Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pedestrian Audit - the what's, where's n why's...

For a city that’s going to play hosts to the Pedestrian Audit, the first-of-its-kind -venture in the State, the blog caricaturing the ‘metropolization’ of Kochi remains largely silent on the same. As one of the enthusiasts behind it, I believe it to be my solemn duty to remedy the situation by updating our reading public as to what a pedestrian audit is, why it is necessary and finally, what we seek to accomplish by executing it.

Starting from the basics, a Pedestrian Audit is a species of the genus known as a Road Safety Audit; an initiative usually undertaken by governmental authorities to estimate the safety needs of the roads. It’s more than just a plain analysis. It seeks to ensure adherence to road safety rules and construction regulations, be a forum to showcase the opinions of all stakeholders, to let authorities have a say and yet see how far one can hold them accountable in a non-confrontational manner.

As to the question of why do a pedestrian audit, I would say, it's because pedestrians, as a race(?) are everywhere. They are not an ethnic group found in some far-flung corner of the world. A passenger or a driver of a vehicle is a pedestrian the minute they step out of their transport. You may not find a vehicle, a driver or a passenger everywhere, but the world over, your sure to find a pedestrian, simply because of the pleasure an inexpensive stroll bestows. Inspite of being the largest road users to-date, they remain pitifully under-represented and their voices unheard.

A traveler of the Indian sub-continent will tell you that from the northernmost reaches of India to its southernmost tip, perhaps exempting our capital city of Delhi, all Indian roads are intercept with strategically formed potholes with patches of road left un-tarred, a testament perhaps, to the rather unusual aesthetic sense of our reigning governments. Signals malfunction and policemen either stray from their posts or point blank refuse to stay in places with heavy traffic flow, thereby contributing to haphazard traffic.

Overflowing drains find themselves covered in just-barely-there concrete slabs that are laid so that they form a semblance of a footpath, a myth which is almost immediately dispelled the minute one steps on them. They quiver like feathers, and one soon dreads the inevitable drench in gutter water. Medians are either non-existent or extent for miles at a stretch, prompting the frustrated pedestrian to demolish parts of it to make way for crossing the road… talk about “State-sponsored vandalism!!!” (term, curtsey Dhanuraj).

Apart from shaky footholds over gutters, Indian roads have no specific footpaths to speak off. Vehicles veer dangerously on roads and the Indian pedestrian, an agile and fearless breed of streetwalkers, jump out of the way in record time. In monsoons, this becomes a particularly challenging feat, as the Indian pedestrian finds it difficult to differentiate between a gutter and a foothold, with murky rainwater upto their calves.

Not very hard to gauge the safety levels (or the absolute lack of them!!!) of an Indian road, is it? We’re hoping to alert the public as to the hazards and pitfalls (pun intended!) of the Indian road, without them having to suffer a personal (read harrowing/traumatizing) experience of a gutter-bath or something equally vexing!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

GARBAGE AND COCHIN

This article summarizes how Cochiates feel about their city

Article written by Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer.
Published in The Hindu, 22/06/2008


To save a city: of civic chaos and bathos in Kochi

V.R. Krishna Iyer

It is a shock and a shame that the beautiful city of Kochi has been degraded from a clean and green urban area into an ubiquitously waste- defiled territory — thanks to grave dereliction of municipal duty and administrative anarchy. The situation is aggravated by a paradox: on its streets and avenues, shops that sell gold and silver stand on the one hand and heaps of garbage and filth pile up on the other.

Kochi is Kerala’s growing industrial capital and tourist centre. It has five-star hotels, big business sky-peaks, crowded apartments and a huge High Court building that looks more like a shopping complex than a majestic justice marvel. The Arabian Seabounds the city on the west. The milieu used to be green everywhere with coconut trees and turbid but cool backwaters encircling it. Kochi was the loveliest urban space in South India.

But a lurid gloom has befallen this quondam beauty spot on account of unplanned development and putrid degradation.

It presents a situation that is too delinquent to be forgiven, too traumatic to be tolerated. Concrete jungles, miasmatic drains, narrow roads and tricky footpaths pose risks for pedestrians. Vintage Kochi was charming, with history speaking of little princelings and imperial relics. But now it is foul and filthy, hostile to sanitation, and so tragic in traffic that road safety is a common casualty.

