Is it not reasonable that people who have the wherewithal to own a vehicle pay a price for parking it on public roads?

Traversing from street to street, the mind wandered as a cloud through stray thoughts. Walking past the narrow roads, narrowed further by the line of high-end vehicles parked on either side, who can deny India shining? Yes, in every household, save BPL families, who, by official version, are vanishing, there are motor vehicles for every adult, every adolescent. Where on earth can these vehicles be parked other than on roads? When India has the world’s largest cattle population, can Kerala be far behind with its record for automobile population? Had Malthus been alive, an Essay on the Principle of Automobile Population, would have warned us of the impending catastrophe on our roads, thanks to the exponential growth of vehicle population vis-à-vis stagnant roads.

‘Laissez-faire parking’, apart from reducing the effective width of roads, causes inconvenience to smooth traffic, and more seriously to vulnerable pedestrians. Widened portions of the roads get fully occupied for parking — Parkinson’s law in operation — questioning the very public purpose behind land acquisition. Semi-sleeper air buses, and even call taxis, find our roads a happy parking ground for long hours. Some venture on the footpaths, recently done up, as if made specifically for them.

Authorities turn a Nelson’s eye to this free encroachment on public right by the relatively affluent. Is it not reasonable that people who have the wherewithal to own a vehicle pay a price for parking it on public roads? Few progressive societies indulge in this luxury of unmindful revenue waiver. The proceeds could benefit the road safety of pedestrians or the health care of destitutes; certainly a better substitute for the Karunya lottery.

While granting building permits or licences for commercial establishments, local authorities should ensure adequate provision for parking within the private compound without straining the public road. But do they do that? If it overlaps, it should lie to the account of the owner of the building/establishment, and should not be state-subsidised, at the cost of the pedestrian public. Perhaps, a prominent board at the site of such buildings — displaying details of the parking area as per the approved plan — cautioning citizens against their fundamental right to walk being usurped might serve as an eye-opener, an effective deterrent against this free ride.

In recent crimes that shocked the nation, parked vehicles were the receptacles used for perpetration of crimes — yet another reason why parking on our roads needs some degree of discipline.

An essay most of us have read at school, but forgotten, is A.G. Gardiner’s On the Rule of the Road. Certain excerpts flashed through my disturbed mind:

“A stout old lady was walking with her basket down the middle of a street in Petrograd to the great confusion of the traffic and with no small peril to herself. It was pointed out to her that the pavement was the place for foot-passengers, but she replied: ‘I’m going to walk where I like. We’ve got liberty now.’ It did not occur to the dear old lady, that if liberty entitled … it also entitled the cab-driver to drive on the pavement, and that the end of such liberty would be universal chaos. Everybody would be getting in everybody else’s way and nobody would get anywhere. Individual liberty would have become social anarchy.

“There is a danger of the world getting liberty-drunk … in order that the liberties of all may be preserved, the liberties of everybody must be curtailed … that you may enjoy a social order which makes your liberty a reality…

“We are all liable to forget this,… It is in small matters of conduct, in the observance of the rule of the road, that … we are civilized or uncivilized ...”

(The author is a former IAS officer. Email: kuruvillajohn@yahoo.com)

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