At the junction of Chamiers Road and Boat Club road, nestles a major retail store. Hundreds of customers visit it every day, and with them an equal number of cars and motorcycles arrive. But since it does not have a parking lot of its own, Amma Naana has a simple policy: encroach upon the pavement.

“I did not know that we couldn’t use the footpath as a parking space. Anyway, we have documents and permission to use this spot. Do what you want to do,” the manager said, when asked why the store had taken over what belonged to pedestrians. When asked to furnish the documents, he refused.

Since the store is right next to a major traffic signal, pedestrians here are forced to walk on the carriageway amidst heavy traffic.

“I don’t know why no one has intervened in what appears to be an illegal conversion of the footpath into a parking lot. After taking over the footpath, they have also occupied a part of the road,” said R. Natarajan, an RTI activist and senior citizen who lives nearby.

Amma Naana’s case is not the only instance of a major commercial establishment encroaching upon public space. Several prominent establishments in the area have done the same, forcing pedestrians like Mr. Natarajan to walk on the carriageway, leaving them vulnerable to accidents.

“This practice has been allowed by the authorities. Otherwise, how is it possible for these stores to blatantly take over these spaces,” asked Mr. Natarajan.

In Adyar too, this practice is rampant. A prominent example is the Hot Chips restaurant located on Sardar Patel road. Again, since it did not have a parking lot, the restaurant simply flattened the footpath just outside and built a ramp. This is now being used as a guarded parking lot.

“The situation is really bad here. This entire stretch faces this problem and one is forced to walk on the road manoeuvring through traffic,” said P.K. Gunaseelam of the Federation of Adyar Residents’ Association. Staff at the restaurant refused to answer questions about the encroachment.

On Thirumalai Pillai Road in T. Nagar, Hotel Benzz Park has usurped the entire pavement for its own use. However, when contacted, the management denied that it used the footpath and shifted the blame on to vehicle owners. “We don’t use the space as a parking lot. Sometimes, during peak hours, people visiting the hotel park their cars on the pavement,” said Venkatapathy Veeraswamy, executive assistant manager at the hotel.

As per the city traffic police’s data, Anna Salai is one of the most dangerous roads in this regard. In 2010, there were 350 pedestrians who were either injured or killed on Anna Salai.

It is easy to see why. The footpath outside Hotel Saravanaa Bhavan, located in the Shanthi theatre premises, serves as a parking facility for customers. The thousands of pedestrians, who walk on Anna Salai every day, have no choice but to use the constantly-busy road.

“Our customers park their vehicles outside the restaurant. However, we will be strict from here on and won’t allow them to do so,” said Kamala Kannan, a senior official at the hotel.

But how do these commercial establishments brazen it out? “It is a case of lack of enforcement. It is simply not possible for us to police each and every commercial establishment. Citizens also need to do their bit,” said a senior Chennai Corporation official, pointing out that the traffic police too, should prevent such encroachments.

S. Sivanandan, deputy commissioner of police, traffic, said: “Along with the Corporation, we too will prioritise pedestrian safety. We are doing our bit to prevent encroachments on footpaths by vehicles but there are just too many of them,” he said.

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