CA H. Anil Kumar
That demonetisation did not deliver the results envisaged in our PM’s speech of November 8th is an indicator of the extent of the rot in our public. Our Prime Minister’s mission to move the nation towards a disciplined way of life requires our support by simply following the rules. However that cannot happen unless it is possible to follow the rules. The first exposure of an Indian child to rules is to walk on the footpath and cross at the pedestrian crossing which is not possible in Indian cities, in particular the IT capital Bengaluru. There is the beginning of the Indian as we know him. After some time we even forget what the footpath and the pedestrian crossing were meant for in the first place. Extend the analogy to all our laws and you know where the problems and solutions lie. Along with the national mission on cleanliness, we need State Governments to make the footpaths and pedestrian crossings usable so people find that rules can be followed.
At the 71st Independence Day celebrations at a college at Udupi, yours truly found himself in the role of the Chief Guest trying to squeeze all the gyan into three minutes. So I said it was great to be born in a country where “privacy” is considered a fundamental right but how is it that after seventy years of independence proper footpaths or pedestrian crossings are rare. We Indians are not able to properly walk on the road in the manner befitting free citizens. Our current Prime Minister is trying to move the nation towards a more disciplined way of life and we need to support him by simply following the rules. And the first step would be on the road. When we are walking we should try reaching our destinations by using the footpaths and pedestrian crossings and we must complain if we don’t find them usable.
Subsequent to that day the nation is coming to terms with the fact that demonetisation has not delivered the results envisaged in the PM’s speech of November 8th . Maybe the information requires a lot more work before the people with unexplained cash are found. The people who had something to hide were helped by others acting as money mules either for a fee or out of relationship. Nobody believes that the law will nail the guilty. That would require a bureaucracy which was largely not compromised. Blame it on the “footpath gyan” imbibed as kids.
What is this moment of “footpath gyan” which we all learn as children?
As children our experience with rules is from the guidance both by word and action from elders. At school, teachers lay down the rules and oversee their implementation. Most of these rules were social, safety oriented or simply for the convenience of the elders. Our first exposure to the “Rule of law” is on the road. We are told it is the rule to walk on the footpath and cross at the pedestrian crossings. Older children may learn in their civics books that it is a rule – Rule 8 of the “Rules of the Road Regulations, 1989” that vehicles should not enter a junction, intersection or pedestrian crossing without being aware that they will not endanger the safety of the persons therein. (Wish the rules were simpler and required vehicles to stop and allow pedestrians to cross at a pedestrian crossing. The present definition definitely can be interpreted in different ways.) A child who may get 100 percent in the civics subject, which contains road regulations, would suddenly find the road rules in his text book difficult to follow outside the safe precincts of his school. It first has to find a footpath of sufficient width. If there is such a footpath, it could be rendered unusable by garbage or construction debris. Broader footpaths, particularly in residential areas, are used by by the owners to park their vehicles. In business districts footpaths will also be occupied by pavement dwellers and hawkers. We have the broadest footpath around MN Krishna Rao Park in Basavangudi, Bengaluru where walkers park their cars and then take a walk for their health in the park. Footpaths are used for every purpose other than that of a “foot” “path”. The latest habit is for two wheelers to ride on our footpaths. As regards “pedestrian crossings”, it is rare to find in our cities such as Bengaluru, a pedestrian crossing which can be used. Stripes are drawn on the road for pedestrians, but they do not start from the foot path nor end on a footpath. Examples are our tony spots, UB City or next to our Additional DGP (Traffic) Office, where the pedestrian crossing starts from the base of a traffic policeman’s booth . Then there are those pedestrian crossings that begin and end on the footpath. Should have been easy to cross but for the railings which prevent you from accessing them. You can see such pedestrian crossings across Bengaluru next to Police Stations and even near our Police Corner at the heart of Bengaluru. Near my house they even grow bushes in the middle of a pedestrian crossing as part of a tree plantation drive. When our State Government takes little or no action to provide footpaths to pedestrians or usable pedestrian crossings it is a strong disincentive for them to follow the traffic rules.
