Illegal food stalls overrun the footpath opposite the DLF IT Park in New Town’s Action Area I while (right) a fully equipped food court set up by the New Town Kolkata Development Authority barely 200 metres away remains vacant. Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta
New Town is going the Gariahat way, giving up entire footpaths to hawkers who have no fear of being evicted at least until this please-all election season is over.
“Only the footpath opposite gate numbers 2 and 3 of the DLF IT Park was occupied till three months ago. The encroached area has increased by more than 200 metres since. Hawkers have even taken over the footpaths in front of the old New Town police station,” said a resident of Animikha, a housing estate with 350 apartments close to Salt Lake.
The entire pavement outside Animikha is a veritable food street with makeshift stalls offering everything from biscuits to biryani. Their clientele mostly comprises employees of the 100-odd companies that operate out of the DLF IT Park, which has cafeterias and restaurants but apparently not enough to cater to a 10,000-strong workforce.
A fully equipped food court set up by the New Town Kolkata Development Authority barely 200 metres away remains vacant because the hawkers fear they will lose customers if they move even that far from the business hub.
A headcount revealed an army of close to 350 hawkers in the vicinity of the DLF IT Park in Action Area I. There are another 300 hawkers in Action Area II, opposite Ecospace.
Residents of the still developing township say the hawker menace has increased since elections were announced, an observation endorsed in private by officers at New Town police station.
“For a political leader, this is the easiest way of adding a few votes to the kitty. Everyone knows what’s happening but has to pretend he or she isn’t aware of it,” an officer said.
Civic officials too blame meddling by politicians for their failure to evict encroachments.
“If we so much as initiate a drive against the hawkers, calls come from senior leaders telling us explicitly that these people are their supporters,” said a senior member of the township development authority.
Tapan Mondal, a resident of Hazra Talla in Action Area III, set up his stall near the DLF IT Park in the last week of February. “There are no offices near my village, so where do I earn a living? Trinamul leaders of my area helped me set up this stall. They have assured me that neither the police nor Hidco officials will evict me,” he said, pouring lassi into a clay glass for a customer on a hot April afternoon.
Does he pay protection money? “I am busy,” Tapan replied.
Since 2011, the New Town Residents’ Forum has lodged several complaints with Hidco and the New Town Calcutta Development Authority about the hawker menace. The only occasion an eviction drive was started, it came to an abrupt halt.
“Two years ago, they tried removing some hawkers who were occupying the service road but the drive was aborted. We approached the township authorities for an explanation and they told us it was a political problem they could do little about,” a member of the residents’ forum said.
The food court built a couple of years ago has 198 stalls, each counter equipped with power points and water taps. Not a single hawker has moved in yet.
“We did try to convince the political bosses to persuade the hawkers to move into the food park but didn’t get a satisfactory reply,” an official of the township authority said.
The erstwhile Left Front government had conceptualised New Town in the mid-Nineties as a township that would be developed in three phases across 34 mouzas. The idea was to create housing for almost 10 lakh families and business centres focused on attracting investment, especially in the IT sector.
With a 15-km, eight-lane expressway flanked by prime real estate and leisure spaces like the sprawling Eco Park, New Town has started to look every bit a modern township. But scratch the veneer of development and the warts begin to show.
How has the proliferation of illegal hawkers in New Town affected your life?