Three years on, the BMC's footpath improvement project is still in a limbo and has been further pushed into the ground, considering that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) last week, slashed 86 per cent of the total budget allocated for the project this financial year. Sadly, 65 to 70 per cent of the total 2,055km roads in Mumbai have pedestrian walkways or footpaths, majority of which need urgent attention.
Of the total Rs 50 crore allotted for the footpath improvement project this financial year, only Rs 7 crore will be available.
However, this is not the first time that the project, under the Mumbai civic body's ‘Pedestrian First’ policy has been hit by a cash crunch. Last year too, the BMC had diverted half of the budgeted Rs 100 crore for footpath repairs/ improvement to throw a lifeline to the struggling BEST undertaking.
Activists have always criticised the BMC for not having a proper policy for pedestrian walkways. "While the majority of roads have sidewalks on both sides, some of them have pavements only on one side of the road while some roads have no footpaths at all. Where there are footpaths, the space is encroached or they are in a bad shape, begging urgent repair. The height-width of footpaths are not uniform in any area across Mumbai. In some places there are sidewalks one foot wide, in others, eight to ten feet wide. In some places, the sidewalk has a strange slope. In some places, the sidewalks are too high. The channels of service utility companies have gone under the sidewalks. In some places, manholes of drainage channels are built on pavements. We had hoped all these things would be addressed under this project, but prospects seem bleak to me now," said Suhasini Rajdeep, a social activist from Mulund.
The sidewalks have become unsafe due to various reasons -- by getting pitted in the rainy season every year, paver blocks popping out and injuring pedestrians, encroachment by peddlers etc. With this in mind, former Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta had formulated the 'Pedestrian First' policy in 2017, to ensure uniform design of sidewalks across Mumbai. The policy provides for a 1.80 metre wide space for pedestrians. It was forbidden to put a roof or panel on the pavement at a height of 2.20 metres. The civic body intended to replace paver blocks with concrete, saying concrete was longer lasting and could not be dislodged easily. Last year, for the first time,it had created a separate spending head for footpaths, only to divert half of those funds to the BEST.
"It is true that funds budgeted towards the project were cut twice. However, this doesn't mean the policy will not be implemented. We will work out ways to implement it. Currently, we have other major issues before us, we need to address them first. While we are all fighting the pandemic on one hand and have utilised all possible resources to ensure the safety of Mumbaikars, on the other, we have to address the issue of revenue shortfall too. Decisions taken by the civic body are all in the interest of the citizens," said a senior BMC official.