LAHORE – Encroachments on footpaths and service roads are rapidly increasing in the provincial metropolis as the traders of major markets are renting out spaces in front of their business areas in clear violation of laws, forcing the pedestrians to walk on roadside that may also result in accidents, a survey conducted by TheNation revealed.

Major portions of footpaths along most of the main roads in the City have been lost to encroachments varying from construction material, heaps of garbage and animal fodder to small product stalls, semi-permanent eateries and tea stalls. Talking to this scribe, the majority of the stallholders at Hall Road, The Mall, Anarkali Bazaar, Ichra Bazaar and Liberty Market said that they were paying a monthly rent ranging from Rs15,000 to Rs35,000 to the shopkeepers and traders, who also charged Rs50,000 to Rs100,000 from them as an advance for allowing them to set up stalls on the footpaths in front of their shops.

They further said that the traders and shopkeepers of some major markets such as Hall Road, The Mall, Anarkali Bazaar, Shah Alam Market and Liberty Market were earning handsome money every month by charging rent of footpaths from stallholders.

“The government spends millions of rupees on the construction of footpaths at roadsides so that the pedestrians could walk on these safety paths conveniently and fearlessly and avoid any road accident or mishap, but some encroachers and traders are misusing this public facility in connivance with City District Government Lahore (CDGL) officials,” alleged Javed, a resident of Ichra. The survey further revealed that many restaurants and makeshift eateries were using footpaths and parts of roads as sitting area for their customers. Moreover, in some areas of the City where footpaths are under construction along with newly-constructed roads, especially in business districts such as Circular Road and Allama Iqbal Road, the shopkeepers are happy at the prospect of using the extra space for displaying their products without paying any rent.

It was witnessed during the survey that many footpaths, especially those constructed with tiles, were damaged because of misuse. According to construction experts, these tiled footpaths are not durable and the government is wasting public money on these. In addition, some citizens are also misusing these footpaths by throwing waste and garbage; and storing building materials such as sand, bags of cements, iron rods and bricks that not only block these public paths and create hurdles for the pedestrians but also damage them.

In this regard, the Lahore DCO clearly stated that there was a complete ban on storing things like construction material on roads or footpaths. “Those found guilty of violating the ban would be penalised,” he warned.

Muhammad Riaz, owner of a shop at Garhi Shahu, said that there was no intention to encroach on the footpaths. All he was doing, he claimed, was protecting them from street vendors. “We display some products in front of our shops to save them from being encroached by these vendors.”

These encroachments are defeating the whole purpose of constructing footpaths, for which a significant portion of the road construction budget is devoted. Naveed, a resident of Anarkali Bazaar, accused town council officials of colluding with the encroachers.

“The town officials patronise these encroachers. They have never launched an honest operation against them. The residents – including the elderly, the women and the children – cannot walk to the nearby markets because no footpaths are left along the road,” he said.

Muhammad Saeed, an official of Data Ganj Bukhsh Town, rejected the allegations that the town municipal administration was patronising the encroachers. “We have an anti-encroachment cell to evict these encroachments, but they keep popping up after some time,” he said.

District Officer Tariq Zaman, the personal staff officer of the Lahore DCO, said that the CDGL had issued orders to launch a drive against the people involved in dumping construction material on roads. He claimed that the drive would start soon. “All town municipal officers (TMOs) have been informed in this regard. CDGL authorities invited tenders from about 100 construction companies on February 14, 2012, for the repair of the damaged and other decaying footpaths of the City and the bidders would soon start work on the project,” Zaman informed.

It may be mentioned here that commissioner and DCO of Lahore had earlier directed the officials concerned to remove all encroachments from the footpaths, especially the construction material and heaps of garbage, before the onset of monsoon.