|Parking puzzle in Gangtok on Wednesday afternoon. (Prabin Khaling)
Gangtok, July 28: Want to buy a car? Get a garage first.
This is what the Sikkim transport department has told residents of the state where, as almost everywhere in India, cars parked along roads choke traffic.
The department issued a notification this month making it mandatory for buyers to produce an availability-of-parking-space certificate before they can get their vehicles registered.
Consumer rights and automobile industry sources described the rule as a first in the country and said it might not stand the test of a legal challenge.
This notification, which has come into effect from July 7 this year, is only for new vehicles. Everyone is aware of the traffic problems in Sikkim, especially Gangtok, a motor vehicles department official said.
In urban areas, the superintendent of police in charge of traffic has been mandated to issue the certificates after physical verification of the parking space. For the rest of Sikkim, the responsibility has been given to panchayats.
This will be followed by an inspection by officers not below the rank of motor vehicles inspector, who will submit details to the transport department along with a rough map of the site.
There is no other way we can control traffic problems in urban areas of Sikkim, the motor vehicles official said of the rule.
Almost 50 new vehicles are hitting the narrow roads every week as an increase in purchasing power pushes up demand in the state, as elsewhere in the country. The result is huge traffic jams during rush hour.
Calcutta has a building rule that makes it mandatory for multistorey complexes to have parking spaces but the Sikkim rule is unique in that it addresses individual car buyers directly.
There is no such restriction in India till date. But globally, there are a few countries where governments follow the same. If a government takes such a decision, people will need to comply, said Jnaneswar Sen, vice-president (marketing), Honda Siel Cars India Ltd.
But Prabir Basu, member of the Bengal Consumer Protection Council, differed: This new order can be challenged in a court of law and it is almost certain that it will be quashed. No one can impose restrictions on purchase of valid goods if the transaction is legal. Only, it has to be ascertained that the transaction is not prejudicial to the interest of the state. This means that if I am buying a vehicle to transport arms and ammunition to wage war against the state, the government can intervene. Otherwise, the buyer is king.
The Sikkim motor vehicles department official said the right to purchase vehicles does not mean the vehicle owners should be creating problems for the public by parking their vehicles in public places. The owners must have a proper parking place, especially for the night.
Mandeep Singh Tuli, the superintendent of police (East), said traffic police would formulate guidelines to implement the notification in Gangtok and the urban areas around it. The notification aims to encourage people to have parking spaces in their houses. Parking along roads is not advisable.
In the hills, car owners often park along the road and walk to their houses, which may be located higher up or lower down, because the gradient does not permit them to drive the whole way. Only people who live along NH31A or other state roads have the luxury of parking spaces in front of their houses.
So, the new notification has been met with dismay. It is unfair and unjust. If I dont have a parking place since I live away from approachable roads, does that mean I cant purchase a vehicle for the use of my family? asked a government employee who has had to put on hold plans to buy a small car.
In Calcutta, the municipal corporation allows cars to be parked on roads from midnight to 6am for a fee. The charges range from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000, depending on the locality. Gangtok also has some paid parking lots along the highway.
A Gangtok resident complained that the government was trying to ape developed countries. London, Stockholm and several other western cities charge a congestion fee from motorists entering the city centre while others such as Athens have introduced number plate restrictions based on the days of the week.
But S.N. Burman, the Maruti Suzuki commercial business head in the country, said: Any such restriction would definitely have an initial impact on consumer sales. But going forward, nothing could stop consumers from buying cars. In a few months, people will be used to it and buy cars complying with the rules.
Car dealers are worried about losing business in Sikkim and plan to meet the government to find out how the rule is to be implemented. At least two dealers have received notices from the transport department directing them not to sell cars without first asking for the availability-of-parking-space certificate.
The states dealers are worried that customers could go around the notification by buying cars in Bengal. What will now happen is that people will go to Siliguri, buy a car there, get it registered under the West Bengal government and bring it here, a dealer said. In the long run, the state government will lose out on revenue.