Sunday, October 19, 2014

Banishing cars & recapturing the streets

Bhopal has been overtaken by a “rahagiri” wave. Every Sunday the Lake View Road that leads to the Boat Club, The Museum of Man and beyond, to the Van Vihar National Park is closed down for traffic of any kind other than that of pedestrians between 6.00 AM and 12.00 Noon. Organised by the road transport company Bhopal City Link and the Municipal Corporation it has been a huge success. Last Sunday was only the fourth one and gradually crowds of young and old, men and women, boys and girls have swelled to thousands. It is literally a crowd of enthusiasts for freedom to use the road any which way for physical activities without a care for personal safety. The opportunity is utilised for organising games, jogging, skating cycling, zumba, walking, yoga and other exercises right on the middle of the Road at their respective designated spots. The surroundings also contribute to the exhilaration of the ‘rahagirs’. It has the iconic Upper Lake on one side and hills beyond and on the other side it has soothing green of the Shamla Hills.

Adopted from what was first organised in Bogota, Colombia as “Ciclovia” in 1976 when on all Sundays and holidays about 80 miles of road network was closed to vehicular traffic for free and unhindered use by citizens, “Rahagiri” in India is gradually catching on. First initiated in Gurgaon, popularly known as the “Millennium City”, in November 2013 by a team of NGOs and citizens’ groups it has continued to attract more and more people and so far an estimated 200,000 have participated in it. Introduced in New Delhi by the New Delhi Municipal Corporation and Delhi Police, “rahagiri” quickly caught on and is now continuing for more than 4 months. The entire Connaught Place area has been made free of vehicular traffic for the participants on Sundays. Delhi Police remains available for assistance, if required.

“Rahagiri” is a movement for, as they say, recapturing the
streets by the citizens who hardly are able to “see and feel the tar on the roads under their feet”, riding as they do, in their vehicles most of the time. An exponential rise in the number of vehicles depriving the use of the roads, especially, to cyclist and pedestrians seems to have unwittingly spawned this healthy movement. This ought to be treated as a wake-up call for town planners and municipal authorities who have built roads and planned cities or extensions thereof entirely for the vehicle-borne population, overlooking the needs, and indeed the rights, of cyclists and pedestrians. “Rahagiri” is also an expression for cleaner air free of particulates that infest the atmosphere choking the people on account of the polluting emissions of rising numbers of personal and commercial vehicles, more so the highly polluting the dieselised monstrous and predatory looking sports utility vehicles that have of late proliferated on the roads. As the authorities, municipal and government, have failed to restrict the population of vehicles on the roads depriving access to them of cyclists and pedestrians, the increasing numbers joining “Rahagiri” is an antipathetic reaction and it is their way of banishing thousands of hydro-carbon burning vehicles from the roads, if only for a few hours every week.

While one would like more areas in the city to be opened for “ Rahagiri” – a movement that is healthy, promoting fitness and a kind of community feeling – one has that nagging worry about the health of the Upper Lake and its waters that are supplied to the townsfolk for their daily consumption. Numerous experts participating in seminars and workshops have had occasion to emphasis that collection of large number of people at the the Boat Club and thereabouts was not desirable. Only this morning one happened to see in the newspapers the reports of garbage and filth that accumulates post the Sunday forenoon activities. Unless quickly removed and disposed of, these are most likely to find their way into the waters harming numerous citizens. Perhaps, the organisers will keep this vital matter in mind and arrange to keep the Lake View Road free of garbage and filth.
Photos from the internet

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