Rational and Consensual Action Needed to Save MG Road

Opinion---Deepak-Aswani

The unilaterally proposed MG Road beautification plan by Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL), which envisages restricting traffic to one side of the road, has come under severe criticism from MG Road Merchants Association (MGRMA). We are not against beautification per se and it is a well-known fact that for decades MGRMA members have been providing tiling, medians, traffic signage and railings as requested by the Police Department from time to time towards beautification of MG Road. Our fervent appeal is that KMRL should factor in our concerns before pushing through this ill-conceived plan that will wreck further havoc on MG Road which is already like a ‘ghost street’.

Kochi Metro should never have traversed through MG Road in the first place. When Kochi Metro was conceived, MG Road was never the target. The ideal route would have been Banerjee Road as business was not doing well on this stretch and all the schools and colleges are situated along this route up to Shanmugham Road, so is the main market. Two boat jetties and the bus stand also connect to Shanmugham Road. In terms of connectivity and access to Metro that route was a better choice any day. And it would not have needed extensive land acquisition as Metro could have run by the water front making it a tourist attraction too. Today, KMRL also accepts this.

People come to MG Road not just for shopping. There are many corporate offices, hotels and restaurants, banks, residential properties and even hospitals. Already there is no sufficient space for vehicular traffic and yet hotels and multiplexes have been sanctioned on MG Road which will add to the existing traffic woes. Between Shenoys and Padma Junction, 20 new cinema screens are coming up each with at least 200 seats. That is 4000 people which translate into 750-850 cars, entering and exiting MG Road every three hours. And KMRL is suggesting one-way! What we are asking is if you are taking away half of MG Road what is the alternative being provided?

Many traders on MG Road have made their own arrangements for parking either by acquiring land on MG Road itself paying very high price or by picking up shared parking on Chittoor Road. The proposed plan of making it a one-way running from South to North is irrational to say the least. In fact, a better idea which MGRMA has suggested for long is to use Ambedkar Stadium for parking. We suggested turning it into an open-air theatre playing movies and with car wash centres and food stalls which bring in revenue. From the Stadium shuttle bus service can be introduced to MG Road. Traders will be happy to reimburse ticket cost while billing shoppers at their outlets. KSRTC has so many air-conditioned low-floor buses lying idle which could be used for the purpose. This way personal vehicular traffic can be completely restricted on MG Road. Singapore has amazing public transport system like taxis and hence, walkways and one-way traffic in shopping districts will work there. Kerala or Kochi does not have that. And MG Road is the preferred destination for wedding shopping, be it jewellery or textiles. With the kind of cash transactions involved, who would risk public transport like autos? KMRL’s plan forces shoppers and commuters to depend on public transport which is neither reliable, comfortable nor trustworthy and the rates are nothing short of extortion.

MG Road used to do a business of Rs. 5000 crore a year which is now down by more than 40 per cent. Rentals will never come down and power tariff and salary costs will only climb. Squatting (street vendors) on footpaths and clogged drains leading to water logging are two other major concerns of MGRMA that need permanent solution. As a commercial artery and employment provider to thousands of people, MG Road cannot be left to die. Rational, sensitive, consensual and determined action is required urgently to save MG Road.

(The author is Chairman and MD, Aswani Lachmandas Group and Co-Chairman, FICCI Kerala State Council)