The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll in sight, CM hawks soft line

Calcutta, March 12: After the CPM mayor of Calcutta cleared the road for hawkers, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee warned railway police against 'harassing' them at stations.

'I have been told that a section of GRP (Government Railway Police) personnel harasses hawkers to extort money from them. This will not be tolerated. I shall take action against them if a complaint comes to me,' the chief minister said at a gathering of Citu workers at Salt Lake stadium.

The CPM labour arm had organised the convention to drum up support for the Left Front in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

Besides the chief minister, Jyoti Basu, labour minister Mohammed Amin, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and the Citu state president, Shyamal Chakraborty, were present.

Bhattacharjee said he would not be able to comment on the activities of the railway protection force (RPF), which is controlled by the Centre. 'But GRP personnel, who come under the state government, will be firmly dealt with if they overstep limits.'

The chief minister's ire was prompted by 'some specific allegations of harassment' made by Citu leaders who met him last week at the CPM headquarters.

Citu secretary Mrinal Das said tonight that Bhattacharjee had promised action against GRP personnel when 'we brought to his notice the regular harassment of 40,000 railway hawkers across Bengal'.

K. Jairaman, the Howrah superintendent of railway police, said those who hawk at stations and compartments are under RPF jurisdiction following a recent amendment to railway safety norms.

With the elections knocking at the door, the chief minister also made it clear that his government would see to it that hawkers can carry on their trade on city roads. 'Hawkers will be there, so will the pedestrians. Let them co-exist without disturbing each other.'

The chief minister said he has already spoken to mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya about hawkers in the city. 'I am aware that thousands of people hawk on city streets to earn their livelihood. Where will they go if they are not allowed to hawk' he asked.

Only last month, Bhattacharjee had said he did not approve of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation's decision to bring back hawkers on the 21 thoroughfares from where they had been evicted during Operation Sunshine in 1996.

Responding to the chief minister's rap, the mayor had hurriedly called a meeting of his council the next day and decided to keep the 21 roads free of hawkers.

Tonight, he said hawkers could be allowed anywhere if they did not come in the way of pedestrians. 'They will neither construct permanent structures nor do business within 50 feet of any intersection.'

The decision, Bhattacharya added, was taken after a string of meetings with the hawkers' union early this month.

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