Kolkata protests blanket ban on cycling

Police extends ban to 174 roads, extracts fines from riders illegally

By Sayantan Bera
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

Cyclists walk down Esplanade crossing in Kolkata protesting the ban and harassment by police

Last Sunday, a crowd of about 200 gathered in the heart of Kolkata to protest the city administration's clampdown on cycles. Avid cyclists complete with head gear came holding placards that said “let’s re-cycle Kolkata”. They were joined by milk vendors, vegetable vendors and newspaper delivery boys for whom cycling is tied to earning a living.

Krishnalal Ganguly, a book supplier who rides between 30 to 40 km everyday on his cycle, said, “I have been fined 14 times in the past two years. On each occasion I had to pay Rs 100 to save my cycle from being seized.” Prashanta Purakayit, who works as a pest controller complained that cyclists are “regularly showered with abuses, cycle tyres are punctured with knives, and materials on the carrier thrown away.” The milk vendors are treated the worst. “They fine us between Rs 200 to Rs 300. We have no option but to pay up, else the plainclothes policemen throw the milk or make us wait. Delay means the milk will be spoilt,” said Anil Yadav.

The Kolkata traffic police, in an order from 2008, prohibited cycling on 38 major thoroughfares. Despite earlier protests by cyclists and environment groups, more roads were added to the list. In June 2013, it published a gazette notification prohibiting cycles on 174 roads. While on some roads cycling is prohibited altogether, in most cases cycles are not allowed to ply between 7 am and 11 pm.

The ‘cycle satyagraha’ ended raising a toast to the humble bicycle

Alongside cycles, the new notification prohibits all forms of non-motorised transport like tricycles, vans, hand and pulls carts. The notification restricting “slow vehicles” was issued by the Kolkata Police Commissioner Surajit Kar Purakayastha “with a view to provide safe and uninterrupted flow of vehicular traffic”. There is no provision of fines or seizure in the notification, implying the penalties collected by plainclothes policemen are illegal.

The cycle ban makes little sense for Kolkata, for it is the only Indian metro where trips by cycle outnumber trips on cars. Only 1.5 per cent of road accidents happen because of fault of cyclists compared to 71 per cent due to drivers of motor vehicles. Cycles remain a vehicle of choice in a city that has the least amount of road space and low ownership of private cars. The Kolkata traffic police’s contention that cycles slow down vehicular traffic also doesn’t hold ground: the average speed of traffic in Kolkata varies between 14 to 18 km per hour.

Vinay Jaju from Switchon, the non-profit which organized the “cycle satyagraha”, said, “we want to engage with the authorities to make them understand that cycles are integral to sustainable urban transport. If everything fails we will go to the courts.”

Shyam Mandal, a cyclist, came to the demonstration with map of Kolkata marking roads wide enough to create cycle lanes. “If police can allow side parking for cars on busy stretches, why not separate lanes for cycling?” he asked.

The protesters, silently walked with their bicycles, from the point of assembly at Chowranghee square to the press club, a distance of about 2 km, escorted by the police. The stretch is one of the main thoroughfares in Kolkata where cycles are not allowed between 7 am and 11 pm.

Later, the cyclists signed a petition for submission to the chief minister. It urged Mamata Banerjee to revoke the ban and set up a cell to promote non-motorized transport in Kolkata. “We have tried to reach out to the authorities concerned but have been unsuccessful and now seek your leadership in the matter. You have inspired Kolkata and won hearts with your motto of “Maa Maati Manush”. Cycle is a perfect manifestation of your slogan and vision - since bicycles and non-motorized transport are socially inclusive, directly support livelihoods, are inexpensive, take much less space, are good for the environment and health, and are least likely to cause jams and accidents,” reads the petition.

At the protest venue, many had scribbled on a white canvas. Some messages were hopeful: “paddle into a green future” and “burn more calories than cash”. One asked, “what next, ban pedestrians?”



The invisible cyclist

Delhi walkability audit report
Public cycle sharing systems: a planning toolkit for Indian cities
Share the road: investment in walking and cycling road infrastructure
Quantifying the benefits of nonmotorized transportation for achieving mobility management objectives

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.

  • How very interesting! In

    How very interesting! In London our Mayor hopes to make cycling more popular as our roads are too full for all the cars to use them, mine sits outside my home and I cycle. I love the paddle to a green future..but I am sure even in Kolkata, it should read "peddle to a green future".
    Copenhagen is a city of modern cyclists. In Holland children stay fit as they cycle to school, and the authorities design cycle lanes everywhere.
    Good luck I think Kolkata needs to consider a modern cycle-friendly future urgently, it is rather the motor vehicle that is today's dinasour.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Dear editor I fully agree

    Dear editor

    I fully agree with the view of supporting the cyclists.
    Rather we should rethink about our future plan in organising our roads and traffic arrangements .

    Authority has to enforce towards using more non polluting vehicles over road.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • This is the most ridiculous

    This is the most ridiculous diktat that I have ever heard. What do these people in the administration think ? It's environment and pocket friendly.Besides it is a good way of negotiating narrow streets and by lanes.And it's affordable, good for the heart etc. Yes, I understand it's suicidal to ride a cycle on the Howrah bridge.It really makes it unaffordable for milk men and vegetable vendors to ply their trades.
    Whose hare-brained idea is this? And the policemen throw the book at them,fine them! It can happen only in Trinamool Kolkotta.
    I just don't get it !

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • When other Nations are

    When other Nations are encouraging bicycle usage,it is sad that in Calcutta and elsewhere bicycles are forbidden on many routes. I can understand the safety on busy roads. But there are seperate lanes for bicycles in Japan,China and in some European countries.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Ban on cycles is the worst

    Ban on cycles is the worst example of shortsightedness. Highly developed countries like Netherlands, Sweeden, Finland, and even cities like New York encourage cycling and here where it is not a sport but a necessity we are looking at banning them? Why some body need to rethink their priorities.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • I fully support the cyclists.

    I fully support the cyclists. Institutions that ban cycles and slow vehicles need to be pulled up and made to repeal the ban and apologize to the public who use cycles and eco friendly transport. I do drive a car but I do wish that we have strict adheres to traffic rules, cycling lanes (a must in all town and city planning), a stricter process for the issue of licences to motorists - bikes, cars and light and heavy vehicles of all kinds.

    I also suggest that there be a ceiling on the number of cars a person can own. Any private vehicle parked by a non visitor to the colony for 24 hours or more on the lanes in residential areas must attract a very severe fine with confiscation of the said vehicle should it be parked often on the lane in that residential area. These people are using public road space depriving cyclists and other commuters from travelling without obstructions.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply