It is senseless and unjust to harass cyclists with a punitive ban in a city choking with air pollution and paralysed by traffic. But this is exactly what cycle-owners have been facing increasingly since 2008, when cycling was prohibited on 38 major roads; by June 2013, the number went up to 174 roads, on most of which cycles are banned from 7 am to 11 pm. Fines (without proper receipts) and confiscations are the ways in which the police regularly bully cyclists into ‘obeying the law’. The ban is not just about the total inability to think through, and implement, environmentally friendly options in urban development, and in transport and traffic management — something that most other big and smaller cities in India and in the rest of the third, the second and the first worlds have been engaging with, often with the promotion of cycling high on the urban agenda. This ban is also about power, and about bullying the powerless for extorting money.
Think about the different kinds of people who use cycles: milk vendors, newspaper delivery boys and other small traders, students who cannot afford cars and other forms of public transport, commuters from the fringes of the city, carpenters, masons, blood-sample collectors, office-goers, postmen and courier delivery boys. These are all people who usually do not have the time, or the mindset, to organize public protests in a concerted way — protests that are still a middle-class, or even upper middle-class, monopoly in the city. A single ‘satyagraha’ organized by city NGOs is not enough to address the combination of corruption, cluelessness regarding environmentally-aware civic planning, and indifference to the plight of the humble that informs such an attitude. Cycling must be encouraged and protected in the city, and every effort made by the government, police and civic authorities to create the necessary infrastructure for the safety and convenience of cyclists. This would go a long way towards making Calcutta a civilized metropolis.