Getting violent in support of cars Against common people

mns workers ani

The well planned digging of the footpath by supporters of Raj Thackeray outside Mantralaya shows the deeply anti-people nature of a section of the political class. Simply because the attack was not directed against human beings does not make it less sinister than recent lynchings and the assault on Swami Agnivesh.

Thackeray loves expensive and fast cars and a good section of the motoring class has a deep hatred of pedestrians and also footpaths. This hatred is a well-documented phenomenon as this class believes it must have full freedom of the road, others don’t deserve space, they are a nuisance and come in their way.

Perfectly nice people become highly undemocratic once they get behind the wheel.

But Thackeray’s distaste for democracy is entrenched and is obvious over the years. As is his hatred for the poor as seen from attacks on migrants and other poor people seeking livelihood .

The attack on the footpath acquires a particularly sinister character in a country notorious for humiliation of pedestrians and other common people and denial of basic amenities for them.The footpath is the little aspiration of the common people. Those in power want to deny even this little facility.

So, what is the point Thackeray was trying to make on the night of July 16 ? That we should have pothole free roads. Which is fine. But clearly that is not enough for him. He must symbolically attack the little facility of footpaths ordinary people have managed to get in the teeth of a deep hostility the beauracracy and politicians, or rather a section of them, have for pedestrians.

And the authorities are quite brazen about it. In the nineties during the first Sena-BJP coalition rule in Maharashtra , Nitin Gadkari, then the state PWD minister and a senior bureaucrat had a dialogue with journalists in the Times of India office. When I asked about the neglect of pedestrians amidst high sounding development schemes, the bureaucrat had the temerity to say that given a choice he would remove even existing footpaths since they are taken over by vendors anyway. That is like cutting the head to prevent a headache.

That apart the attack on the footpath outside the well-guarded state government headquarters and almost opposite the state legislature is a very poor reflection on the law and order situation. There is always heavy police bandobast here. What was the government machinery doing till men wielding axes and other implements came in ?

The government machinery itself is hostile to pedestrians.This is clear from the traffic right outside Mantralaya which this writer has noticed for the last 40 . years. Vehicles merrily flout the signal right in the presence of the police in this prime area.

By the way, see how some private developers provide excellent, wide footpaths as in Hiranandani complex in Powai though the number of pedestrians is very small as all residents own cars, mostly expensive ones and these people seldom walk on the footpath.. I noticed this during a visit last week. After a smooth ride by Ola I was back to harsh reality when I reached Dadar. A clear case of private luxury and public squalor.

The government is flouting its own transport policy which lays emphasis on facilities for public transport , not private cars. Most disturbing is report that the municipal body in Mumbai is to spend is own funds of some Rs 56 crore for an underground car park below Jhula Maidan in Madanpura in central Mumbai. The park will accommodate no more more than 200 cars and some 300 two wheelers. So it is utterly childish to expect that such parks will in anyway lessen the problem of car parking. And Hello. Providig a car park is not at all the function of the civic body. Why is it doing this and from common people’s budget ? Our rulers don’t seem to have the foggiest idea of severe parking restriction norms in developed countries.

And then there is the extremely ill-conceived proposal to give a high floor space index for builders to build more high rise buildings near railway tracks. Fortunately, the Mumbai high court has questioned this form of development.

So while the government machinery removes poor daily wage earners from the vicinity of suburban railway stations on the very false excuse that they congest the area, the government wants to add more congestion in that area but this congestion is fine because it is caused by the rich and their motor cars.

After removing poor vegetable vendors from Dadar station (west), much of the open space is occupied by car and motor cycle parking.

It is ironical that a big police van is permanently stationed in this area to prevent the poor from sitting in the little lanes to sell their ware. The police have a very intimidating presence here. But Raj Thackeray’s men had no problem in defying the police outside the headquartes of the state administration and legislature. That tells us a lot.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking a more democratic public transport system.


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