Pavements that maim

How many more pedestrians have to suffer injuries, before our civic authorities take action against unauthorised appropriation of public spaces by advertisement boards?

For a mathematician who has been honoured with the Padmabhushan and made a fellow of the Royal Society, Professor Narasimhan made one small wrong calculation on the morning of Monday, December 14th, 2009.

Walking down the narrow sidewalk along Sanjaynagar main Road, he tried to get past a large advertisement board balanced on top of a massive slab of concrete placed in the middle of the pavement by a newly opened grocery store.

The narrow sidewalk along Sanjaynagar main Road. Pic: Sakuntala Narasimhan.

With barely enough space on either side of the concrete slab for walking past, his foot got caught on the treacherous jagged edges of the slab and he fell on a flight of steps descending from the edge of the pavement  to a basement.

He now has  six broken ribs and has been on pain killers for over three weeks. Recovery, doctors say, could take around three months. He had to cancel a trip to Madurai University where he was to be chief guest and could not attend a national scientist’s meet scheduled for that week.

How many more pedestrians have to suffer injuries, before our civic authorities take action against such unauthorised appropriation of public spaces by advertisement boards? Had this victim been a minister or local corporator , it would have made headlines and the store owner would have been punished. (Amend that to read only ‘corporator’ — ministers don’t walk along pavements, right? They ride in official cars, with minions clearing the way for them.)

Had the fall resulted in a fatal injury, corporation officials or bureaucrats would have “visited” the family and offered compensation of one lakh. Six broken ribs in a  senior citizen, however,  do not count. There were no apologies, from the shopkeeper or from BBMP (which is mandated to ensure safe movement for pedestrians), let alone accepting responsibility for the expenses caused for treatment, the disability and  loss of work days.

If this were in the US, he could have sued the shop that had placed its signboard and the stone slab, on the pavement. He could have also sued the city corporation for not ensuring safe pedestrian movement.

Three years ago, I tripped on a jagged granite block left along the pavement  on BEL Road, and was limping in pain for months. I now have a stiff knee that has become a permanent disability. Who takes responsibility for these setbacks – the broken ribs, the cancelled appointments, the pain and the disabilities?

On an average one pedestrian is killed each day on Bengaluru’s roads and seven injured,  but how many suffer injuries while walking along pavements, which are meant  for pedestrians?

Stone slabs and rubble are left piled along pavements after digging work; complaints bring the rejoinder that it is “some other department’s job to remove it”. The BBMP blames the BWSSB or BESCOM; they in turn declare that it is “not their job”.

I have seen a pregnant woman trip and fall. A child stumbled along a stretch of pavement in south Bengaluru, and broke a tooth. Who cares? Not the city authorities who are busy drawing up fancy projects for wooing foreign tourists.

Last year the city allocated Rs 46,994 crores for a “traffic plan”. How much did plans for pedestrians get? Why do vehicles get more importance and attention than people, when more and more areas are being designated as vehicle-free pedestrian plazas in Rome, London and Boston? Why are roads being widened to accommodate more vehicles, but pavements are not widened to facilitate a rising metropolitan population’s movement?

Can shopkeepers place billboards and signposts along pavements, for advertising? Don’t the rules mandate permission from the corporation, and payment of taxes for publicity boards? Who monitors and checks that advertisement boards do not hinder movement for the public? What happens if each shop decides to place its own signboard in the middle of the pavement, where do people walk then?

After a newspaper report on Professor Narasimhan’s broken ribs, the offending board and the jagged piece of stone that served as a pedestal, were removed by the shop – but what about making amends for the injury caused? Who monitors, who decides?

There is a law against driving a two wheeler on pavements. Yet, scores of  drivers  climb on to pavements at every signal (along the road connecting Mekhri Circle to Doordarshan Kendra, for instance, or JC Road towards Town Hall). Not one of them gets pulled up or penalised by the cops.

The social costs of accidents on Indian roads (lost work hours, medical expenses etc) are estimated to be around Rs 55,000 crores annually. There are no estimates on the costs of  injuries caused while walking on pavements.

By the end of this decade, the number of senior citizens in the state would have risen to 1 crore (from the present  40.5 lakhs) what guarantee does the city offer them, of safe walkways?

Here is one answer – last week, when I was nearly knocked down by a driver who disregarded a red light, I noted down the number and went to the local police station to lodge a complaint. “Madam, why were you out on the street?” the constable on duty asked. To get milk and vegetables, I replied.  “Next time,” he said, “just tell me, I will get them for you, you stay at home, don’t venture out.” If the pavements have become obstacle courses, stay indoors, don’t stir out. Especially if you are a senior citizen and don’t want your ribs broken.

I have memories of walking in an American university campus, on my first day there  – hundreds of students were driving to class and  I waited for the cars to pass before I crossed , but the drivers stopped, waiting for me to cross because under the law pedestrians have right of way. One driver was a little annoyed that I stood on the edge of the sidewalk waiting for him  to pass, not realising that he was waiting for me to go across before he could drive past.

Try staking your claims to right of way as a pedestrian, in Bengaluru. You will be run over in less time than it takes to say ‘pedestrian’.    ⊕


  1. Palahalli Vishwanath says:

    Pedestrians are worse than second class citizens in Bangalore. Ms. Shakuntala Narasimhan’s article reinforces this view. I will limit to two aspects of the article : (1) The two wheelers are very promicuous in this city. I walk almost everyday in parts of south and east Bangalore. It is difficult to walk on the footpaths since one does not know when a two wheeler will strike you from behind. When this is pointed out to the policemen , they shrug their shoulders. The footpath stretches near Kidwai-Nimhans, Lalbagh west gate, Madivala masjid are just only few of the places where this happens regularly. When this is pointed out to the offenders, some people smile and some hurl obscenities at you (2) The sidewalks laid out in Basavangudi area few years ago have now become hazardous to walk upon. The whole stretch of DVG road has these pavements with thin concrete blocks which vibrate every time with people walking on them.
    When I relocated to Bangalore from Mumbai 7 years ago I was aghast at the way pedestrians are treated in this city. I had sent a letter to TIME which they did publish. I ended my letter saying that NO CHICKEN DARE CROSS THE ROADS IN BANGALORE !I would say today that even the bravehearts dare not cross the roads in this city.

  2. B Dutta says:

    Even the so called pavements in most localities have wobbly concrete slabs. You never know which one’s gonna give way.

  3. Sri Guru says:

    Sakuntala Narasimhan’s article is a symptom of the major problems modern Bharata Desa or India has.
    [comment edited as per policy]

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