Monday, 28 April 2014

Gateway Stretch To become 'Pedestrian Only' Zone

By Gajanan Khergamker

A DraftCraft Initiative, to free the Gateway of India zone of barricades and traffic irregularities, has met with success. After six years of arbitrary barricading in and around the heritage site, following the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai that left the zone garrisoned beyond recognition, the authorities have now planned to rid the Gateway of India of the ugly fencing and barricades. This follows a fervent advocacy drive undertaken to help the common man reclaim the ‘Right to Walk’.

Chief Secretary J.S. Saharia, who chaired a meeting with the BMC and police last fortnight, has reportedly asked the traffic police to work out the modalities and submit a report. A feasibility plan is underway and the idea is to “create more space for tourists, women and children on the sea front.” So, although visitors to the monument will be screened where the pedestrian zone begins, vehicles that are headed to Taj Mahal Palace & Tower will be given a dedicated lane. Even plans to erect a fixed fence around the Gateway of India may be dropped. The area from the Regal Circle till Radio Club is all set to become a ‘Pedestrian-only Zone’.

The city’s prized tourist attraction, the Gateway of India, has witnessed two devastating terrorist attacks. Back in August 2003, a taxi bomb claimed eight lives and then in November 2008, terrorists stormed the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower killing 31 people in a three-day siege. In August 2005, a Manipuri, Ngakuimi Raleng and friend Leishichon Shaiza were stabbed at the Gateway of India in front of several bystanders. These incidents formed the basis, however debatable, for the spurt in security in and around the zone. Similar occurrences at other terror-hit spots in the city haven’t fetched such heightened security bringing in the element of arbitrariness in police action. Sadly, under the guise of security, the common man’s Right to Walk too was quashed over the years.

Now, on an experimental basis, one lane of the road between Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and the Radio Club will be opened up as a pedestrian path in the days to follow. After an evaluation of the response, a final call will be taken. Incidentally, the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee which had also opposed the proposal to fence the monument has welcomed the new idea.

Locals are more than exhilarated with the decision and, rightly so too. Over the years, it has become impossible to walk around the Gateway of India. Barricades are put to every possible use in the stretch. Right from ‘creating footpaths for pedestrian movement’ to ‘forming a divider’ to bifurcate the road and control vehicular flow, the use of barricades is arbitrary and quite excessive. Worse still is the high-handed behaviour of the police authorities in the vicinity who behave like a law unto themselves.

In the absence of any proper laid-down rules for parking or movement, it’s a virtual free for all at the Gateway of India. A security vehicle stands parked for good opposite the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower bang on a footpath ‘meant for pedestrians’ and a ‘pigeon feeding zone’ created with barricades keeps the very humans who feed the pigeons, out of the way.

The creation and control of barricaded zones has been left entirely to the discretion of the police and continues to bewilder the common man who has little option but to walk around in circles at Mumbai’s most prized tourist zone.

India-based think tank DraftCraft has been raising pertinent queries with regard to the common man’s Right to Walk – in and around the Gateway of India over the years. After all, the Right to Walk is an extension of the common man’s fundamental Right to Life as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

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