To Members of Task Force on Traffic Issues in Delhi

768626399Untitled-1 copyDear All,

You are well aware that this particular Task Force was constituted at the orders of the Delhi High Court with the specific purpose of working out a new policy that treats Non Motorized Vehicles (NMVs) as an integral part of road traffic in Delhi.  This order came in response to a petition filed by Manushi on 15th June 2007.  However, certain members have managed to completely side line the NMV issue and the need to create dedicated NMV tracks as mandated in the Delhi Master Plan 2021.  In fact, the entire energy of the Task Force is going into car parking policy with an emphasis on enhancing car parking fee and punitive measures for parking cars in “non-authorized” areas.

The Task Force has not spent even five minutes discussing rickshaw parking policy but has gone overboard in helping the police with car parking policy.  This is especially worrisome since cycle rickshaws do no have one single authorized rickshaw yard nor any legal parking space or halt points.  No matter where they halt, they are treated as an unwanted nuisance by the Traffic Police and given the danda treatment.  This despite several high Court orders requiring authorized stands for rickshaws.

The only way to reduce the use of cars is to enhance the availability of convenient forms of public transport (of which rickshaws are an integral part), encourage the use of bicycles, and make the city pedestrian friendly.  All this means redesigning our roads to include sidewalks and NMV tracks.  None of this is happening.  In the absence of proper footpaths walking is a high risk venture in all our cities, including Delhi. As a result, even when people have to go for a morning walk to a neighbourhood park, they have to take their cars to reach the park.  Parents do not dare let their children walk or cycle to school even when the school is a couple of furlongs away from home.  A large part of the working class population in Delhi would prefer to bicycle to their places of work since public transport is very expensive.  Most daily wage earners like carpenters, mechanics, painters, tailors etc. as well as those employed in blue collar jobs stay in far flung areas.  Therefore, their daily expense on public transport ranges between Rs 50 to Rs 100 a day.   This comes to one-third to one-fourth of their daily earnings.  But the use of cycles is shrinking because all the road space is monopolized by high speed motor vehicles without proper enforcement of traffic rules.

Even the car parking and towing away policy is totally unrealistic and chaotic.  Without providing an efficient public transport system, it is unrealistic to try and curb the use of personal motor vehicles by increasing the by parking fee or imposing prohibitive fines for “unauthorized” parking.  The public transport system may have improved due to the introduction of Metro, but it is far from adequate or efficient for Delhi’s needs.  The absence of a proper feeder service makes the Metro suitable only when a commuter has to go some place which has a Metro Station within walking distance or cycle rickshaws are allowed near the Metro Station.

The city government and the Traffic Police earn the moral right to prohibit parking in certain areas tow away motor vehicles and impose heavy fines only after they have provided proper earmarked parking areas, in each locality.  In the absence of a rationally earmarked parking spaces, simply towing away cars is to create havoc for citizens.

Let me give you a personal example.  A few days ago, I had gone to Gandhi Smriti on 30 January Marg for a well attended book release function.  Since there are no authorized parking lots in that area, a couple of hundred cars of those who came to attend the function – including LK Advani, Abdul Kalam Azad, Shashi Tharoor and other VIPs –  were parked on the road side without causing any disruption since the roads in Lutyens Delhi are broad enough to allow single lane parking.  I too parked my car in that row of vehicles.

When I came out at about 7.45 pm, I and many others found that several cars had been towed away by the Traffic Police while VIP cars or those that were chauffer driven were left untouched.  To make matters worse, no one could tell us where to go to have them released.  I called the Police Control Room.  They asked me to go to Tuqlaq Road Thana.  I walked all the way to the thana to be told they had no clue about the towed away cars.  Fortunately, the ASI on duty, Devender Singh, happened to be an extremely helpful and courteous man.  He spent the next 90 minutes phoning various police stations of Lutyens Delhi but could get no information about the whereabouts of my car.

Finally, he phoned the team hired for towing away vehicles.  After a great deal of back and forth, he was informed that the crane service had dumped the cars in the lanes around Tuglaq Road.  The SI then went around on his motorcycle to find where exactly my car had been dumped.  It took him a good half an hour on his motorbike to locate my car.

Imagine, if he had not been so exceptionally helpful, I would have to run from thana to thana of the New Delhi Zone – Tilak Marg Police Station to Parliament Street to Lodhi Esate and yet not found my car.  I would have had to register a case of theft. It would have taken the police a day or two to locate my car if they took my complaint seriously and the car had not been stolen in the meantime. Imagine the enormous waste of time, not just for me but also the police.

The moral of the story: we need proper systems in place before we start punitive measures.  For example, since the Traffic Police knew several hundred people with cars are going to come for the VIP studded book release function, people should have been properly directed where to park their cars.

The current policy favours those with chauffer driven cars because they can park their car wherever they like, with the driver keeping a vigilant eye on the tow away crane.  As soon as he spots the tow away service, all he does is to drive half a kilometer away and come back after the crane has gone.  If you make unrealistic regulations, you are going to have the citizens find ways of flouting them, no matter what.

I urge members of this Task Force revert to the real focus and agenda of the Task Force and leave the Traffic Police to handle the car parking policy on their own strength.

The Traffic Police has not yet officially lifted the ban on rickshaw entry on arterial roads as well as in major commercial centres such as Chandni Chowk and Lajpat Nagar Central Market.  This makes the existence of rickshaws illegal in almost all of Delhi.  However, the police ban on rickshaw entry does not at all mean that rickshaws have disappeared from those areas.  All it means is that rickshaw pullers have to pay off a part of their earnings the Traffic Policemen for operating in No Entry Zones.

Right now the High Court is hearing our contempt petition against the MCD and Delhi Police.  But the Delhi Government is getting away with brushing these issues under the carpet even though the High Court had assigned primary responsibility for evolving and implementing a sensible, citizen friendly NMV policy to the Chief Secretary of Delhi Government. Given that the task of building, maintaining and designing all major roads has now been taken away from the MCD and handed over to the PWD the Task Force should play a pro-active role in getting roads redesigned to make space for NMVs and pedestrians.

I urge the Chief Secretary to call a special meeting of the Task Force to consider the issues I have raised in this letter.


Madhu Purnima Kishwar


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