While walking the streets in Indian cities, I keep wondering whom does the right of way (ROW) in this country belong to. ROW is the distance between two property lines across the road which varies from 6m to 60m depending on the road type. ROW is supposed to be owned, developed and maintained by the government or any party commissioned by the government.
The roads in urban areas are categorized into arterial, sub-arterial, collector (or distributor) and local. Arterial and sub-arterial are major roads, often constituting the national or state highway network. Local roads provide accessibility to residential buildings while collector roads move the traffic from local to sub-arterial/arterial roads. The term ‘street’ in this article is used to denote collector and local roads which provide accessibility to residents. All roads within cities are developed and managed by the Development Authority/Municipal Corporation or any other local governing body.
Whatever might be the administrative arrangement, the ground reality is that there is no owner for urban streets in India. Every few hundred meters in inhabited areas, you encounter a speed breaker which is certainly not built by any government body. Anyone who feels the need of a speed breaker in front of his/her property can do so without having to seek any permission. No-one knows what technical standards are being followed to build these speed breakers of varying height and hardness. Every now and then, there is an accident due to these deadly speed breakers which are built overnight. The maintenance cost of vehicles is also increased significantly.
|Section of a typical residential street|
The situation is not much different on most of the arterial and sub-arterial roads, especially when there are commercial activities along the road. These roads have all kinds of activities happening on space along the carriageway (the paved section on which the vehicles move). It is common practice in India to not complete the entire section of the ROW at once, leaving the area besides the carriageway unpaved. This paves the way for easy encroachment.
|Section of Gopalpura Bypass, near Jaipur-Ajmer|
Clearing encroachment has become the most difficult task if any new project (Metro or Bus Rapid Transit) has to be implemented. It has resulted in cost and time overrun for projects. Clearing encroachment has never been an easy task due to vested interests of various stakeholders and often resulted in protests and litigations. Instead of clearing encroachment, government should make efforts not to let it happen at the first place. It can be done by taking charge of the complete right of way and not just the carriageway. Government should make its presence felt to the citizens as the owner of the ROW and can up with innovative solutions for maintenance.
|Narrow roads can be orderly too|
Under the Smart City Mission, the government is planning to develop 100 cities as smart cities by 2020. Mobility is one of the key components of a smart city. Mobility issues are difficult to address till the government takes complete charge of ROW. We can have smart solutions for addressing multiple issues that cause congestion and can help streamline the traffic but till the time the ROW is strictly owned by the government, other solutions may not bring the intended outcomes.
Note: The author is a transportation professional. She can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed are personal.