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Mohd Tassavar Khan and Vijay Kumar Srivastava, both middle-aged construction contractors, cycle to work every day. Riding for around 3 kilometres, they choose to brave chock-a-block traffic on the main road while passing through the posh Gomti Nagar locality instead of using a barricaded, brand new cycle track painted red, yellow and green with glowing signages, on which the previous SP government had spent crores.
Asked why they don’t use the facility, Khan brusquely says, “Free nahi hai (It’s not free),” pointing at a row of plump stray cows lazing on the tracks, next to a few haphazardly parked motorcycles. “The tracks have been built between two roads. They are accident-prone at certain cuts, where speeding vehicles bang into us even if we are driving slowly. So we prefer to ride on the other side of the road instead,” explains Khan, a resident of Gomti Nagar extension area, which is still undergoing development.
A few kilometres away, in Patrakarpuram area, which houses the main market of Gomti Nagar, the cycle tracks are occupied by busy street vendors doing brisk business, be it repairing old locks, stitching bags or selling plastic sheets. One stretch of the tracks is even occupied by a makeshift repair shop for two-wheelers, as well as a parking space.
“The track was empty and not being used anyway, so we are using it as a temporary place,” says a vendor indignantly. At Faizabad Road and Kursi Road too, the tracks have become a permanent perch for vegetable sellers.
Earlier this week, the present Yogi Adityanath government had announced that these cycle tracks would soon be removed, eliciting a sharp response from former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who warned that the move would spark public outrage.
The tracks were one of Akhilesh’s pet projects, born from an idea that struck the SP chief during his visit to Netherlands in September 2014. Just two months after his visit, the first government order in this regard was issued on November 10, 2014, by then chief secretary Alok Ranjan to all district magistrates, commissioners and heads of development authorities, directing them to plan cycleways, cycle parking areas as well as a proper traffic system for bicycle riders as per the “recommended practice for the design and layout of cycle tracks” laid down by the Indian Road Congress. Later, officers of the Public Works Department (PWD), which was made the nodal agency for the task, also visited countries like Netherlands and Germany to glean a few ideas on making the then CM’s dream a reality.
The SP government then spent a pretty penny on the project. In just two years’ time (end of 2014 to end of 2016), a whopping Rs 300 crore was spent on developing cycle tracks across the state, which included 100.94 kms of such tracks — worth around Rs 107 crore — in Lucknow alone. The tracks were developed by three agencies — the PWD, the Lucknow Development Authority (LDA) and the Housing Development Board, alongwith respective development authorities in cities like Ghaziabad, Noida, Meerut, Bareilly and Allahabad.
The first set of tracks were constructed around the chief minister’s residence in Kalidas Marg and the SP party office in Vikramaditya Marg. Just this 0.73 km stretch — for which special red paint was used, and a bicycle logo was laid out on the path in front of the residence — cost Rs 1.4 crore. It was completed in 2015. In 2014-15, about 14 kms of cycle tracks worth approximately Rs 11 crore were sanctioned for Kalidas Marg, Vikramaditya Marg, Lohia Path, Gulistan Colony and Mall Avenue in Lucknow.
In 2015 and 2016, a total of about 122 kms of cycle tracks were sanctioned for Lucknow, with an estimated cost of Rs 128 crore. Of these, around 100 kms of tracks were constructed before the Assembly election notification was issued earlier this year.
While the LDA — which constructed most of the tracks in Gomti Nagar area — and the Housing Development Board approved Rs 36 crore for construction of 32.24 kms of cycle tracks, another Rs 91 crore were approved by the PWD for construction of 90.06 kms, laid along national highways and the outskirts of Lucknow, including a 6.5-km track on NH-24 near Madiaon police station and a 5-km track on Itaunja, Kumrahwan, Dewa Road etc.
A related major project of the previous SP government was the construction of a 207.3-km-long “bicycle highway”, worth around Rs 136 crore, connecting Akhilesh’s native district Etawah and Agra, covering around 50 villages. However, officials claimed it was more of a concrete-cement road. They added that only about 65 kms of this highway was newly built. While this stretch was three metres wide, the rest of it was actually widened existing roads. Most of this “bicycle highway” is presently being used as a road.
Another 75 kms of tracks were constructed at a cost of Rs 23 crore in Ghaziabad, 2.5 km worth Rs 6 crore in Meerut and around 850 m in Bareilly. Tracks were also constructed in Allahabad and Noida. While Urban Development Minister Suresh Khanna had recently claimed that these tracks would soon be removed as they were contributing to “traffic congestion”, officers on ground said they are yet to receive any such order.
“We have not received any orders regarding demolition of tracks, but would do as the government desires,” said VK Singh, engineer-in-chief, PWD. “At least the tracks built by PWD were constructed as per the code of Indian Road Congress. We do not know about those constructed by development authorities,” he added. LDA Secretary J S Dubey said, “Neither have we received any complaint so far, nor have we received orders. We will work as per the order when it comes.”