On the roads, potholes and large pits come back to back. Cars, buses, two-wheelers, three-wheelers and other frightful automobiles are parked in glaring violation of the rules, impinging on street space and paralysing traffic. Cars and trucks and snaky wild-wheelers terrorise people everywhere. Police inaction makes crazy locomotion a common violation, and frenzied goondaism an urban outrage.

The traffic lights function fitfully. Road blockages that last for hours, and rash driving, mar tranquillity. With walkways disappearing, pedestrians have become aliens: freedom of movement is a forgotten right.

Yet, the gravest crisis that confronts Kochi is mega-garbage malignancy. The perennial presence of unsightly garbage, plastic refuse and contaminated water makes living in this city a hazard. What pathos and bathos of mismanagement! There are no dustbins, no buckets for plastics, no public sense of cleanliness. There is nothing of the old clean and green city, with its sunny beauty and plural divinity.

The people are even now well-dressed, pretty and smart. But each day, residents throw waste and dirty water into public places, and the municipal authorities turn a blind eye to such acts. And the malodorous city remains untidy, stinks and sinks in overflowing drains. The rain aggravates the situation, leaving the rags and offal putrefying. The High Court, from its high edifice, does judicial justice, and pronounces on disputes at a lofty level founded on sublime jurisprudence beyond the reach of the have-nots.

But the most sinister sin being committed by the Kochi Corporation is the grisly garbage catastrophe. What a tragedy, trauma and travesty. Horror here, horror there, horror everywhere, in the harrowing layers of putrid waste lying all over the place. Is there a government that has concern for Kochi? Is there a sense of urgency to liberate this city from the garbage syndrome? The media write pungently and poignantly, but municipal instruments and
governmental organs ignore or remain ineffectual in the face of this noxious nuisance. Why don’t the members of the Municipal Corporation resign with self-respect, decency and dignity, in protest, and design a better municipal management? Does the Opposition have a solution,
and an alternative process to dispose waste?

Tourists will soon discover Kochi to be Mega-Garbage Inc., a challenge to public health and civic happiness. This city has a dreaded trinityof pathologies: its ever-expanding Smart City status; the perennial garbage syndrome; and the rash rush of speed monster vehicles including ‘tipper’ trucks. This urban malignancy is writ large ubiquitously. This collapse of public sanitation and traffic sanity can be restored by law, if enforced by incorruptible officers and community cooperation.

But callous municipal sweepers, sleepy police constables and an indifferent health department hold the civic administration to ransom. If awarded a week’s prison holiday, such administrators will wake up. The defaulting contractors deserve a cancellation order and a heavy fine.

To function well, democracy needs determination with socialist conviction. What a scandalising scenario of criminal chaos in front of their ‘lordships’ and the learned Bar! An emergency ordinance, a suomotu High Court mandamus, extraordinary public health militancy, and a
people’s war on endemic vices are the desideratum. But the iron curtain of ministerial myopia and political power pachydermy blinds them to municipal justice. The law is dead, governance is tricken by bureaucratic neurosis, politicians are locked in party polemics or lost in foreign travel, and judges are Bench-busy with long lawyerly ‘submissions’. Justice is not mere logomachy but the right to life in dignity.

The polluters should pay. The Kochi Corporation and the district administration, by chronic inaction and delinquent default has made killer traffic an hourly road tragedy and mounting garbage a barbarity. These deserve popular, media and judicial censure.

We must plan to ban every high-rise concrete monster littering Kochi. Every apartment complex, under municipal orders, shall construct a biogas or biomass unit or make compost using the waste, and shall not use notified plastic items. Traffic shall be humanised and rationalised. The glut of automobiles should be arrested.

Kochi is also a colony under the mosquito empire, whose army wings sing, sting and suck your blood till you submit to disease. The people of Kochi should arise, awake and never rest till the city is truth and beauty again. Unless this is done, what is today Kochi’s chaos, bathos and Thanatos will be everywhere in India tomorrow.