An 85 year old retired scientist who is on an expedition to bring footpaths back into our lives


A leisurely walk around Hyderabad made Dr. BR Sant, an 85-year old former Scientist comprehend, that pedestrian sidewalks are being colonised by a lot of obstacles, leaving very little or no area for strolling. He identified these obstacles as encroachers, local vendors, and shops. The scenario was disturbing and made him think what can be done. When he investigated further, he realised that there’s more to this issue and it demands enough consideration. This kindling in the mind of this super-senior citizen marked the start of his journey towards de-encroachment of footpaths.

As a preliminary measure, he started to enlighten youngsters and people around him, expressing his concern about diminishing footpaths all around the locality. While most public treated this as a trivial thought, Dr. Sant decided to appeal attention of local government authorities of Hyderabad. Taking his efforts a step onward, he reached out to Ministry of Urban Development, Delhi. While not getting the expected response, Dr. Sant profoundly opted to explore about the encroachment of footpaths. Soon, he discovered the key reasons behind this were not only vendors and hawkers and roadside shops but also several house owners who illegally encroached the public footpath areas.


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What’s at risk, anyway?
He defines these categories as Visible, Semi-visible and Invisible Encroachers. Vendors, belonging to first category are easily visible to the public but often ignored. Also, extending their premises, using signboards on pavements and much more, Shopkeepers are a part of distress as well. If not more, they are equally responsible for the encroachment of pavements, in every other part of the city. Unfortunately, no one bats an eye, making them semi-visible or category two. In addition to this, most fundamental contributors constructing permanent ramps, the house owners, mark the category three. Being one of the most evident encroachments, discrete households are unceasingly heading to a greater extent.

As insignificant as it may seem, encroachment has much shocking roots. “There have been consequences of Encroachment, much obscure to daily life. The impact is as large as to include Tourism and Culture of the country”, says Dr. Sant.

Encroached Footpaths in Delhi

Taking a Step Further
As a part of Dr. Sant’s inkling of revitalising footpaths, he tried to put forth his understanding on the subject to Prime Minister Office. His petition proposed a strategy to cope with the intensifying encroachment. The mission was committed towards de-encroachment of footpaths, named as “Restoring Footpaths Mission (RFM)”. This strategy focused on eliminating category three as major cause of encroachment, with the help of government approved policies and laws. With these illegitimate structures built on the foundations of sidewalks by a large number of dutiful residents, Footpaths are no longer utilisable by pedestrians. He believed that after dealing with the most prevalent category, shopkeepers and hawkers can be easily dealt with.

In his petition to Prime Minister Office, the former Gold Medallist in M.Sc., discussed the excruciating status of pavements, and pleaded the implementation of his strategy with a functional approach and Experts Committee for eradication of encroachment once and for all. His energies were reciprocated by The PMO and he received an acknowledgment letter in a couple of weeks. As an accountable Senior Citizen of the nation, his steady determination of obtaining Encroachment Free Footpaths was notified by The PMO, stating appreciation for his involvement in the betterment of society. They also cited that his suggestion will be taken into account while discussing any policy on the issue.

This marked as a Launchpad to his vision of Encroachment Free Footpaths. Now, there was no going back. At the age when menfolk relish retirement, Dr. Sant was rooting for a superior civilisation. Following this trajectory of success, our young-by-heart Scientist decided to binge for cognisance among numerous State Legislative Assembly Speakers and MLAs. Prof Sant published a Strategy Booklet, signifying the need for De-encroachments, and tactics to confront the ever-increasing violation of pedestrian strolling space. After fathoming about the nationwide issue, he utilised his own resources and posted these booklets to around 3700 members of diverse MLAs, Speakers, head of institutions and concerned authorities. He suggested his approach to pilot an experiment on at least one city of each state, for category 3 encroachers, followed by category 2 and 1.The exact operation of this strategy, can be devised by government depending on the their limitations of operation and funds. He wants this mission to be officially acknowledged by The Prime Minister and take appropriate actions.

The former octogenarian scientist also self-published a book ‘ Where are our Footpaths?’ which he send to country’s law makers to drive their attention to the issue.

Professor Sant was recognised and praised for his endeavours by a large number of people. A friend of his from USA, penned him a letter saying “ I’m in awe about your achievement. You are a David challenge the Goliath. You’re challenging conventional norms of ignorance that is followed in India under the shadow of ‘Sab Chalta h’. You’ve taken time and energy to do something about the daily struggles of thousands of pedestrians.I experienced it first hand in Kolkata during my last visit. Your hard work has broken the mould and I’m really proud of it. ”

Why aren’t we, as loyal citizens of India not equally involved?
When professor was asked about how much local public supports him, he chose to say “There is a general apathy for anything that happens in our country till it affects the higher members of our society. And when these influential people of society are themselves involved as one of the causes, not much attention is bestowed. I’m sure there are thousands of pedestrians who witness encroachment on a daily basis, around their houses, or maybe in their own house, but no one complains.” Digging deeper, we realised that there is need for wakefulness among the society, moreover younger generations. We need to look around us, and examine the why and wherefores of encroachment, while consistently working towards its culmination. This will lead us to recognise our responsibility as active residents of nation.

 

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