The distance between the 10ft x 10ft illegal stall — Sudeb Pal’s garment store till 1996 — on the boulevard of Gariahat and the 12 ft x 8 ft legal showroom in the first floor of Shatadeep Market Complex on, 26/B Hindustan Park, is barely 100 metres.
But Pal has travelled a longer distance in the past 10 years — from an illegal peddler on the pavement to a respectable trader.
“I was doing business from the pavement, but everything was uncertain in those days. Now, there is peace and I am happy,” claims Pal.
Operation Sunshine, which the civic body unleashed on street peddlers in 1996, triggered the turn of events for Pal. On a fateful November night, CMC payloaders reduced his 20-year-old stall — along with hundreds of such structures — in Gariahat to rubble.
While the hawkers scampered for sympathy from political masters, 100-odd hawkers regrouped to work out a strategy and stop the cat-and-mouse game with police and civic body officials once for all.
“Shatadeep was conceived as we wanted a market for ourselves,” recounts Pal, owner of a readymade garments store.
An eight-cottah plot near Hindustan Park was bought for Rs 1 crore and another crore was spent in construction. The two-storeyed building was ready in nine months, where it has been business as usual since June 1998.
“Each of us chipped in with Rs 2 lakh… It was difficult, but we got our returns,” smiles Pal, standing near the grand staircase of Shatadeep. The traders here deal in garments and the monthly turnover is in excess of Rs 1.5 crore.
“We do not run away from civic body officials or police. Every year, we contribute around Rs 80,000 to the civic body coffers,” stresses a trader.
But bribe-seeking officials, always on the prowl, are the reality for over 2.75 lakh hawkers in Calcutta. The administration rolled out various rehabilitation packages — at Galiff Street, Kalighat, Gariahat, Jadavpur and under Bijon Setu — in the past decade, but hawkers stayed away from these marketplaces, provided as alternative to pavements.
“Shatadeep is, indeed, a shining example. If the hawkers come in such groups, we will help,” says mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, planning a ‘permanent settlement’ for peddlers against a fee.
But Shatadeep, embroiled in a legal battle with a handful of hawkers, does not approve. “We are fighting a case against illegal encroachment blocking entry to our market,” chorused the traders in Shatadeep, vetoing the mayor’s proposal.