The ultimate justice

By asking lawyers to cycle to work to resolve Delhi’s endemic parking and traffic woes, the Chief Justice of India has shown the way. The ultimate solution lies not only in law enforcement but also in good citizenship

By Anumita Roychowdhury
Published: Monday 04 August 2014

By asking lawyers to cycle to work to resolve Delhi’s endemic parking and traffic woes, the Chief Justice of India has shown the way. The ultimate solution lies not only in law enforcement but also in good citizenship

Troubled by parking shortage and congestion in and around the premises of Supreme Court in Delhi, the Supreme Court Bar Association approached Chief Justice R M Lodha for a solution. They got a befitting reply from the Honorable Chief Justice – “Cycle to work. It's healthier, much more economical, environment-friendly too …Why can't you reduce the inflow of cars into the Supreme Court complex? Lawyers are leaders of the society. It is you all who should initiate the change in the society. This would set a good example for common citizens and in the long run, this might help resolve the Capital's endemic parking, traffic and congestion woes”.

The Chief Justice of India's remark has got several heads locked in a debate over the practicality of the solution, with lawyers taking divided positions. But this observation has given a whole new and a powerful meaning to the idea of justice. That ultimate solution lies not only in law enforcement but also in good citizenship; strike a balance between legal requirements and civil responsibility.

Judiciary upholds the Constitution, establishes and protects rights, and promotes virtues of common good. Over the years, we have seen how the judiciary has intervened to uphold the Constitution and laws to protect environment and public health. Expectations still run high.

And there lies the dilemma

This observation of Justice Lodha has highlighted the fact that justice is also about morality and justice can confront moral dilemma.

As part of the ongoing public interest litigation on air pollution in the Capital, the Supreme Court is already hearing the matter of parking policy as one of the solutions to killer air pollution. Way back in 2006, the Supreme Court took on board the guiding principles for parking policy as was defined by the court appointed watchdog body Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA).  It said, land is limited and there is a limit to the additional parking space that can be created in the city. This requires pricing policy to control the demand for parking. Parking for personal motorised vehicles cannot be considered as a matter of public good. Individual user of personal vehicle should pay for use of parking space. Government should not subsidise this cost. The Supreme Court issued an order on September 22, 2006, directing the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (which had not been trifircated then), Delhi Development Authority and New Delhi Municipal Council to cooperate with EPCA and place a final parking policy.

This has led to several drafts of parking policy with a smatter of some good principles but nothing has changed on ground yet. More recently, the Supreme Court, responding to the recommendations of EPCA on car restraint measures, has issued another notice to all the concerned agencies in Delhi and the National Capital region in February 2014. This seeks parking policy to lay down enforcement, management and pricing strategy with special emphasis on high parking charges; demarcation of legal parking areas; higher penalty for illegal parking; and freeing up of public spaces and walkways from parking.

As lawyers seek their right to park, the city awaits a policy to contain parking and traffic.

Justice and fair practice

Individuals may have the freedom and the right to choose their mode of travel – even a car. But, what if, the choice wars against the idea of common good?  How must justice and fairness play out when the city is desperate to curb motorization, pollution, congestion, and public health crisis? It is not possible to define and protect rights without first upholding the values of sustainability and healthy life.

At a broader level, it is also not possible to hold a simple legalistic view that lets law of the land prevail, lets the government enforce the existing rules to resolve the parking crisis.

The law of the land on parking still attaches primacy to meeting the needs of the car. It is about unlimited supply of parking. But law of the land must change as demand for parking is insatiable. More parking and lack of alternatives will only bring more cars, more congestion and more killer fumes.  Though the National Urban Transport Policy states that urban land is valuable, levy high parking fee to make public transport more attractive, this has not changed the practice or the rules in cities.

The concern is not about the practical distance for cycling, as raised by the several from the legal community. It is about holding government accountable and responsible for scaling up sustainable modes of travel to reduce dependence on cars. It is about pricing and limiting legal parking to cut demand for parking. This must happen even as lawyers and all of us begin to cycle, walk and use public transport.

The message is clear. Legal framework cannot work in a value neutral manner. If parking policy is needed to promote sustainable modes, principles of sustainability cannot remain ill defined in law and remote in practice. Someone must take a stand. As the Chief Justice says - “You start. Others will follow.”

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