Cities » Chennai

Updated: July 14, 2013 08:08 IST

Right to walk is right to health

G. Ananthakrishnan
Comment (9)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The footpath on Pasumathy Street, Ward No 134, Zone 10, Kodambakkam is occupied by a scrap dealer. This is a school zone and people are forced to wade through water on the carriageway when it rains. Photo: Special Arrangement
The Hindu
The footpath on Pasumathy Street, Ward No 134, Zone 10, Kodambakkam is occupied by a scrap dealer. This is a school zone and people are forced to wade through water on the carriageway when it rains. Photo: Special Arrangement

Governments inflict harm on citizens by not providing space and infrastructure to walk

Not being able to walk is not being able to enjoy good health. That might be a truism, but there is research evidence to show that governments inflict harm on citizens by not providing space and infrastructure to walk.

At the end of May, The Lancet, a medical journal, reported that urban areas in developing countries are witnessing a higher prevalence of hypertension and diabetes. India may face an estimated 161 per cent rise in diabetes by 2025 from turn of the century figures. The number of diabetics in the country is about 62 million and pre-diabetics, 77 million, according to estimates published in a White Paper by diabetologist V. Mohan and others, not long ago. The figure for hypertension in the Indian population is nearly 23 per cent, as per data published by the World Health Organization this year.

If that is the problem, the most important part of the solution is to help people increase physical activity, starting with walking. Quite simply, the right to good health is linked to the right to walk, and therefore to maintaining quality of life.

The unwalkable state of most Chennai roads indicates that public health concerns are not central to either urban planning or expenditure budgets. To compound pedestrians’ woes, the State transport department has not addressed the question of augmenting public transport (which the Chennai Comprehensive Transportation Study 2010 data pointed out). The formation of the Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority has not made things better.

The Chennai Corporation does not provide encroachment-free footpaths to bus termini or railway stations; the Southern Railway does not maintain station approaches and premises with good surfaces and lighting; and the State government does not have accurate data on just how many people use various forms of public transport to make policy. That is due to unticketed and unregulated travel modes such as share autos that have grown in popularity.

This fragmented set of factors is a serious impediment to public health. It imposes disease and the resulting high financial costs on a significant section of the population that is forced to use vehicles even for the shortest of trips. A two-wheeler becomes essential for an errand in the local neighbourhood because the vehicle-dominated roads are dirty, often full of stagnant filthy pools after rains, and aesthetically unpleasant. Chennai is subjecting its pedestrians to rising vehicular traffic, noise, pollution and gridlock.

But is there evidence that improving walking facilities also improves health, and potentially reduces health costs? The answer is yes. Last year, a study done in Britain reported that the National Health Service could reduce its expenditure on a range of diseases linked to physical inactivity, including diabetes and hypertension complications, dementia, cancer and depression, by £17 billion over a 20-year period, by helping people walk more. These funds could therefore technically be used to meet other public health challenges under the welfare system operating in the UK

The crucial difference is that Indians have no universal health coverage paid for by taxes, and health expenditure is mostly met out-of-pocket. The policy failure of civic bodies and State governments to enable walking thus proves costly to citizens in more ways than one.

Fortunately, this is a problem that can be solved primarily with political will, since the small funds necessary for improving walkability and public transport can be collected through a painless levy on the users of motor vehicles (the Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Study counted 28 lakh vehicles in 2009, and the figure has risen dramatically since).

The single biggest factor that is poised to incentivise walking is the Chennai Metro. As a modern system — awaiting expansion in subsequent phases — it may attract many to leave their vehicles at home, walk to the nearest station and ride. That would give many citizens the necessary health-building 30 or 40 minutes of activity they need every day. With citizen pressure, Chennai’s static bus system can modernise too and strengthen pedestrianisation.

Talk Back

We invite readers to participate in this campaign. You can email pictures of bad pavements (size not more than 1.5 MB) to

Please send a picture of yourself.

In the email, please give your name, contact information, location of the pavement, description of the issue and action required.

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More In: Chennai | News

EB junction boxes and transformers are hazards at many places on the
pavements. The department could consider moving them away as well,
facilitating the smooth walk for pedestrians.

from:  Rani
Posted on: Jul 15, 2013 at 00:14 IST

I have been following this column since the time it has started and I am
happy about the wide coverage which The Hindu is portraying.

I spoke to my mother and asked her to click photos near our home at a
Chennai suburb, to send to the paper about the pavements there. She
replied to me saying "We don't even have roads here, I don't know when
we would get pavements"

from:  Anu
Posted on: Jul 14, 2013 at 21:55 IST

Education (of the needs and their benefits), Provision (of infrastructure)and Punishment (for non compliance)-the magical trio.

from:  Salim
Posted on: Jul 14, 2013 at 13:53 IST

Right to walk...Pedestrian free to walk on footpath is hampered by the encroachment of Vendors putting permanent sheds in Gandhi Road, Alwarthirunagar has been reported to Corporation, Valasarawakkam. The official says they are waiting for the Police protection to get them evicted. Beside Vendors, some of the shops encroach it to the road making the Pedestrian to walk on the middle of the road leave alone foot path.Even school children find it difficult to walk because 20'of the road is encroached. Police patrol are also onlookers of the plight. When would civic sense would prevail and the authorities act.

from:  J Ramachandran
Posted on: Jul 14, 2013 at 09:49 IST

For a better future state-help is necessary to a level. Otherwise we can't move forward.

from:  Kuheli
Posted on: Jul 14, 2013 at 09:36 IST

The central government and State governments must make the rules for
making all the footpaths must be free. Walking is very needs for a
person who wants good health. Those who are not getting enough time to
the park for jogging, they can enjoy walking from house to railway
station or bus station, or vice versa. The people can go to nearby
market without using the car or bike, so that the people can walk. In
the big cities or in small cities also, walking is impossible because
footpaths are occupied by hawkers and shopkeepers. The people should
in favour for health movement. Health is more precious than money. No
one can buy health by money. But if we have good health, money can be
saved by not buying costly medicine. The old proverb rightly says
'Health is wealth', but health is not only wealth, health is
everything. We should go for good health instead of good money. The
people who are smoker or alholic, they should give up their bad habits
for the sake of their family members.

from:  Santanu Sinha
Posted on: Jul 14, 2013 at 08:07 IST

Forcing pedestrians to walk on the main road
is rampant all over our Nation. Even when
planners do create pedestrian paths,
encroachments by shops and use as dwelling
by homeless poor make it unusable. We need
to collectively improve our civic sense and
respect for public spaces.

from:  S. Poligar
Posted on: Jul 14, 2013 at 06:05 IST

I really want to appreciate THE HINDU for creating such a platform and
awareness about footpaths for chennaites. Hope the present government
would take cognizance of this glaring issue and initiate measures to
resolve it.

from:  Venkat
Posted on: Jul 14, 2013 at 04:36 IST

Author has rightly pointed out the problem caused by missing walkways. But there is another end of the problem is open sewage and any open lands-used to defacate is another biggest and disgusting behavior which needs to be addressed.

from:  marudah
Posted on: Jul 14, 2013 at 03:55 IST
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