Millennium Post

Is cycling a crime?

Until three months ago, Thakur would cycle 17 kilometres from his home on the southern tip of the city to reach Maa Ranisati Valet Service where he worked as a driver. Trouble began when the Kolkata Traffic Police erected signposts at different crossings on the bypass – a cycle painted in black with a thick red line cutting across saying ‘cycles prohibited’. One morning the police confiscated Thakur’s cycle while he was on his way to work. He had to pay Rs 100 to get it back. Since then Thakur started
avoiding the bypass.

The practice of penalising cyclists in Kolkata has been around for a few years now. On 11 August 2008, the traffic department issued a notification making 38 major roads in the city off limits for cyclists. ‘...with the approval of the state government, I, Gautam Mohan Chakrabarti, Commissioner of Police, Kolkata, with a view to providing for safe and uninterrupted movement of vehicular traffic, do hereby order that no bicycle shall ply or remain standing between 09.00 hrs and 19.00 hrs on all days on the following roads...,’ reads the terse order.

The notification took recourse to the West Bengal Traffic Regulation Act of 1965, which allows the traffic police to prohibit plying of any class of vehicles on streets or in public places. Though the notification does not mention any penalty, the traffic police confiscate cycles plying on no-cycle roads and charge Rs 100 to release them.

The amount was Rs 70 two years ago. No voucher mentioning the offence or a seizure list is given to cyclists. All that the cyclist is issued with is a small piece of paper stamped by the traffic guard (see picture below). Besides, since 2008 the city traffic police have whimsically added more roads, including the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, to the list of 38 notified no-cycle roads.
When the matter was brought to the notice of Dilip Kumar Adak, Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of traffic, he feigned ignorance. ‘The existing notification means cycles will be seized and sent to the dumping ground if they come into the main carriageways,’ Adak said, assuring that he would check the allegation of cyclists being penalised. He also said that the department plans to issue another notification adding more roads to the list of 38.

The notification issued by the Kolkata traffic police has no parallel anywhere else. Globally, Sri Lanka, China, UK, Germany and Japan are promoting non-motorised forms of transport such as cycling and walking. Even in India, several cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Rajkot, are promoting cycling either by creating dedicated tracks or docking points where one can hire and park cycles.

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