With the mayor and his council members divided over the hawker-eviction drive, encroachers are back on the pavements they were removed from with much difficulty over the past five years.
Mayoral council member (conservancy) Rajib Deb, of the Trinamul Congress, asserts: “Calcuttans must accept hawkers on the pavements, as they are our mainstay in winning an election. It is true that on election day, these hawkers mobilise voters and jam booths by unleashing terror in a locality.”
Deb stressed that no hawker-eviction drive, except Operation Sunshine undertaken by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) under a Left regime, was anything more than lip service. “Yet, to placate the people, political leaders often have to take action against these encroachers,” he added. As for the eviction drive he launched last Monday, the conservancy chief retorted: “It is nothing more than a cat-and-mouse game. If I don’t do it, the people won’t trust me.”
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, however, seemed set against encroachment by hawkers. “If pavements were meant for hawkers, why were several hundred crores of tax-payers’ money spent on constructing about 1,100 km of pavements in the city'” he asked. The hawkers’ votebank was a myth created by some political leaders with vested interests, he said. With political will, the mayor added, pavements could be reclaimed for pedestrians.
Former mayoral council member Kanti Ganguly, now Left Front minister, who had led Operation Sunshine on October 24, 1996, said: “A cabinet decision already exists, with a pledge to keep 21 thoroughfares of the city free from hawkers and the pavements free from structures.”
Ganguly said so long as the Left Front board was in the CMC, a constant vigil was kept to stop the return of hawkers at Gariahat, Shyambazar, Hatibagan and other areas. But they were back again on the pavements at the behest of the Trinamul leadership.
“It is not always possible for me to ignore my party’s dictates,” the mayor said, defending his inability to tackle the hawker problem. According to the conservancy department, the number of hawkers is up 50 per cent from seven years ago.