In Focus

Cars, civic machinery threaten human lives

Vidyadhar Date* | Mumbai

It is true even very rich motorists all over the world do not like to pay for parking. That is bad enough. What is alarming is that in India this insistence on the right to park free, grab public space is now posing a serious threat to the lives of others and making cities unlivable.

Let this fire which killed five residents of Sargam a redeveloped building in Tilak Nagar, Chembur, Mumbai last month be a warning.

The fire brigade simply could not reach the building in time because of double parking on the approach road.


Tilak Nagar was a nice low-rise, quiet housing board colony till a few years ago. Then a redevelopment mania, fueled by the builder lobby, gangsters, corrupt official machinery, led to the construction of high rise buildings in their place without any safeguards.

The number of cars grew many times without parking space so they are parked all over on the road . That they are usurping precious urban, rare space robbing common people of space to walk is bad enough. But now this sort of development is becoming a death trap.

The state government’s awareness about fire safety norms is very poor as is clear from a devastating fire which engulfed the headquarters Mantralaya a few years ago and then chief minister Devendra Fadanavis narrowly escaped with his life when the pandal put up for a function at Chowpatty in Mumbai caught fire.

The car mania is ruining urban life. Lewis Mumford, a great thinker of urban issues, now sadly neglected, warned way back in 1961 that insisting on having more cars and parking them as a right meant a right to destroy the city. That is exactly what the planners, the car lobby and car lovers are contributing to.

If this sounds a bit extreme, this is not a biased view. We need to turn for this analysis from none other than the foremost expert on car parking, Donald Shoup, former professor of the university of California and author of two acclaimed books on the subject. One of these is The high cost of free parking. This is a damning indictment of free parking in the West. Unfortunately, we are following the same foolish Western model.

As for the insistence of the super rich on free parking on the road there could be no better example than Altamount road, perhaps the most expensive real estate area in India with a high concentration of the wealthy.

It was on this road in Antilla building took place the recent opulent Ambani wedding which some would say was an insult to the poor people of this country.

Here on this road the rich are refusing to pay the civic body fee for road parking saying they cannot afford to pay. Can any one believe that?

On upper class Napean Sea road outside the sprawling art deco Kilachand Mansion the municipal corporation has taken care to put up a board saying there is free parking here. It does not bother about providing basic amenities to common people but goes out of its way to provide free parking in an affluent area where people can afford to pay and should pay stiff parking fees as in any civilized city.

Yet, the civic body goes out way not only to provide a free hand-outs to the wealthy but announces them. One is seldom likely to see any signage for amenities for ordinary people, of course few such facilities are there in the first place. Opposite the mansion is the Ruia estate of another big moneybag.

Some of the wealthiest people in the city are actually a drag on the society as they pay a pittance for the huge land they occupy, leased to them by a government which is very benevolent to them. Some of these leases have expired but these are not renewed, so the rich continue to pay a pittance.

And then the government goes out of its way to give giant subsidies for building car parks. Here again there is something very suspicious happening. Activists like Zoru Bathena have exposed this. They point out that there is no need for building more expensive car parks. Existing car parks are not being used by motorists, they want to park free on roads and several malls and other establishments have converted their car parks into commercial spaces. Such is the scandal about car parking. The trouble is it is now going to cost us our precious lives and utterly destroy civic life. With more and more high rise buildings coming up, more cars flooding the streets, parking free, robbing citizens of space to walk on, a nightmarish scenario is in the offing.. Stiff resistance from citizens is the need of the hour. The main demand should be to restrict the number of cars as is being done in the West. Pampering the car lobby is suicidal.

* The writer is a senior journalist and a published author. A version of this article first appeared here

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