|Some of the shops in KC Block. Pictures by Sayantan Ghosh
The market inside KC Block might be shutting down. The Central Public Works Department (CPWD), that owns the two housing estates in KB and KC Blocks, has just woken up to the fact that the shops on their premises are illegal and has sent an eviction notice to have them removed.
The notice, that was sent to KC Block Welfare Association three weeks ago, says that the 26 temporary shops in their market will be removed with the help of the local administration. While only KC Block Welfare Association has received an eviction notice for shops in their block, there is a confusion about the fate of shops inside KB Block. KB Block, too, has 20 stalls near the gate but out of them 14 have been shut for a while now.
The KB Block association has not received any such notice but shop owners at KB Market fear they, too, will be asked to shut down.
While vendors are cursing their misfortune, what attracted the unwanted attention of the CPWD authorities was not the mushrooming of shops but a construction by a former councillor.
Trouble started brewing a month back when Panchali Basu Roy Chowdhury, a former Trinamul Congress councillor of the ward, started building a structure on KC Block premises. “The present CPM councillor Aloka Patra claimed I was building a party office but that is not true,” says Basu Roy Chowdhury. “I was building a centre where residents of KB and KC blocks could come for legal help. I would also have had a paediatrician coming over thrice a week.”
According to local sources, an order was issued by the CPWD a few years ago stating that no fresh construction would be allowed on its premises. The department even demolished a temporary garage constructed by a KC Block resident a few years ago.
A CPWD junior engineer, whose office is located inside KC Block, did not take any chances. When Partha Nandi, the engineer, noticed Basu Roy Chowdhury’s construction, he complained about it to his head office in Nizam Palace on Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road. Officials from the head office came down for investigation and besides Basu Roy Chowdhury’s structure also found a makeshift market comprising 26 shops.
Basu Roy Chowdhury was asked to stop the construction — at present there is a shed and part of the floor standing — and it was decided to evict the shops. But no date has been mentioned in the notice.
While the 26 shops inside KC Block have been here for decades, none of them are registered. Since the CPWD does not recognise these shops, they have sent the eviction notice — not to the vendors but — to KC Block Welfare Association.
“We do not have any legal identity,” says Gopal Manna, who runs a CD shop there. A resident of nearby Sukantanagar, he has had this shop since 1989. “I do not think we are encroaching on government land as we have not built permanent structures. Ours are temporary stalls.”
The stalls are all lined up starting at the gate opposite to the ward office. They are quite shabby, held up by bamboo sticks, sheltered under tarpaulin sheets and separated from one another with walls of tin or mat. They are a far cry from the well-maintained markets in other blocks.
But still they provide the residents of the 2,098 flats of KB and KC Blocks with vegetables, meat, grocery, sweets, stationery, cosmetics, music albums, clothes, furniture etc. There is also a barber and a travel agent.
While it is illegal to open shops on CPWD premises, an elderly resident recalls how local CPM leaders had helped set up these stalls in the early 1980s. “If they had violated the rules it was only to help us residents. The nearest market then was in Beleghata and it was impractical to travel all the way there to buy milk and vegetables,” said the man on condition of anonymity.
Vendor Kamal Barua remembers opening the first shop of this market in 1979. “At that time, CPWD was building the KB and KC complex and the labourers would have to walk to Beleghata for lunch and tea. A CPWD contractor then brought me here and asked me to set up an eatery. I ran that eatery till 1990 and then converted it to a tea-cum-stationery shop,” says Barua. “But I don’t know what I’ll do if I am evicted at this age. I am too old to go look for a job now.”
While admitting that their shops had sprung up without authorisation, the vendors want immunity. “We want to appeal to CPWD to allow us to continue here,” says Dipesh Roy who owns a furniture shop. “At present, we have only heard rumours of the eviction. Neither has CPWD sent us a letter nor have the KC Block Welfare Association members shown it to us. We will protest to protect our rights.”
Local councillor Aloka Patra of CPM washed her hands off the affair when asked about the tussle, saying she had nothing to do with any of it.
Residents are upset with the news of the eviction. “This is terrible! I can’t imagine travelling all the way to Beleghata for eggs and vegetables. The two-way rickshaw ride alone would cost Rs 12. How can middle-class families spend so much?” asks Sheetal Nayak, a housewife of KC Block.
Cultural secretary of the block association, Sukumar Karmakar, says there is nothing much they can do if the decision has been made. “The shopkeepers serve us well but we are in no position to fight for them. After all, even we are employees of CPWD and will lose our jobs if we speak against the department,” he says.
He adds that they would request CPWD to construct a permanent market inside the premise. “IC Block, which is another CPWD residential quarter, has its own market. We should have one too,” he says.
A few residents, judging from their past experience, are hoping that the authorities’ plans will not materialise. “There was a similar eviction notice once before. We residents protested and the idea was dropped,” says KB Block’s Janaki Debnath, while buying potatoes at KC Market.