“Today, the social fabric of neighbourhoods is being torn asunder because of fights over this most petty issue of parking,” the Supreme Court observed on September 2. “Therefore, we feel there is a need to pass a detailed order on a mundane issue like parking because this may impact town planning.”
What prompted the country’s highest court to intervene in such a “mundane” matter, and how the mess can be fixed will be a priority for authorities in the national capital in the weeks ahead.
To understand the root of this “petty issue”, one needn’t go beyond the city’s bustling Lajpat Nagar market.
A yellow house with an asbestos sheet roof, two rooms and open space on a 100-square yard plot near Lajpat Nagar’s railway crossing is among a handful of homes that have not seen any changes since it was built in the 1950s — a reminder of how the area was designed with limited open space for refugees who came from Pakistan.
While this house remained entangled in a property dispute, most buildings in the area reached four floors. And along with this vertical growth came an influx of vehicles.
The locality in Lajpat Nagar 1, which had cycles parked inside most homes in the 1950s, was referred to in the recent Supreme Court judgment as an area that was supposed to have only one vehicle, but now has about eight cars per plot.
With the capital fast running out of space, three things are set to happen in Delhi in the coming months to address its parking crisis. In an order last week, the Supreme Court directed civic bodies to remove all encroachments from pavements in residential areas; notify the draft parking policy; and implement suggestions of a report submitted on better management of — and last-mile connectivity from — parking spaces by studying the viability of radio frequency identification (RFID) and other systems.
For Lajpat Nagar, one of the three colonies selected for a pilot project, the court referred to a report submitted by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) about how movement of even ambulances and fire tenders is hindered since most cars are parked on the road.
Noting that such a situation “cannot be allowed to go on”, the SC suggested a slew of measures, directing the Delhi government to ensure that a proper assessment of parking needs for the next 25 years is done, before granting permission to build “any structure”.
The EPCA and other bodies have been asked to prepare pilot projects for Krishna Nagar, Kamla Nagar and Lajpat Nagar. Municipalities had already identified these areas for running a pilot similar to Lajpat Nagar III, where the environment authority drew up a shared parking programme with hospitals and educational institutions to meet demand. The EPCA has also suggested issuing stickers to identify residents and visitors.
Visits to the three colonies showed the challenges authorities are up against.
A gated colony with guards outside most blocks, wider roads, plush houses with backyards and a handful of shops, Lajpat Nagar III is unlike other areas in the locality, which have a higher density of cars and commercialised streets. But when it comes to cars, the EPCA report shows that even this area is beyond capacity.
The EPCA said Lajpat Nagar III envisages a demand for parking 3,510 cars whereas the demarcated parking can only accommodate 1,830. To make space for the rest, hospitals and educational institutions are supposed to open their doors.
Resident Welfare Association (RWA) office bearer Poonam Bhasin said, “The RWA has already issued stickers and we ensure visitors’ cars are parked correctly… for us, the main issue is shoppers coming to neighbouring Central Market and parking their cars here.”
In neighbouring Lajpat Nagar I, residents feel the main challenge the civic body will face is replicating the Lajpat Nagar III model. Pawan Arora, who came to Lajpat Nagar from Lahore with his family in 1952, said, “Till the mid 1980s, the area had very few cars. People who owned a Maruti 800 were local celebrities.”
Four decades on, with streets being notified as commercial, hundreds of shops have mushroomed. There is encroachment on both sides and vehicles are parked haphazardly. “We welcome the move to shift additional cars to schools or hospitals, but is there enough space?” said Arora.
Following economic liberalisation in 1991, Central Market, like many other shopping hubs, saw a boom — from roughly 50 shops in the 1960s, it has more than 800 today.
Bharat Shah, a resident, said, “But a nexus between officials and shoppers led to encroachment. There was a massive anti-encroachment drive last year; a year later, all such areas have been reclaimed by hawkers.”
Pressures to keep constituents happy also plays a part. A senior official in the South MCD said: “Rooms for guards are mostly built on public land by influential people. If we send our team for action, we face a lot of political pressure. The same is the case if we try to tow vehicles from inner lanes.”
In its order, the court has directed the MCDs to remove all encroachments, after giving 15 days’ notice to encroachers.
South MCD deputy commissioner Prem Shanker Jha, however, said the idea is to take RWAs along. “Locals also want regulated parking. If we convince them it is ultimately for their good, it will be done.” He said a drive to earmark legal parking space in Lajpat Nagar III will start next week, with yellow stripes put in place in consultation with RWAs.
In the 1980s, Kamla Nagar was dominated by residential apartments with commercial shops peppered in lanes that merge in the centre, where a shopping mall now stands. Today, the North Delhi neighbourhood resembles a market more than a residential area.
