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Calcutta encroachment model, New Town-style

New Town is fast catching up with Calcutta in curbing the right of citizens to free movement, forcing them to knock on the administration’s door at least thrice in the past 10 months.

Structures made of bamboo poles, tarpaulin, and tin and plywood sheets are cropping up on footpaths in Action Area I of the township, comprising both residential and commercial buildings, almost every week.

Metro drove through Action Area I to find out how the grab-the-pavement model of Calcutta is being replicated in New Town.

Ground grab

The pavement on the stretch opposite gate numbers 2 and 3 of the DLF IT Park, on the western side of Animikha, a residential estate with 350 apartments, has been encroached, mostly by food stalls. Those who run them use LPG cylinders and dump waste at the same place.

In the absence of a proper community market, hawkers run a makeshift one on the pavements adjacent to New Town police station and opposite Reliance Fresh.

“It is impossible to drive around in the morning and evening, when greengrocers and fishmongers sit on the road and sell their wares,” said Sandip Raha, secretary, New Town Residents’ Forum, and resident of Utsa Luxury estate near Reliance Fresh.

The food stalls, which mainly cater to employees of the 24x7 industry, operate round-the-clock, according to residents of the area, who have requested the administration to free the pavements.

“Most of the stalls have three partners. One sells breakfast and lunch, another snacks and dinner and the third one attends to customers till dawn,” said a resident of Greenwood Park, outside which the makeshift market operates on the pavement.

The other two areas in Action Area I targeted by encroachers are Hometown and Axis Mall.

“Since there are no economical eateries, people flock to our stalls. On a good day, we earn up to Rs 1,000,” said Rupali Shaw, who sells momos in front of DLF gate No. 3.

Hidco officials said they were aware that none of the encroachers owned land that was acquired for the development of New Town. “Yet we cannot remove them because they enjoy the support of politicians,” said an official.

Citizens’ despair

The residents’ forum wrote to Hidco and the New Town Calcutta Development Authority at least thrice — in August and September last year and February — complaining about the hawker problem.

“Hidco and the New Town Calcutta Development Authority had been prompt in addressing any problem we took up with them but could not give us any assurance on encroachment,” said Madhuchhanda Sengupta, joint secretary, New Town Residents’ Forum.

Those who have moved into New Town expecting a better standard of living in a planned township, feel let down. “The government has a golden opportunity of keeping the problems affecting Calcutta away from New Town but it is blowing it,” said an elderly resident who did not wish to be named.

Much of the filth in the township is a result of the encroachments. “The drains are clogged with plastic packets and other waste. Even the underground sewerage system has been affected, which results in waterlogging in our complex even after a mild shower,” said Ashish Saha, a resident of Animikha.

Inert authorities

What is surprising — or maybe not — is that everyone in the administration seems to know about the problem but has not done anything to solve it.

A very senior Hidco official said no large-scale eviction drive has been undertaken in the area.

Hidco is planning an open-air food court, where the vendors will be shifted. “The food court will be along the lines of those in Singapore and Thailand. We are in talks with designers,” said Debasish Sen, chairman, Hidco. Many such initiatives have fallen flat in Calcutta.

Officers of the newly formed Bidhannagar City Police said they could not do anything without the nod of their political bosses.