TNIE examines the drastic decision to impose night curbs at Marine Drive

D Dhanuraj, CPPR Chairman, comments on the news ‘No ‘freedom’ at midnight‘, . The news was published in The New Indian Express on 23rd of September, 2023.

Kochi: Over the past two days, there have been heated discussions about the decision to bar entry to the Marine Drive walkway from 10pm to 5am. Officials concerned cite “anti-social activities” as the reason. We hit the walkway well past 10pm on Thursday. The inclement weather is a dampener. Yet, the place is littered with some families, groups of friends, and, of course, some young, romantic couples.

Everyone is relaxing, chit-chatting by the inky Vembanad lake. Young couples wrap themselves in the warmth of love. A few seem to be in a world of their own, getting intimate with no qualms about the prying eyes around.

A visit to this iconic open space in the city, late at night, to spend time with friends and family, or in solitude, helps many refresh their minds after a long day. For many youngsters, its a cool, cheap hangout spot. The scene, however, will change after this weekend, as the proposed night curb will come into effect from Monday.

Kochi Mayor M Anilkumar says the restriction is being imposed on an “experimental basis”. He points to mounting complaints about anti-social activities in the area as the trigger. “Marine Drive is the face of our city. Over the years, the place has changed to a haven for anti-social elements,” Anilkumar elaborates. “Our process of addressing the issue might not be acceptable for many, but we are doing this to make it a better place.”

The mayor reiterates that the night curb is a “temporary restriction” to “control the situation”.
“I have always supported, promoted nightlife in the city,” he adds. “But what’s happening at Marine Drive is not what we had been wanting. Our society is not mature enough to adapt or accept the kind of nightlife in foreign countries.”

Is shutting down the public space the solution? Instead, shouldn’t there be better lighting, surveillance and robust policing? A top corporation official says the police face a manpower shortage. “Only a couple of personnel are deployed to patrol the whole of Marine Drive,” he adds. “The decision on the night curb was taken following a police report. We had a discussion with all officials concerned.”
The decision to enforce a night curb was taken at a joint meeting of the corporation, GCDA, Smart City Mission, city police, local traders, boat operators, and civil society representatives earlier this week.

‘Please ask the mayor’
When asked about the move, City Police Commissioner A Akbar says, “I am not aware of any such report. It was the deputy commissioner who attended the meeting. Please discuss the matter with him.”
Deputy Commissioner S Sasidharan offers “no comments”, and deflects the question back to Anilkumar. “Please ask the mayor about it,” he says, hanging up the call.

Social activist Ranjith Thampy defends the police. “They do face a manpower shortage,” he says. “It is the civic authorities that are responsible for basic aspects such as better lighting… It must be noted that the newly opened stretch of Marine Drive is brightly lit. The old stretch remains shady; some areas are pitch-dark.”

Considering the current scenario, Ranjith welcomes the temporary night curb. “The walkway and nearby areas have indeed become a den for anti-social elements,” he reasons. “Things have gone a bit beyond control. It is difficult for families to visit the walkway during the night. Drug addicts and peddlers frequent the place. The police are helpless.”

Ranjith also highlights that people living in the flats nearby have been regularly complaining about loud howling, and music blasting away from the walkway late at night. “It goes on till 3am,” he says.
“Nightlife should not mean hooliganism. It’s not about wandering and doing whatever one wants. There should be civility. We want an open space where people can visit a place with a sense of safety. That, sadly, is not the case with Marine Drive.”

An officer on patrol duty says it’s not easy for the police to check everyone. “We don’t know their state of mind, considering the kind of narcotics they use. We don’t know what weapons they might be carrying. We are humans, too,” he says.

“On public display of affection, we do understand the urges of the youth. But nowadays, some couples, many of them students, breach social decency. I cannot describe the vulgarity I have seen here.”
The officer adds that people who protest the night curb fail to understand the gravity of the issue. “They don’t see what we see every night here. This is not the kind of open space, nightlife, and freedom one would be proud of,” he says. “So, first let us clean up the place.”

‘Clear case of police failure’
–T J Vinod, MLA, Ernakulam

Maintaining law and order should not be done by denying the freedom of the public. Marine Drive became a haven for anti-social activities at night solely due to the laxity of the police and the excise department. It’s a clear case of police failure in clamping down on the drug rackets. And now, they are restricting the freedom of the people. This is not acceptable. It’s ironic that the decision to impose night curbs at Marine Drive comes at a time when efforts are being made to promote nightlife in the city. What’s actually needed is the installation of more CCTV cameras, better lighting, and efficient police patrolling. If there is a manpower shortage, the city police commissioner should deploy personnel from the reserve camp. This night closure measure should be withdrawn immediately. Also, how can the local body and other authorities unilaterally make such decisions without discussing them with the MLA?

‘Enhance nightlife, shady activities will come down’
-D Dhanuraj, chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research

Instead of shutting down the place at night and sending people back home, the authorities must look at bringing more people on the road to eradicate these nefarious elements and anti-social activities. In other cities, people are encouraged to step out of their homes at night. If more people are on the road, fewer of these anti-social elements will be in the area. In our city, we don’t have many active open spaces. If we have more places in the city for shopping, street food, and live music, there won’t be an issue. The Queen’s Walkway is an example.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.

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