Enforcing the ‘right to walk’ in Indian cities

Despite countless reports underlining the threats faced by pedestrians on Indian roads and the high number of casualties, Indian cities have failed to provide safe and secure walking spaces to pedestrians. What does the law say on the 'right to walk'?

Pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users amongst all the others. In fact, studies on pedestrianization by Wilbur Smith Associates for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) found that 28% of the population was estimated to be walking population. Yet, Indian cities have become quite unsafe for this walking population.  In a survey carried out by Central Road Research Institute, 9 out 10 pedestrians felt unsafe while crossing roads. The Law Commission Report on “Legal Reforms to Combat Road Accidents” has also stated that 53% of road deaths are among pedestrians.

Indian cities are struggling constantly to provide safe and secure walking spaces to pedestrians. As per the 2018 report on road accidents released by the Union Ministry of Road, Transport and Highway, 62 pedestrians die daily on Indian roads. Till 2014, it was 32, a rise of 84% in just four years (2014 to 2018). West Bengal tops the list of pedestrian related fatalities with 2618 deaths in 2018.

Presently, in many cities, municipalities and smart city boards are undertaking new initiatives to make infrastructure pedestrian friendly. In Hyderabad, the municipal authorities are in the process of implementing the Charminar Pedestrianization Project (CPP). CPP, which has drawn lots of criticism from local shopkeepers and hawkers based in the locality for ages, aims to pedestrianize a radius of 220 meters around the Charminar.

Hill stations like Shimla (governed by the Act) and Mussoorie have been famous for their mall roads which are based on the idea of promoting pedestrianization. Mall roads in both Shimla and Mussoorie have dedicated pedestrianization zones, public seating, walk paths. Gangtok has also emerged as one of the most pedestrian friendly cities. Today, 20% of the city has footpaths on one side and witnesses a pedestrianization rate of 42.57%, higher than those using motorised trips.

Dehradun is also set to pedestrianize one of the city’s oldest market place, Paltan Bazar. Under the smart city project, Paltan Bazar is set to be transformed into a pedestrian zone. However, the overall situation pertaining to pedestrianization in Dehradun is grim and disappointing. Close to 19% of travel in the city is done on foot or non-motorized transport. Footpaths remain a major cause of concern. Most footpaths in the city are in dilapidated condition, with open drains, broken concrete and hoardings, which obstruct the Right of Way for pedestrians. It is estimated that a total of 84.9 km of road network in Dehradun requires dedicated footpaths. As per the survey conducted by the Uttarakhand Metro Rail Corporation, 62% of city roads currently do not have footpaths.

“When it comes to roads and pedestrians, there are multiple agencies at play, which makes the work difficult,” said Jugmohan Singh, Urban and Transport Planner – Mussoorie Dehradun Development Agency (MDDA). “We don’t have a proper classification of urban roads in Dehradun, which also makes our work of planning for the city difficult. I think we can ensure proper development of pedestrian facilities in the city only when the Master Plans are implemented in their letter and spirit and are not seen just as a tool to approve housing plans or maps”.

Rights of Pedestrians

In the all-India context, there is no central level legislation or policy governing or enforcing the rights of pedestrians. The new Motor Vehicles Act and few other legislations have some provisions but do no talk exclusively about the rights of pedestrians. For Example, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) enforces strict punishment in cases of rash or negligent driving under section 279. Similarly, section 304 talks about causing death due to negligence. Section 336 talks about endangering someone else’s life or personal safety. And sections 7 to 38 and 112 of the Motor Vehicles Act talk about speed limits and various licensing requirements needed to ensure lawful driving on the roads. But none of these acts takes forward the concept of “right to walk”.

The “right to walk” concept can only be found as a small reference in the Rules of Road Regulation 1989: Rule number 8 (the duty of the driver to slow down when approaching a pedestrian crossing), Rule 11 (not to drive on footpath or cycle lane) and Rule 15 (no parking on footpath or pedestrian lane). It also talks directly about giving first priority in “right of way” to pedestrians.

Despite a weak legal framework, The Supreme Court and various High Courts have realised the rights of pedestrians, to have encroachment free footpaths and streets and maintenance of the same. In the  landmark Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation case in 1985, the Supreme Court talked extensively (and for the first time) on the rights of pedestrians. The SC unequivocally noted

“the main reason for laying out pavements is to ensure that pedestrians are able to go about their daily affairs with a reasonable measure of safety and security.  That facility, which has matured into a right of pedestrians, cannot be set at naught by allowing encroachments to be made on pavements.”

The same was held true in the recent judgment of Omprakash Gupta and others v. Mumbai Municipal Corporation (2018) by the Mumbai High Court:

“By their very nature, public streets are meant for vehicular and pedestrian movements and rather they are dedicated to the use of the public. They are the property of the public. They cannot be used nor occupied by anybody in a manner causing inconvenience to the members of the public.”

In 2017, the Punjab Government’s official Traffic Advisor, Navdeep Asija, a renowned road safety expert, filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court for the enforcement of ‘right to walk’. The petition was based on Article 21 of the Constitution – right to life – arguing that the right to walk was a substantial part of right to life. But the court has not ruled on the petition so far.

In 2005, the Manmohan Singh government constituted an expert committee under the chairmanship of S Sundar, Distinguished Fellow, The Energy Resources Institute and former Secretary, Ministry of Surface Transport, which studied road safety management pan India and presented its report to the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways. Among a slew of recommendations, the main recommendation was the setting up of an apex body, the “National Road Safety and Traffic Board” having regulatory and advisory powers under the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Act. It also suggested the Board be vested with power to issue directives and undertake road safety audits. But no action has been taken on the Sundar committee recommendations so far.

With growing traffic concerns and the rise in road accidents, the state has a legal obligation to provide safe and secure commute for pedestrians. And safe footpaths form the core of a robust pedestrian infrastructure system. There is thus an urgent need for the Union government to ensure that policy and law safeguard the rights of pedestrians and put in place mechanisms to enforce the same. Creating awareness and mindset change is the first step, especially sensitization of drivers on the rights of pedestrians.


  1. Gautam Kumar says:

    I found this very interesting and insightful stuff to read. got to know that is a discussion going on right to walk and to have a regulatory/advisory body on the same. I liked it.

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