Sundeep Bhutoria

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pedestrians' day


Last Tuesday I arrived here at this picturesque neighbouring country of India. I resumed my journey from the airport to the city, roughly a 55-km stretch, in a car. En route, I found it somewhat strange that the police stopped the vehicle thrice at different points and questioned the chauffeur.
Each time he explained something in local language to the men-in-uniforms and the rest was cool. What struck me as odd was the fact that I was here just about a month back and no such security measures – whether on the roads, malls, hotels or public places of interest – were evident. Things were like as they are everywhere.
My curiosity got the better of me and I asked the chauffeur - Why was he made to stop?
I was very surprised by his reply. He said that the Government had, few weeks earlier and coinciding with the World Environment Day, declared Tuesdays as the `pedestrian’s day’ across the country, banning motorists from the urban areas or town centres. The prime minister of the country, reiterating a cabinet approval, issued an executive order to give effect to the decision. In effect, the Government’s pedestrian day order meant that no vehicles, except for service vehicles such as ambulances, fire brigade, armed forces and emergency vehicles, would be allowed to operate on every Tuesdays. Even the public buses and taxis would largely come under the ruling. There would be only some need-based concessions like a limited number of taxis may take
turns to operate once a week on Tuesdays and public buses.
The order also meant that everyone, including car owners, would have to primarily walk or use bicycles for commuting every Tuesday from 6 am till 6pm. At best they may use the available public transport.
The initiative was taken by the Government to reduce the level of pollution and also as a response to address the issue of global warming. The tourist vehicle that was sent for me at the airport had special permission to operate on a Tuesday.
I was also surprised to find how the common citizens of the country had supported and warmed up to the idea of `pedestrian day’ and were getting around to the idea of planning out their Tuesdays in advance. And why not! Even the head of the state used a bicycle to get to the office on last Tuesday.
I was reminded me an incident of 1994 in Luxembourg. I had gone on my maiden visit to that country to attend a Youth Conference. At the end of the conference the hosts took us for a city tour. While showing the President’s house from the bus, the guide, suddenly pointed out to a man on a bicycle entering the building and said he is our President. After office hours, the President used his own cycle. I, along with all the other delegates, was very surprised at that time.
And here, after so many years, I again find a head of a state using a bicycle to get to office. If only India could take a lesson from its tiny neighbour and follow suit.
ess bee

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