| The civic army is busy drawing this line on pavements to denote the one-third space being allotted to hawkers. Picture by Amit Datta
Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya is all set to do a Lord Cornwallis. What the governor-general had done for zamindars in 1793, the mayor of Calcutta is ready to do for hawkers through ‘permanent settlement’ in 2006-07.
So, in an era of remakes, the CPM-led civic body is reviving the zamindari system of the Raj which the Marxists had in a way abolished through land reforms.
What is being referred to as ‘permanent settlement’ in the civic body headquarters today will mark the legalised return of more than 2.75 lakh hawkers — armed with identity cards — on one-third of pavement space.
The mayor has laid down a few pre-conditions for hawker raj — no permanent structure on pavements, no encroachment beyond the one-third Lakshmanrekha and no stalls up to 50 feet at crossings.
Hawkers toeing the line for six months will be issued identity cards as a token of their ‘permanent settlement’ status.
“I do not think that hawkers are violating any law, they are victims of the unemployment problem. It is not possible to drive them out. We are trying for a solution so that both hawkers and pedestrians can use the pavements,” the mayor told Metro.
Civic officials have already started demarcating the permissible outer-limit for trading activities on some pavements with a thin white line as the Lakshmanrekha.
The move has won cheers from the Hawker Sangram Committee, but jeers from former mayor Subrata Mukherjee. “They are not hawkers, but unlicensed traders encroaching on pavements. Granting them the status of permanent settlers is sure to spell trouble,” he warned.
Police have always pointed a finger at hawkers causing congestion on thoroughfares, especially in the central business district. This blame was backed by an earlier high court directive that had asked the Corporation and police to make eight thoroughfares in the city centre hawker-free.
Now, hawkers are here to stay.
But no timeline has been fixed, yet. Even hawker union leader Shaktiman Ghosh has no clue of Day Zero in the six-month programme.
“We have not been given any deadline. But we are happy that hawkers can now permanently settle on pavements,” said Ghosh, adding that they are even willing to shell out a price to the civic body for recognising their pavement rights.
To give its permanent settlement proposal a concrete shape, the apex committee on hawkers — headed by CPM mayor-in-council member Tuhin Bera — is now busy conducting a hawker headcount in Calcutta. At last count it stood at 2.75 lakh.
No one is, of course, bothered about the plight of pedestrians fighting for a foothold between hard-selling hawkers and honking vehicles.