A blanket ban on cycling in dozens of streets in Calcutta was brought about without any study as to its affect on traffic, local police have admitted.
Responding to an information request made by sustainability charity 'Switch On', Calcutta’s Police Deputy Commissioner (Traffic) Dilip Adak said, "No such corroborative data/ information/ evidentiary record is lying at the disposal of this office.", according to Zee News India.
Two activists had asked the police to provide information on the hold-ups that were caused by non-motorised transport including bikes and hand carts, all of which have been banned from 174 roads, making it almost impossible to cross the city,
Although, the West Bengal government has not ratified the order, which means it is invalid in law, cyclists say they continue to be handed fines by police, who have also not removed boards warning cyclists not to enter roads.
"The ban is absolutely arbitrary and should not have been put in place without consultation from experts and other stakeholders of the society," one activist said.
The information request also revealed that of the total accidents from 2008 to 2012, cycles and other non motorised vehicles were involved in approximately 3 per cent of accidents.
Cyclists, newspaper vendors, courier delivery boys, milkmen, carpenters, masons and other labourers, have launched a movement called 'Chakra Satyagraha' to demand lifting of the ban.
Besides affecting their source of livelihood, the activists are opposing the ban on grounds of pollution, oil price rise, health and traffic congestion.
Last year we reported how some 38 streets had cycle bans since 2008, but this summer nearly 140 more were hit with banning orders between 7am and 11pm.
"There is just not enough space for all kind of vehicles," Dilip Kumar Adak, deputy commissioner of the city's traffic police department, said.
"Cycles slow down traffic and removing them will make the streets safer and traffic speedier."It's not a blanket ban. People can still cycle on smaller streets."
The law has been an unwelcome development for the city’s cycling community, most of whom ride bikes because they have no other affordable mode of transport.
Police have begun fining cyclists on main roads, and repeat offenders have been warned that they risk having their bikes confiscated."The new laws are crazy," said Gautam Shroff from the group Ride 2 Breathe.
“Pollution is increasing every day here so we should be encouraging people to take up cycling".
"Instead we are punishing them for helping improve the environment."
"If cyclists are a nuisance, so then are pedestrians, motorcycle riders and car drivers. Why does the government not take them off the roads?”
Last month, around 200 riders took to the streets to protest the clampdown in a a ‘cycle satyagraha’ [the latter word, coined by Mahatma Gandhi, translates as "insistence on truth" or "soul force," and underpinned his campaign for Indian independence from Britain; the concept would also be embraced by Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.]
One of the protesters, Prashanta Purakayit, told Down To Earth that as a cyclist, he was “regularly showered with abuses, cycle tyres are punctured with knives, and materials on the carrier thrown away.”
A petition presented to the Chief Minister, Mamata Bannerjee, written by the social activist Medha Patkar pleaded for the ban to be revoked.
It reads: “Cycle is a perfect manifestation of your slogan and vision - since bicycles and non-motorized transport are socially inclusive, directly support livelihoods, are inexpensive, take much less space, are good for the environment and health, and are least likely to cause jams and accidents.”
In addition, data from the Union Ministry of Urban Development show that Kolkata is the only metropolitan city in India where trips by cycle (11 per cent) outnumber trips by cars (8 per cent).
After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.