Thursday, February 07, 2019

Park at your own risk

There is a rumour afoot that the authorities – in Delhi at least – might do something about parking norms, like insisting that people park only on their own property. If enforced strictly, this could bring welcome relief. Doubled parked streets are starting to be the norm in most cities and I see cars and private buses parked on public property as a theft of valuable space.

This does not, however, solve the problem of parking once you leave your property to go somewhere else, which is the whole point of having a motor vehicle. If you're going to a commercial spot, hopefully, there is a parking lot nearby. It is much more troubling when you go visiting people. Many highrise residential societies put up notices saying: “Visitor Parking Not Allowed”.

This is so much the norm, particularly in Mumbai, that we no longer think to challenge it. I didn't even know that, according to existing norms, at least 25 percent of the parking space in housing complexes was reserved for visitors. The notices forbidding visitor parking, then, were not quite legal. However, societies often have little choice because many builders diverge from the blueprint and sell off the space meant for visitor parking.

I found out about the rule only in recent months, after it was reported that the Maharashta government is altering it. The 25 percent allocation was no longer seen as practical and is being slashed to five percent. Whether even five percent will turn out to be practical is anybody's guess.

Not all the problems associated with parking are about space though. They are also about an attitude of entitlement once you acquire a vehicle.

In April last year, there was a bloodbath: it started out as a family feud, turned into a parking squabble, and ended with two men and one woman dead. Jaspal Singh and Gurjeet Singh were reportedly quite well off. They lived in a large bungalow but obviously, there are only so many cars that can be parked outside a house. Between them, the two brothers owned as many as nine cars. One night, the brothers got into an argument about who was going to park where. According to news reports, brother smashed the other's car, who then attacked him with a kirpan (dagger). Other family members got involved, as did the gun-toting personal security officers accompanying one of the men. The latter opened fire.

This might appear to be a typically Delhi story: too many fancy cars, too much money at stake, too much aggression, fragile egos. But it could happen even to those who do not have as much money, and don't even have cars. Earlier this year, a 19-year-old was reportedly beaten to death as a result of a parking dispute in Delhi's Sultanpuri area. This one was about a scooter. In Mumbai too, last year, there was more than one ugly fight that ended with calamity across various suburbs – Chembur, Powai, Amboli. In one case, a security guard assaulted a biker. In another, a couple beat The year before that, another death had been reported, this time that of a retired army Major. Another report was from Thiruvananthpuram.

Based on the details mentioned newspaper reports, a lot of these fights seem to start the same way. Someone's vehicle is blocking someone else's way, either on purpose or inadvertently. An apology and a little patience would suffice to avert bloodshed. What we need, perhaps, are kiosks selling apologies and patience at all petrol pumps.

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