The proposed site for the hawkers’ market at Chowrasta in Darjeeling. Picture by Suman Tamang
Kalimpong, July 27: The Darjeeling municipality has asked hill residents to email and let it know if they want a hawkers’ market complex at the Chowrasta, the hill town’s main promenade.
The state public works department wants to build the market between the slopes of Chowrasta and C.R. Das Road, the municipality and a section of the people are opposed to the structure saying it will ruin the beauty of Chowrasta, frequented by the local people and tourists.
The municipality, while informing people about the email address they should write to, mentioned the word “referendum” — a term used by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung when he spoke about his opposition to the hawkers’ market in Chowrasta.
Hill residents have been asked to submit their opinion to the chairman of the municipality directly, through their local municipal commissioners or email to firstname.lastname@example.org with their name and address.
“By law the Darjeeling municipality cannot outright reject their proposal, however thanks to all of your protests and voices raised against the construction of hawker’s market in Chowrasta, the Darjeeling Municipality has agreed to hold a referendum on the issue,” read the statement.
Morcha president Gurung had on June 15 called for a “referendum” to determine if “the people are supportive of the district administration’s move (the hawkers’ market) or not”.
The Morcha-run municipality today asked the people to “raise your voice against or for a hawkers’ market”. “On the basis of the people’s response, we can tell the administration that there are so many people against the project,” said Amar Singh Rai, the chairman of the civic body.
A source in the municipality said: “The municipality has been getting anonymous letters on the hawkers’ market issue. Most of them are against building the market at Chowrasta. However, the municipality cannot take cognisance of such letters. We are inviting people to write to us with proper names and addresses and have their say since, ultimately, their opinion, we believe, matters the most.”
The foundation of the project had been laid by chief minister Mamata Banerjee at Chowrasta earlier this year.
The market is to rehabilitate the members of the Astha Hawkers’ Welfare Association, which is believed to be close to the Trinamul Congress.
The state PWD had on July 8 submitted the plan of the hawkers’ market to the municipality with a three-storied building for 42 shops to be constructed between the slopes of Chowrasta and C.R. Das Road.
The municipality has to take a decision on whether or not to clear the project within 60 days of the submission of the plan. “The board of councillors will have to meet within the stipulated 60 days and take its decision. The plan is already being examined by various departments of the municipality,” said the civic body chief.
Efforts to get a reaction to the municipality’s latest move from the president of the hawkers’ association, Bharat Subba, proved futile. However, he has in the past welcomed the project. The association claims that it has 237 members, which is a figure disputed by the municipality. The civic body pegs the number at 35.
Binny Sharma, the spokesman for Trinamul in the hills, alleged that the Morcha was indulging in gimmick to deprive the poor hawkers of their dues. “The hawkers are people from Darjeeling, they have not come from elsewhere. Why should the civic body deprive them of their dues. The people of Darjeeling are educated and sensitive, and I am pretty sure they will stand by the hawkers provided the market building is constructed without violating any norms and ruining the beauty of the place,” he said.
District magistrate Puneet Yadav couldn’t be contacted.