Let’s assume that a child does a “Newton” and takes the trouble to find a pedestrian crossing which is physically accessible and wants to cross the road only at that pedestrian crossing. This child may have got 100% marks in civics knowing Rule 8 of the “Rules of the Road Regulations, 1989” by heart. It finds no vehicle is slowing down. In fact they speed up and try to cut in from front and prevent the child from crossing the road. ( All with good intentions as no child should think that people are good and step on the pedestrian crossing!) It is as if the child did not exist. The child then looks to see what others are doing and finds that adults cross the road at a different spot and not at the pedestrian crossing, follows them, and crosses the road taking an angle to avoid the oncoming vehicles and finally crosses the road. That is where “footpath gyan” is learnt… rules in India are only for getting 100 marks in your exam but not to be followed in real life. You cross the road in your own way. The child when he grows up watches out for the rules which are being implemented. Bengaluru Traffic Police mainly catch people who are not wearing helmets if you are driving a two wheeler. Driving on the wrong side of the road, driving dangerously are all ignored. If you are driving a public transport vehicle, the drivers have cash ready. If you are in a four wheeler then watch your breath on a Saturday evening. So compliance means being on the right side of the rules which are actually implemented and having cash ready for the unforeseen. The other aspect of life that the child would observe on the road would be that “might is right”. The big vehicles squeeze out the smaller ones.
The same “footpath gyan” is now internalised and the kid who has now become a smart adult knows now that some rules cannot be followed, some rules were never intended to be followed and there are rules which may be implemented but one can get away. All this thanks to the State, which did not incentivise compliance and allows the non compliant to get away. This is a big demotivation for a country which claims to be the largest democracy. This attitude has to be challenged to remove it from the common man’s psyche. The attack could be on three fronts- Cleanliness, Adherence to Rules ,Equality before Law. Our Prime Minister is now trying to attack this attitude and chosen cleanliness or “Swachh Bharat” as his immediate priority and cleanliness has become a national mission. The other two fronts also require to be opened. It’s not fair to burden the Central Government and the Prime Minister with their ownership and success. Why shouldn’t the State Governments work to make the road rules easy to follow by providing the necessary infrastructure, education and policing. This would simultaneously ensure that the State is committed to “Adherence to laws” and “Equality before Law”. A beginning could be made with the State ensuring that footpaths and pedestrian crossings are usable. Enforcement of law, which ensures that pedestrians use the footpaths and pedestrian crossings and vehicles stop and allow them to cross , would secure the safety of both pedestrians and vehicles. Ultimately it is nothing but the practice of courtesy.
As recent incidents show It’s time for the State and its citizenry to act fast:
The attitude of the State towards pedestrians in Bengaluru is contemptuous. There’s a huge structure coming up at the entrance to Cubbon Park next to the High Court. Both the pillars of the structure are on the footpath at each end of the road. Seems nobody is using the footpath so nobody is missing them anyway. The central pillar has reduced the road width to one car from a two car lane. Surprisingly no one from the police or the Court has taken notice. A simple steel pedestrian overbridge near the Corporation is taking more than a year to get ready and it is now used to display banners of various political groups. No pedestrian crossings are there between Lalbagh and the Hosur Road at the K H Road gate. It appears that the police are awaiting a pedestrian overbridge. A newly laid pedestrian crossing has come up near the Siddapura Gate of lalbagh. Cars routinely park on it and no action taken.
As the saying goes- “You don’t use it you lose it.” So it’s time to assert our right to the footpaths and pedestrian crossings by using them. We walk straight and not at an angle.
 Whether the precincts of schools today remain safe are matter for another debate.
 Recommend watching the movie to “Newton” to all Indians. How he handled his “footpath moment” is hilarious and thought provoking.