The sun has not set on Operation Sunshine, after all.
The day after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made it clear that there was 'no change' in the government policy towards hawkers, mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya did a U-turn on his move to make their return to city streets official.
The chief minister had made it clear on Thursday that that he did not approve of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) decision to bring back the hawkers on the 21 thoroughfares from where they had been evicted during Operation Sunshine in 1996.
On Friday, the mayor responded to the chief minister's rap by shifting his stance on hawker comeback. During a meeting with members of his mayoral council, Bhattacharyya told his colleagues that the decision to bring hawkers back to the pavements would exclude the 21 roads from where they had been driven out during Operation Sunshine.
Also, the eight thoroughfares from where Calcutta High Court had directed the CMC to remove all hawkers would remain free pedestrian passage.
Bhattacharyya refused to comment on Friday's development, but those who attended the meeting confirmed the decision on the no-hawker zones.
'The mayor told us that the steering committee that would be set up to oversee the process of the hawkers' official return to the pavements would not touch the 21 roads cleared by Operation Sunshine or the eight thoroughfares on which there is a court stricture,' said, mayoral council member (conservancy) Chandana Ghosh Dastidar.
Later in the evening, even the CPM leadership indicated it was distancing itself from the move to bring the hawkers back. 'I don't know anything about it,' said CPM secretary Anil Biswas. 'I was not informed about it by the mayor.'
Bhattacharyya had tried to defend his decision by saying that whether or not the hawkers had any official sanction, they had, in any case, returned to the pavements from where they had been evicted. By giving their presence official sanction, the civic authorities would at least be able to 'discipline' them and ensure that they did not occupy more than one-third of the pavement.
On Friday, the mayor also reiterated that no permanent structures would be allowed even on pavements where the hawkers would be allowed to resettle.
The civic authorities, meanwhile, blamed the 'unofficial' return of the hawkers to the city pavements on police inaction. 'Just see the condition of the eight thoroughfares from which the high court had ordered the hawkers to be evicted last October. Most of these roads are overrun by them,' observed chief engineer (conservancy) Arun Sarkar.