• Onam days. It was raining. I was travelling through the roads of Kochi. Stifling traffic. On either side, I saw flex banners, vying for attention. And then a political rally came along. Traffic jam. Left me wondering; Who owns the roads, these days?• I found flex banners dangling even from traffic islands. One proclaims the minor contributions of a ‘Champion of development’. Another felicitates the ‘glorious‘ election of a face, that I hardly recognize, to some minor Committee. The mute faces of many ‘leaders’ stare at hapless commuters, who wriggle through the traffic, on every side of the road. Even the dead are not spared. A huge banner that I saw, offers condolences at the death of an 85 year old. Graffiti was once restricted to compound walls till the ‘leaders’ decided to enter the roads. Perhaps, to be in closer proximity to the people, I guess.
• The law, as I understand, stipulates that the erection of any such advertisement requires the prior sanction of the local authority. The local authority is also vested with adequate powers to remove such banners, if exhibited without permission. But inaction is writ large as flex banners continue to occupy the road margins, at times, even causing accidents. Many a biker loses his life, tangled in the ropes and the flexes, which are torn and spent. And think of the ecological impact. I recall here that immediately after the elections, when Mr. Shashi Tharoor contested from Thiruvananthapuram, workers were instructed to remove all propaganda. It was a noteworthy but isolated instance. Even after the purpose is served, torn banners and deteriorating hoardings haunt our roads. Since the local authorities have proven largely inactive, I feel that NGO’s and other associations should take the lead to purge our streets, of these banners, buntings and advertisements, with the assistance of the police, if needed.
• My thoughts led me to another burning issue. Political processions along public roads and meetings held on the road side. In a democracy, one cannot stifle agitations. But, should it be at the expense of the larger public? How often have we cursed, caught waiting in a traffic jam, hoping fervently for a rally to pass quickly. Our parties vie with each other in exhibiting political strength by taking out mass processions on the streets. Our rights are mercilessly trampled upon. Responses to issues are ‘extracted’ by holding bandhs and hartals, interfering with our liberty to move about.• In these times, the Judgment of the High Court, prohibiting meetings on road margins, came as a whiff of fresh air. Politicians rose in unanimity seldom seen, to decry the Judgment and to enact a legislation to surpass the verdict. The Public ways (Restriction of Assemblies and Processions) Act, 2011- another Act to contend with, giving authority to District Police Chiefs to grant permission to anyone to hold public meetings and assemblies on public ways and road margins. It was the Court again that came to the rescue as it declared the said provision as violative of fundamental rights and unconstitutional. An appeal for stay of the said Judgment before the Supreme Court was recently declined. All this, I note with disbelief, in attempting to establish the supremacy over the roads; the very roads that the common man use to commute in his daily life.• Public roads do not belong to the Corporation, the PWD or the NHAI. It belongs to us. And it is WE- the people, who need to assert our rights, preserve and protect it.
Thank You For Reading Kochouseph Chittilappilly