Authorities say they are helpless and blame lack of coordination among themselves

Obstructed pavements and crumbling sidewalks welcome the pedestrian to the Temple City.

The footpath meant for the use of pedestrians has been usurped largely by licenced shopkeepers on all the busy commercial roads.

The pavements here have become an extension of commercial establishments; platforms have been erected to serve as kitchens for eateries and parking space has been invaded by shopkeepers to keep goods on display.

The rights of the pedestrian are ignored, which has made walking virtually impossible.

Violations abound on the Masi Streets, the North Veli Street, and the stretch starting from Setupati High School to the railway station and Town Hall Road Junction. These are spots where most of the commercial establishment owners on the street use the pavement to park their own vehicles in connivance with the traffic authorities, said a footpath vendor.

On the Vakkil New Street, the footpath has turned into an extended space for most licensed fruit shops, with no consideration for the pedestrian or any concern for the law.

The obstructions force the pedestrians to walk on the road rather than the pavement.

It is significant that the people of the lower economic strata form the bulk of those who must walk to reach their sources of livelihood. Pavement encroachers actually affect the mobility of the poor.

A mobile phone store owner on North Veli Street said the shopping complex, despite charging huge sums as rent, has not provided space for parking. So store owners have no choice but to park on the footpath.

What the rules say

Under the Road Regulation Act, 1989, certain obligations are imposed on the driver of a motorized vehicle with respect to the pedestrian. Rule 11 prohibits driving on the footpath or the cycle lane and Rule 15 says no driver shall park a motor vehicle near a traffic light, on a pedestrian crossing or a footpath.

Though mobile hawkers and street vendors occupy the footpath at popular shopping spots in the city, such as Vilakkuthoon, Pathuthoon, Masi Streets and Town Hall Road, an element of the right to livelihood exists in their case. Many of them are wholly dependent on hawking as a means of livelihood.

Urban life for these working class people is somewhat of a struggle as these hawkers stand in the street all day long, and have to stay alert to the police and rebuild their stalls every time they are demolished.

In the famous Sodan Singh case- 1989 (4) SCC 155 on Hawkers, the Supreme Court had observed that “…If the circumstances are appropriate and a small trader can do some business for personal gain on the pavement to the advantage of the general public and without any discomfort or annoyance to others, there can be no objection. Hawkers cannot be permitted to squat on every road. Factors like the width of the road, security etc. have to be considered.”

A study done in 2009 on ‘Traffic and Transportation Policies and Strategies in Urban Areas’ by Wilbur Smith Associates for the Union Ministry of Urban Development, calculated the walkability index for 30 urban cities in India. The assessment was based on factors such as availability of pavements on arterial roads, obstructions present in the path of the pedestrian, overall facility rating by the pedestrian. Madurai scored a walkability index of 0.40, way below the national average of 0.52 and was listed 17.

Safety issues

Overcrowding by pedestrians, cyclists and street vendors on the road shoulders create safety problems, since they often spill over to the road itself.

Muthupandian, a fruit seller on the Vakil New Street, maintained that newspapers had no other job but to make a big issue out of encroachment on the footpath.

The Municipal Corporation, which has the duty to ensure that the pavements do not have obstructions which hinder pedestrians, is callous to the situation and passes the buck to the other arms of government.

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