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


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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