Its close proximity to Delhi University’s North Campus also makes it a popular location among students. “There’s been a sudden burst of commercialisation here since the late 1980s which has caused residents a lot of trouble. It’s always noisy and congested, and many people have left as a result over the years,” said R K Seth, RWA president of Kamla Nagar’s F Block.
“We have asked the North Corporation to either declare this as a totally commercial area or make it completely residential, because our children do not want to live here anymore,” he said.
Residents complain they have no place to park their cars during the day as market visitors take over the area. Authorities claimed the only designated parking site for the entire Kamla Nagar neighbourhood is a multi-level underground space below Spark Mall, in the centre of the busy market.
Action against those who park in the bylanes is taken by traffic police every now and then, and vehicles being towed is a common scene, shop owners said. Despite this, there are few takers for the authorised parking space.
Pranav Kumar, executive director of Spark Mall, said their fully automated eight-level parking lot can accommodate 800 cars and over a 100 motorcycles. Despite this, in the last five years, only 200 cars are parked there on an average every day.
“It’s a total loss of a Rs 207-crore project. We thought we would break even in 12 years but looking at our current situation, even 50 years won’t be enough. I am having to pay salary to my parking staff out of my own pocket; we have come to a point that we will have to close this mall,” he said.
Under a pilot project for better management of parking spaces in the area, North corporation officials said they plan to use the full capacity of the mall parking, streamline on-road parking and find alternative sites which could meet the spillover demand.
Ira Singhal, North MCD deputy commissioner, said, “We are trying to develop the market area to make it congestion free. We will find a solution for parking according to requirements of people.”
An earlier draft of the parking policy — put up on the transport department’s website for the public — had a crucial component of making parking on streets in residential areas chargeable. The clause, however, was deleted later fearing backlash from people — a move strongly criticised by the EPCA.
The revised draft rules have made provisions for determining parking fee with help from municipalities and other official agencies.
At present, people parking illegally on the streets are fined by traffic police, but municipal authorities said they face enforcement issues in getting people to use legal parking. Charges for parking inside the mall are Rs 25 per hour for four wheelers and lesser for two-wheelers. A monthly pass of Rs 3,000 is also available for cars, and around 400 of them have been issued.
The East Delhi area faces a similar problem, with all streets facing the markets choked.
East Delhi RWA president B S Bohra said that when residents bought the land, the rates were vis-a-vis the open spaces and road length. “This means that we have paid for the roads as well. We are ready to support civic bodies in their other endeavours, but not in charging fee for street parking,” he said.
There are just two schools in the area with space for not more than 100 cars, a multi-level parking inaugurated before Lok Sabha elections is not yet functional, and encroachments remain a concern.
East MCD officials said they will soon declare some market areas in Krishna Nagar pedestrian-friendly, after which drives will be started to clear encroachments.
Professor P K Sarkar, director of transport at the Asian Institute of Transport Development, said there is a lack of effective enforcement measures when it comes to unauthorised parking. He suggested that in order to motivate people to use legal parking spaces, authorities can levy higher charges for street parking and lower charges for parking in designated spaces.
Sarkar added that the current system of towing away vehicles parked illegally is inefficient and that more stringent measures, such as deflating tyres, could be considered.
He also said RWAs can set a parking charge after consultation with residents. “Money collected can be used to improve road safety infrastructure or to acquire more public transport buses…”
He also said the parking payment system can be automated just like booking a movie ticket, where a person can pay in advance and reduce human interference: “Through apps, parking areas in Delhi can be mapped and visitors can see how long it would take for a space to become available and plan their journey accordingly.”
A report submitted to the Supreme Court by EPCA in February says the annual demand for additional parking space in Delhi can be equivalent to 310 football fields. It also pointed out that personal vehicles occupy more than 85% of parking area in Delhi but meet miniscule travel demand. “Buses take up barely 4-5% of the total equivalent car space (ECS) of parking spaces, but carry 20 times more people,” the report said.
Another EPCA report stated that a survey was carried out in randomly selected localities in Delhi, and among its findings were that residential parking charges are being collected by RWAs in some areas.
“Other places that do not charge are running out of space, creating safety hazards by leaving no room for fire engines… lack of parking regulations implies that local agencies (municipal corporations) cannot regulate residential parking spill-over on public road,” it said.
The survey report also found that several multi-level car parks in the city were underutilised because there was no parking charge on public land. “The policy must be designed to restrain growth of demand, as much as it is designed to manage supply,” it said.
The Centre for Science and Environment is consulting with agencies that are implementing the parking pilot project in the three Delhi localities. Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, CSE, said the plan in general is to identify parking spaces that exist in these localities and integrate them for more efficient use.
She added that use of modern technology, such as RFID, will help in better management of parking fees and space identification. “In multi-level parking, you have dashboards showing the space that is available. A similar system with use of technology that is connected to an application will help identify available surface-level parking… This would also help in automated collection of parking fees,” she said, adding that the projects are in the planning stage at present.