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Street-legal strategy for hawkers

The Bengal government has started dusting an old plan to legalise hawkers this election season.

Senior members of the Mamata Banerjee cabinet — Amit Mitra, Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Partha Chatterjee and Purnendu Bose — met on Friday to discuss the nitty-gritty of the proposal drawn up in 2011 to legalise vendors who have made inroads into footpaths and even thoroughfares.

According to the plan drawn up by the urban development department, hawkers are to be registered and given identity cards and a host of other benefits, including insurance and old-age pension. A “vending committee” will oversee the process of registration, collection of fees and penal action for violating the norms.

Insiders said this was part of the Mamata government’s strategy to bring lakhs of hawkers under a legal framework before wooing them with the stamp of legality just ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

The core group of ministers, sources said, would meet again with their views on the draft so that the government can formalise the proposal, which could impact around three lakh hawkers in Calcutta. Across the state, there are an estimated 11 lakh hawkers.

“There is a Supreme Court directive and a central government act on hawkers and we will have to find ways so that all the provisions mentioned are accepted in a realistic manner for Bengal,” panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee told Metro. “There is a thin line between a taxpayer’s right to the pavement and a hawker’s right to use the space for his livelihood. We will have to find that balance.”

In February 2013, the division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi had ordered a two-member committee to submit a report within four weeks on traffic disruption caused by to hawkers encroaching on road space. The committee comprising government pleader Ashok Banerjee and environment activist Subhas Datta was asked to collect information from the police and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation about traffic disruption because of road encroachment by hawkers and file a report.

“We pointed out that a national policy on street vendors has been framed by the Union government for all states to follow and an attempt should accordingly be made by the Bengal government to draw up a policy on hawkers,” activist Dutta said.

According to the government’s proposal, there will be different zones for hawkers — a restriction-free vending zone, a restricted vending zone for day and night and a no-vending zone.

Local bodies would earmark vending zones and carry out a “photo census” of the existing army of hawkers to accommodate them within a particular zone. There will be a “municipal vending committee” headed by a municipal commissioner or commissioner and comprising representatives from vendor associations, police, residents and nationalised banks.

This committee will be empowered to “grant, renew, suspend or cancel registration certificates to street vendors”, collect fees for registration, specify timings for vending and maintain records of land, streets, footpaths and other public places designated for vending in consultation with the urban local body.

“This committee will also be empowered to slap penalties and even cancel or suspend the registration of a hawker for violating the norms,” urban development minister Hakim said.

The vending committee would need to ensure the quality of products and services provided to the public, including safety standards.