The lobby won

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The pedestrians are out and the vehicles are in. The business lobby has won the battle for space inside the Imphal Khwairanband Keithel. After months of ‘pedestrian only’ experiment in the Paona Bazar and Thangal Bazar roads, the state Cainet has finally opted for the former regulation of free entry and parking of vehicles in the core area of the Bazar besides parking for the residents of the Bazar. We at the IFP has been consistently supporting the ‘pedestrian only’ regulation within the limits of the Bazar area. We had even thought that the introduction of pedestrian only zone in the busy market area is also part of the green city process and had supported it. As we said, mature and sensible city managers around the world have implemented pedestrian friendly regulations long time back. A market is meant mainly for the common people and ordinary shoppers. We need to take into account the elite and neo-rich while framing policies also, but the main emphasis should be on the welfare of the common people. It is mainly people from other towns and villages that are flocking the city. That is exactly where, the importance of promoting pedestrianism comes in. Pedestrian cities are growing in popularity in many top regions around the world. Being able to walk to a mix of shops, restaurants, newsstands, coffeehouses and open-air markets within car-free neighborhoods and work centers delivers the highest quality of life, and adds great variety and vitality to an area. Venice is considered the greatest pedestrian city in the world because it contains the largest pedestrian street network completely free of cars. The city is quite dense, yet the most relaxing and pleasant city in the world. Copenhagen is another pedestrian city. City planners have taken numerous small steps to transform the city from a car-oriented place to a people-friendly one. Here in Manipur, we had earlier stated that we could start by making the main streets of Paona Bazar and Thangal Bazar a completely pedestrian zone while allowing vehicles to pass through the other streets of Bazar area. But the entire Bazar area should be completely free of parking lots or spaces. During the experimental phase, we had faced several inconveniences with regard to news reporting or personnel errands besides the inconveniences caused to the residents of the Bazar and the downward slide in sales of the shops and merchant shops. Yet, we supported the government experiment for the sheer fact that the government is out to create a pedestrian friendly atmosphere in the core area of the Imphal city. We understood the fact that people living in the Bazar area are suffering and their business is suffering and also there is dislocation in their personal lives. Their grievances also need to be addressed. But, the state has to first decide on whether Thangal Bazar and Paona Bazar should be declared as a ‘commercial zone’ or not. If it decides on the affirmative, the Bazar area would free from residential quarters. The interest of the general people is of utmost importance and it should come first while framing policies. The Chief Minister had said that he is open to ideas on traffic regulation. We had asked is he also ready to absorb ideas and opinions floated by the poor people who do not have vehicles of their own, and who travel by public transport? The neo-rich and intellectuals who have cars or two-wheelers would have many ideas. But, whether they will also speak in the interests of the vehicle-less poor could not be guaranteed. So, we had suggested that the state should conduct an opinion poll in this regard, so that all interests are protected. We had earlier expressed concerns of the reach of the powerful business lobby in operation and the fact that the government may finally bow down to the pressures of the lobby. And it has indeed bowed down to the said lobby. But it is a sad day when the state cabinet had to take such an anti-people stand.

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