this year, athlete and national cycling coach, Ruma Chattopadhyay, was mowed down by a speeding car while she was riding a bike, training young cyclists for an upcoming championship in Greater Noida. She succumbed to her injuries. This Sunday, well-known environmentalist, Sunita Narain, was hit by a speeding car while on her way to Lodi Gardens on a cycle. Badly injured, Narain is fortunate enough to have survived.

Narain, Director-General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), has been a vocal supporter of people’s right to walk and cycle on the roads of urban India. “Cyclists in Indian cities are being edged out systematically to make way for cars – sometimes literally so,” CSE said in a statement after the incident.

While these are some well-known names, thousands of factory workers and daily wagers cycle to work every day in Delhi-National Capital Region, exposing themselves to great risk in one of the most cycle-unfriendly cities of the world.

Delhi, a fast-growing modern city, has increasingly started reflecting the inequities that are growing in society – for its roads have room only for speeding cars and two-wheelers, with cyclists and pedestrians literally pushed out of the way.

True, the Government has made footpaths for pedestrians, but these are more often used for parking cars or by hawkers. Even in the high security and well-planned Lutyen’s Delhi, which houses Central Ministries, it is common to spot cars parked on footpaths, leaving no option for pedestrians but to walk on the main road, exposing themselves to speeding cars and buses.

At a time when the entire world is going green and is opting for alternative modes of travel, such as cycling or public transport, to save energy and the environment, India’s big cities are left with no space for people who are looking to make such a shift, leave alone those who have no option but to cycle to work, braving cars and SUVs swishing past on butter-smooth highways and roads.

Delhi’s Economic Survey (2012-2013) may have taken pride in its progress by showing that the percentage of households owning cycles in the city had declined from 37.6 per cent in 2001 to 30 per cent in 2011, but environmentalists feel this is a disturbing trend. The number of households using motorcycles or scooters increased from 28 per cent in 2001 to 38.90 per cent in 2011 while the number of people using cars, jeeps, vans rose from 13 per cent to 20.7 per cent in the past decade.

With more and more Indian households owning motorised vehicles, guzzling precious fuel and polluting an already unclean environment, it is time for ordinary citizens to build pressure on Governments to edge out lopsided economic policies that harp on pushing automobile sales while paying only lip service to equitable town planning and a better environment.

Published on October 21, 2013
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