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HC seeks report on hawker problem

The high court on Monday asked a committee to review the hawker situation and its impact on pedestrians and traffic, the order coming within days of the chief minister promising “legal rights” to hawkers.

The division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi ordered the two-member committee of government pleader Ashok Banerjee and environment activist Subhas Datta to collect information from police and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation about traffic disruption because of road encroachment by hawkers and file a report within four weeks along with suggestions to resolve the problem.

The order was passed on a petition by a group of Shyambazar residents urging the court to take action against the “illegal traders” occupying footpaths along major thoroughfares in the city.

“It is a difficult job and it can’t be done merely by talking to the police and the CMC. The state government, too, needs to clarify its stand,” Datta said about the court order.

On February 20, the chief minister promised rights to hawkers, pleased that they had operated stalls on footpaths defying a general strike called by Citu and other trade unions.

Lawyer Arunava Ghosh, who represented the petitioners, said: “When a former state transport minister had started Operation Sunshine to free the pavements of hawkers, I moved a case on behalf of the hawkers. We lost the case and the court declared hawkers illegal. Then why hasn’t any action been taken against the illegal traders?”

Ghosh pointed out that at Shyambazar, Hatibagan, Esplanade and Gariahat and other places, hawkers had taken over entire footpaths. “Since there is no place on the footpath, pedestrians are forced to use the road and that disrupts traffic.”

Since the previous Left Front government and the current Trinamul government have failed to frame a hawker policy, “the court should step in”, added the lawyer.

Another lawyer reminded the division bench that the court had appointed a two-member committee in 2011 to review the situation. “Government pleader Ashok Banerjee and environment activist Subhas Datta were appointed members of the committee. The court had asked the committee to review the situation on the pavement and also the traffic system.”

The division bench then asked the committee to file a report after a fresh review.

Another public interest litigation (PIL) on the city’s hawker problems is pending before the court. During the last hearing of the case in March 2012, the lawyer for the state had told the court that the Trinamul Congress government had almost completed framing a policy on hawkers.