Since April 1, 2018, the citizens of Hyderabad are no longer under any compulsion to pay steep parking charges levied by multiplexes, malls and private hospitals, provided they submit a bill for services partaken or park for less than 30 minutes.
The key players behind this recent government order, following a directive from the Hyderabad High Court, are none other than lawyer-activists Satish Kumar Pendyala and Sheelu Raj of Youth for Better India, alongside Vijay Gopal, a software professional and the president of Forum Against Corruption.
“So, it all started when Vijay Gopal approached Sheelu and me to file a public interest litigation (PIL). We did extensive research, filed Right to Information (RTIs) applications to understand the city’s parking policy, studied the Andhra Pradesh/Telangana Apartment Act and wrote letters to various government departments,” says Satish, speaking to The Better India.
But Satish and Sheelu didn’t have to do too much. Vijay, the software professional-cum-social activist had made their job easier, by nearly finishing up a third of the research before he reached out to the lawyers.
Moreover, he had done the necessary legwork by filing FIRs across various police stations and citing their inaction helped the judge to understand the scope of this issue.
After conducting all the necessary research, Vijay and the lawyers filed a PIL in court to eliminate what Satish calls the “parking mafia,” through which free parking zones in Hyderabad are illegally converted into paid parking lots with the support of legislators and corporators.
“The law says a maximum of Rs 20 per day is to be collected for parking in commercial establishments, and the local municipal commissioner has the authority to penalise anyone collecting parking charges, illegally. However, we saw these commercial establishments collecting up to Rs 30 to 50 on a per hour basis, and they would generate as much as Rs 50 lakh in unaccounted money per month,” claims Satish.
In their petition in the Hyderabad High Court, Gopal and his lawyers argued that despite mandatory provisions of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) Act, 1955, Section 115 (40), AP/TS Apartments Act (Promotion of Construction & Ownership) Act 1987, and existing orders of the court, “commercial complex owners, malls, theatres, small or medium commercial buildings are all busy fleecing the citizens with parking fee which are on an hourly basis.”
What irked them further was the inaction of the respondents (Telangana State government, GHMC, and the State Police) and the non-enforcement of these above laws despite repeated attempts by citizens to raise awareness of these blatant illegalities, with each agency passing the buck to the other.
“This petition is being filed in the larger interest of the citizens for inaction and negligence on the part of the respondents in enforcing the said laws and provision of GHMC Act 1955 and AP/TS Apartments (Promotion of construction & Ownership) Act 1987 and also the failure on the part of the Law Enforcement Agency i.e. ‘The Police Department’ which is in a state of confusion and dodging from its responsibilities by stating that the said issue is under the jurisdiction of GHMC and not theirs instead of taking action,” says Vijay Gopal in his submissions to the court.
All the legal costs in the filing of the PIL were undertaken by the petitioner and his lawyers.
In fact, the petitioner uses a landmark judgement the same court delivered in 2003, which clinched the PIL in their favour. Citing the ruling in the ‘Ch Madan Mohan vs Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad’ case, the court said nearly 15 years ago:
“In view of the above, I must hold that builders/owners of commercial complexes or owners of apartments in a commercial complex have no absolute right to lease out or licence out parking areas to the petitioners. Such leasing or alienation is prohibited by the Apartments Act as well as various rules and regulations.
I must, however, hasten to add that in case of residential multi-storeyed buildings, it is always permissible for the associations of apartment owners to regulate, without any extra charges, the enjoyment of common areas and common places by arriving at a consensus and conditions to be complied with by the users for availing such facilities.
Insofar as multi-storeyed commercial complexes are concerned, the builder/ owner under the law has impliedly accepted by reason of building permission and other provisions to keep parking places for the use by visitors to the complex, and hence builders/owners or their licensees cannot charge any fees.”
Thanks to their PIL, the Court directed the Municipal Administration and Urban Development Department of the Telangana government along with the GHMC to issue a government order that allows for allows free parking for the first half an hour and further still, if a bill is produced.
On April 1, 2018, this order was finally passed, saving gullible citizens from spending unnecessary amounts of their money on parking.
Despite the government order, the petitioners claim that the GHMC has done little to spread awareness.
In certain commercial establishments, the most they have done is pasted posters with new rules.
“I had no clue that these rules existed even though they have been in force for three months. Recently, I threw away my movie tickets after leaving a cinema hall. In the future, I will keep the tickets and any future bill I may receive before I leave such establishments,” says Ravi Kiran, a software professional and founder of a fin-tech start-up, speaking to The Better India.
This is a grouse that Satish has with young citizens. “More of them need to apply their minds rationally, raise their sense of awareness of such basic rules, engage themselves further and eventually become thought leaders who can question the system or its inability to enforce simple rules. Only then will the system begin to function better,” he says.
In an earlier conversation with The Better India, while discussing how his platform, Youth for Better India (YBI), had successfully filed a PIL against commercial establishments charging dual MRPs on basic products like bottled water, Satish laid out his vision for the future.
“We, at the Youth for Better India, believe in citizen activism and building thought leaders for the nation. We wanted to use legal tools to bring change inspired by Jaya Prakash Narayana (of the Lok Satta fame) Sir who introduced us to RTIs and PILs,” he said.
Interestingly, Satish has been spreading the gospel of filing PILs, FIRs and even RTI applications to young activists who want to make a change.
He conducts regular workshops, teaching youngsters how to employ such legal tools. For example, once a month usually on a second Saturday, he hosts RTI FORUM UNDER YBI across different venues in the city teaching them how to file an RTI application.
In fact, thanks to one of the PILs they submitted in 2011 with the Lok Satta party as the petitioner, the then Andhra Pradesh government was compelled to release Rs 330 crore for the development of libraries in the state.
“We want to facilitate the process of greater citizen engagement with the system,” he says. Only this, he believes, will lead to positive change.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)