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In One Mumbai Suburb, Pedestrians Say Enough Is Enough – An Interview with Krishnaraj Rao (Part 2)

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The sun setting in Mumbai. Photo by d ha rm e sh.

Earlier this week, TheCityFix ran the first part of an interview with Krishnaraj Rao, a citizen turned activist, who now spends a significant portion of his day advocating for pedestrian rights in Mumbai. Through a movement called Sahasi Padayatri, Mr. Rao has been engaged in a variety of initiatives and non-violent agitations to improve conditions for pedestrians; he has demarcated lanes for pedestrians on streets where pedestrians compete with buses, cars and motorcycles due to the lack of walkable footpaths and he has dumped rubbish blocking pedestrian areas at the steps of local government office buildings to raise awareness of the obstacles facing pedestrians. Below is the second part of the interview.

How do you see your activities fitting into the larger environmental movement?

Sahasi Padyatri is essentially focused on creating a pedestrian-friendly and citizen-friendly environment. We believe that a preponderance of public transport and a diminished role of private transport is the way for our city to attain sustainability. We believe that public space is a precious resource that must be jealously guarded.

I set out in June 2007 as an activist against the various aspects of Economic Growthism that are causing global warming today, and addressed about 25 audiences until March on this topic at colleges, schools, Rotary Clubs etc.

In December, I met Santosh Jangam, who sells books on a train for a living. This meeting and our later association in creating the Sahasi Padyatri movement brought the realization that unless we could connect the anti-global-warming agenda to the interest of the common man, we were bound to strive in vain for a change that would stubbornly refuse to happen.

To me, the effort to render our city suitable for walking and peacefully commuting by public transport is co-terminus with making my world more energy-efficient and a cleaner, better place for all creatures and all species.

How is your organization using IT – cell phones, blogs, etc. – to organize and generate support?

For several months, I have been blogging on this issue, and on other issues related to climate change, at my blogsites. (You can read them here and here.)

I have networked furiously with several individuals and organizations late in 2007 and early in 2008. My intensity on the internet has abated only since February, when I stepped out of the cyber-world into meatspace.

I email close to a hundred concerned citizens, media persons and authorities with my communiques on pedestrian issues, and network furiously using SMS, mobile phone and phone for this purpose. I am happy that newspapers like DNA are supporting our campaign and publicizing our mobile number and email address, putting hundreds of like minded citizens in touch with us.

What is your vision for India’s streets?

I would like to see our roads become safe and convenient places for pedestrians through the following measures, which may seem harsh for private motorists and others:

  • Roadside parking of vehicles to be totally banned, except for handicapped persons’ vehicles. Even parking in building compounds should be banned, as the compound space belongs to all the residents for recreational purposes, particularly children and senior citizens. Parking should only be allowed in specially-constructed parking plazas.
  • Roadside and footpath hawkers to be relocated to bazaar zones.
  • Pavement width on both sides of the road to be at least 6 feet on all roads, and about 12 feet on high-footfall roads such as the ones leading to suburban railway stations.
  • If any road is less than 15 feet wide, then it should be declared as a no-vehicle zone, with exceptions for bicycles, handicapped vehicles, ambulances etc. Autorickshaws may be allowed entry only if holders of senior-citizens or handicapped-persons’ passes are the passengers.
  • If a road is less than 32 feet wide, then it should have at least two footpaths of 6 feet width, and the remaining 20 feet may be used to ply public transport buses also.
  • If a road is 45 feet wide, then auto rickshaws and motorbikes may be additionally allowed, but no private cars should be allowed.
  • If a road is more than 60 feet wide, then private cars may also be allowed, but only after 10-foot footpaths and exclusive bus lanes on both sides. The overall road width allowable to private vehicles must not exceed one-third of the road, except on highways.
  • Needless to say, the footpaths and roads must be faultlessly marked and maintained. There is no room for roadside debris and stray pieces of rad-furniture or rubble anywhere. Also, there is no room for squatting and vagrancy on the roads.

Are you working with other organizations? What are they and what are their roles?

Yes, our Satyagrahas are often carried out in partnership with organizations such as H-West Ward Federation, Dignity Foundation, Borivli Dahisar Jagrut Nagrik Manch (BDJNM), Citizens’ Forum of Borivli etc.

Usually, they facilitate us by putting us in contact with their members, and urging their members to participate.

Some organizations, such as BDJNM and more recently, an ALM in Orlem-Malad, take the lead in organizing the Satyagraha themselves, and require us to act in an advisory or assisting role.

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  • Dan

    After I sent my last message, I worried that I was too harsh on the guy – good intentions, right? But then I thought about it more, and my views towards him got even more negative. He’s misusing and misrepresenting Ghandi’s philosophy! He’s turned Ghandi’s theory of
    non-violence, or Satyagraha, on its head. Ghandi thought that opponents should be inspired to cooperate, “weaned from error by patience and sympathy.” This other dude is using anger and force, causing disruption of traffic patterns and delaying innocent people’s commutes. I’d characterize this action as hostile, not the non-violence Ghandi preached.

    When Ghandi practiced swaraj, aka self-governance, or home-rule, he made cloth and salt so that India could become independent of Britain. This dude hasn’t created an alternative like Ghandi did, he’s simply demanding that one use of space get appropriated for another carte blanche. All he’s made is a bunch of trash outside the government offices and a lot of angry commuters.

    If he really wanted to help, he’d take a positive approach: organize neighborhood cleanups, build a bridge over major roads, advocate for bike paths in certain areas. Instead of dividing the streets into competing interests, he should work to create an environment where people take ownership of the streets. If people were truly inspired by Ghandi, they’d take it upon themselves to clean the streets, hopefully sticking to inanimate objects rather than throwing out people.

    It’s no doubt that India’s streets are strewn with every moving thing on earth, machine to animal, and maybe a little designation between uses would clear up congestion. A plan made by multiple stakeholders for an integrated network of paths, streets, trails, and rails could be the beginning of a more efficient transportation network. This would alleviate climate change and make a more pedestrian friendly environment.

    In reality, I think the dude is just jealous that he doesn’t have a car. If he did, I’m sure he’d be pissed at any pedestrian blocking his route. When you’re in a car, you hate the peds, when you’re walking, you hate cars, and when you’re biking, you hate everybody but yourself. Its a fact of life. I doubt the dude’s anger will get anyone anywhere positive.

  • Dan

    Ethan, this dude is a pede-facist! Does he know how much it would cost to create enough structured parking to get rid of on-street parking? At $10-20,000 a spot, you could clean a lot of trash off the streets! His ideas are not only unrealistic, but detrimental to others. I’m surprised he hasn’t been tarred and feathered by the hawkers he’s trying to relegate to bazaars, or the squaters he wants to force out of their homes. The dude sounds like a neo-Corbusier. But in the name of climate change, I guess it’s ok – NOT.

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