Unchecked illegal parking and footpath encroachment in Chennai raise safety concerns

Footpaths and roads are often encroached upon by commercial establishments and illegally parked vehicles, causing a nuisance for pedestrians.

Obstructing pedestrians and commuters is an offence under Section 201 of the Motor Vehicles Act. Though the laws are spelt out, neither the local administration nor enforcement agencies have taken measures to implement the laws against illegal parking on roads and wrongful occupation of footpaths, in the interest of the public in Chennai.  

Footpaths are usurped by restaurants, commercial establishments and street vendors to serve vested interests. Illegal parking on footpaths is rampant across our city and beyond. The local officials themselves seem to be ignorant of the rule of law, and claim that the footpath is owned by the shopkeepers.  

The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988

201. Penalty for causing obstruction to free flow of traffic.

  1. Whoever keeps a disabled vehicle on any public place, in such a manner, so as to cause impediment to the free flow of traffic, shall be liable for penalty up to fifty rupees per hour, so long as it remains in that position:

Provided that the vehicle involved in accidents shall be liable for penalty only from the time of completion of inspection formalities under the law.

2. The penalties under this section shall be recoverable by the prescribed officers or authorities.

A few days ago, office bearers of the Alliance of Residents Welfare Associations (AoRWA) met Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary, Shiv Das Meena and submitted a dossier on several issues of public interest. While the Chief Secretary accepted that illegal parking and encroachments on the roads across the city have been rampant, he claimed their hands were tied given the livelihood of hawkers.

As residents, we are also considerate of the livelihood of the poor street vendors. But, we are worried why local officials are reluctant to take action against the well-established restaurants and commercial establishments that blatantly take away the public spaces.

Vehicles parked illegally on roads and footpaths cause inconvenience to residents. Pic: Raghukumar Choodamani

When they have enough space within their buildings why are they resorting to placing the outdoor vending units and advertisement boards on the footpaths and road? It is no hidden secret that restaurants dole out tokens allegedly to police and local government officials every month towards free food. In such circumstances, when the authorities are in cahoots with the law-breakers, how can we expect the officials to act decisively against them? Such corrupt practices have ruined the state of the administration beyond repair.

Read more: Steps to make Chennai footpaths safe and comfortable for pedestrians

Several encroachment clearance drives have been conducted at different locations across the city over the past few years. From our experience, we know these were nothing more than an eyewash. We have witnessed that within a couple of hours, the roads and footpaths were usurped once again.

Instead of working with the community to stop illegal parking and occupation of footpaths, there have been instances when officials have deliberately revealed the identity of whistleblowers after they gave a petition. The Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2011 is blatantly violated to deter residents from voicing their grievances.

Encroachments hinder fire rescue

fire services obstruct
Illegal structures on the road hinder free movement of fire service vehicles. Pic: Raghukumar Choodamani

On January 22 2024, a fire accident was reported in a physiotherapy hospital located in Ramachandran Street, Ward 71, Zone 6 at around 2 pm. The hospital was not well-equipped to handle this emergency and didn’t have a fire extinguisher within their building. Fire extinguishers from a garment factory and a scan centre were brought to douse the flame and help from the fire services was sought.

With either side of Patel Road in Perambur being taken over by commercial activities and parking, the driver of the fire tender had a difficult time reaching the spot. The scan centre and garment factory have not provided any parking space for their customers. The fancy stores and eateries have usurped the footpaths and put up permanent structures in front of their stores, so pedestrians are forced to walk alongside the heavy traffic during the peak hours.

The residents’ lives in the neighbourhoods are being put at risk by the commercial establishments. Several two-wheelers and car parks within or outside the railway stations are not well-equipped to handle any untoward fire accident. One small canister of a fire extinguisher will not serve any purpose. When we enquired about it, we were told that larger fire extinguishers were available at the office of the contractors and these were brought in only when they expected any inspection or fire drill.

What authorities should do

Illegally parked four-wheelers in the residential areas hamper pedestrian movement and must be towed away. The local police officials from the traffic department should be held accountable for their lackadaisical attitude in addressing complaints lodged in the public interest. The wreckers provided to the K1 Police Station should be used effectively in clearing the obstruction on the arterial bus route roads as well as the interior lanes.

In one such instance, we had filed innumerable complaints about commercial vans parked in front of the gate of a house of a retired government officer, who is 80 years old. He resides with his wife who is in her late seventies and both of them are seriously ill. In the event of any emergency, their call driver won’t be able to get their car out of the shed.

The van drivers not only park the vehicles in front of the gates, but also consume alcohol and dump the empty bottles and garbage in front of the door. All our petitions filed with the Greater Chennai Traffic Police have been ignored despite several reminders.

Read more: ‘Why this street?’ A citizen questions the Mega Streets project

Every time a petition is filed, the local police officials visit the spot and get all the residents, to remove their cars parked on the road, take some photographs and close the complaint. This is just an eyewash.

While this happens in Perambur, we are concerned about the safety of residents and commercial establishments located in the George Town and Park Town neighbourhoods, known for their congested roads and illegal high-rise buildings with little space for pedestrians to walk. In the event of an emergency, getting out of these narrow streets on foot, tackling encroachments and dense traffic is difficult. This locality is the nerve centre for most of the businesses in Chennai, but the basic infrastructure is in a mess.

Roadblocks in every corner

Illegal banners and hoardings on arterial bus route roads have also become a nightmare. The safety of commuters is compromised by political parties, despite a Madras High Court ban on hoardings. Will they ever learn from the mistakes of the past?

Moreover, several vans carrying school children ply through residential areas early in the morning. In our locality, 2–3 van drivers not only drive rashly but also speak over mobile phone while taking a right turn onto the arterial bus route roads. Vehicles, especially autos and vans are parked at the Venkatraman Canal Street and Perambur High Road intersection in a manner that we are forced to take a blind right turn on the busy arterial bus route road.

Moreover, large vans and cars are parked permanently on either side of this road, which is already ridden with encroachments making things difficult for pedestrians to cross the roads during peak hours. Several complaints have been lodged with the GCTP control room, but there is no action on this issue.

Petition to Chief Secretary

petition chennai
Copies of nine letters were handed over to the Chief Secretary by RWA representatives Neelakannan, Nagarjunan, Kamakshi Subramaniam, TDS Babu, Suresh, Mohan, Swaminathan and Raghukumar Choodamani. The letters related to removal of encroachments, road milling, reclassification of lands, footpaths, 3rd Master plan, redevelopment of slums, water bodies and waterways restoration, flooding and building violations. Pic courtesy: Raghukumar Choodamani

To bring to light these problems along with few other issues that citizens have been raising over many years, we met the Chief Secretary recently.

One of the issues we highlighted was the manner in which the roads are being resurfaced without proper milling. In several streets across the city height of the roads have gone up by more than 5 to 6 inches. This is one of the main reasons for the inundation during the monsoon.

While the Chief Secretary agreed with the points we raised, we were informed that the engineers and contractors have been justifying the purpose of increasing the height by saying that the surface of the road will regain its existing height over five years due to wear and tear. That explanation is not only absurd but also incorrect. He assured us that a training session is being organised for the officials to address the issue.

While we are glad that something is being done to address our concerns, we are sceptical about the outcome given the speed in which roads are being resurfaced across the city day and night.

He listened to us patiently for over 40 minutes. We have submitted nine letters seeking his intervention. We hope our voices would be heard and the issues raised by us during the meeting would be addressed.

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