Private encroachment on public spaces: In Gurugram’s Palam Vihar, pedestrians are vulnerable

Fences and gardens encroach onto the road, leaving little room for walkers.

WrittenBy:Alenjith K Johny
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After a woman was critically injured when she was hit by a speeding car in Palam Vihar in Gurugram, her family and local residents have alleged that “encroachments” on the roads have left pedestrians at greater risk.

The incident took place around 5.45 pm on June 29 when Rita Anand, 67, was crossing a narrow road in E Block of Palam Vihar about half a kilometre from her home. CCTV footage showed a white car knocking her down when she was halfway across the road. The car then sped away. Its driver was arrested on July 2.

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Rita is the editor of Civil Society magazine. Her husband, journalist Umesh Anand, told Newslaundry that local residents “raised an alarm” and informed him of what had happened. “We quickly arrived at the scene to find her with a severe head injury. We took her to a private hospital in Palam Vihar and later transferred her to a hospital in Sector 38.”

Umesh added, “The roads in this area have been encroached upon by residents, completely disregarding space required for pedestrians. I have been raising this issue for a significant period. Why should authorities wait for a major incident to occur before taking action?”

While Rita’s accident took place as she was crossing the road, the issue of pedestrian safety has plagued neighbourhoods for several years. For instance, pedestrians in Delhi accounted for nearly 41 percent of fatalities reported in road accidents there in 2021. Among other safety measures, the police said it will focus on “encroachment-free, safe pedestrian walkways/footpaths”.

The road in E Block where the accident took place.

Palam Vihar comprises 13 blocks spread over approximately 633 acres and developed by Ansal Properties. E Block has around 500 houses. Every morning and evening, dozens of residents are out for walks. 

On July 5, when Newslaundry visited the road where Rita’s accident took place, we found houses lining either side with limited space for pedestrians. The road itself was about four metres wide, with a two-foot space on either side for pedestrians. According to the layout plan under the Department of Town and Country Planning, the road width in E Block is designated as between nine and 18 metres. 

Importantly, the space between the houses and the road is known as ‘right of way’. It serves as a passage for essential utilities like sewer lines, stormwater drains, electricity lines and water pipelines. In E Block, we found houses encroaching onto the right of way, in the form of tiles or gardens or fences.

For instance, out of 10 houses in the road where the accident occurred, Newslaundry found nine houses with gardens extending in front of the properties, of which eight had fences. Quick visits to other blocks – D, C, E and B – showed similar encroachments.

Manish Yadav, the planning department’s enforcement officer, told Newslaundry he hadn’t “received any complaints yet” but was “planning to do a survey in the coming week”.

But local residents said they’ve witnessed several encroachments – not by the builders but by property owners. The local police, meanwhile, said they have no specific details on encroachments here leading to road accidents.

Rajan Sagar, the president of the Palam Vihar Residents’ Association, explained that the space between compound walls and the tarred road was called the “green belt”. “It’s intended for trees, grass, pedestrian walking and animal movement,” he said. “Encroaching this area poses a risk and increases the likelihood of accidents. We even wrote to the DTCP earlier but received no reply.”

This letter was sent in 2021, but Sagar no longer had a copy of it.

Swetha, 30, who lives in E Block, said she was out on a walk in 2018 when two men on a scooter snatched her handbag. 

“Despite my attempts to escape or move aside, I was hindered by a thorny hedge on the iron fencing of a resident’s encroached green belt,” she alleged. “As a result, I fell against it, sustaining scratches on my arm, neck and cheek. The lack of space to manoeuvre was a significant factor. If the fencing hadn't been there, I could have moved to the open green belt on the side, and the scooter would have remained on the tarred road. Although I filed a police complaint for the theft, my phone was never recovered.”

Cars parked on the road in B Block.
No space for pedestrians in F Block.

Swetha now no longer jogs or walks in the area. Swetha and 14 other residents from B Block went to the DTCP office “eight times”, she said, to register complaints against encroachment in her neighbourhood.

Based on these complaints, DTCP’s Manish Yadav took the matter forward and two FIRs were registered in May this year. The first was filed on May 7 alleging a resident from B Block had violated Section 8 of the Haryana Development and Regulation of Urban Areas Act by “illegal construction”. The second, registered on May 8, was against a second offender in B Block under the same charges.

Palam Vihar investigating officer Jagdeep Singh did not offer more details on these cases but said “more than 30 cases” had been registered at this police station under the Act this year.

Usha Rai, 80, a resident of D Block, alleged that private encroachments are a problem in Palam Vihar.

“When one person initiates such actions, others follow,” she said, adding, “Moreover, cars are frequently parked outside houses, leaving no room for children to even cycle in the area. These circumstances increase the risk of accidents and it is our residents who are responsible, not outsiders. Unless appropriate measures are taken, these accidents will continue to occur.”

Lajapat Gupta, 73, who lives in F Block, said it’s “challenging for pedestrians to walk safely”. “Considering that a large number of the residents are retired employees, it would be extremely difficult for them to protect themselves from a speeding car.”

A resident of F Block, who has fences extending in front of his own house, said he is “fully aware that it constitutes encroachment”. Pointing out that there is a “fencing trend” in his neighbourhood, he said, “I am willing to take mine down if it becomes a collective effort by every resident in the colony.”

Update at 7.10 pm, July 7: The two FIRs were registered on the basis of complaints that had initially been filed by Swetha and 14 other residents with the DTCP. This has been added to the report.

Update at 9.20 pm, July 7: This report initially indicated that Palam Vihar is part of Delhi NCR. This has been changed to Gurugram. The error is regretted.

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