The civic authorities have started a dialogue with traders in the Burrabazar area to try and persuade them to move out of the heart of Kolkata, a move aimed at smoothening the city’s traffic and improving its air quality.
The trading hubs in Burrabazar have been existing since the 1750s. But with a sharp increase in traffic, bustling trading zones bang in the middle of the city are proving to be a logistical nightmare.
At a meeting called by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation on Monday, mayor Firhad Hakim spoke to representatives of traders’ and transporters’ bodies and labour unions from Burrabazar, Posta and Mechhua about possible alternative locations on the fringes of Kolkata.
Among the options discussed was Dankuni, about 20km north-west from Burrabazar and an emerging hub because of its rail and road connectivity.
Dankuni, in Hooghly district, is set to be a terminal for the proposed eastern freight corridor.
Burrabazar is now only a fraction of what it used to be when it served the entire eastern and north-eastern India, but it still brings around 650 heavy trucks into the heart of Kolkata every day.
Mayor Hakim said the idea behind the move to relocate the traders was to improve Kolkata’s air quality by reducing the number of heavy vehicles entering the city.
“If Kolkata’s air quality has to improve and the load of heavy vehicles on the Howrah bridge and Vidyasagar Setu has to be reduced, these markets need to move out of the city,” he told The Telegraph.
“Offices can remain in the city proper but the godowns and trading have to be held at a location outside the city. We can’t think of (Kolkata as) London with all these markets like phal patty (fruit trading hub Mechhua) remaining in the heart of the city.”
With close to 650 trucks moving in and out of the area every day on an average, the state government has been toying with the idea of reducing the flow of heavy vehicles into the city’s business district for many years now.
In May 2020, months after the onset of the pandemic, the state government had proposed to restrict the movement of trucks to Posta, Burrabazar and adjacent areas to prevent the zone from becoming a Covid-19 hotspot.
While some checks were introduced, the move finally failed as traders complained of having to pay extra for using smaller vehicles to bring in their goods from spots outside the city, where bigger trucks were unloading their consignment.
“There are challenges in transportation because goods move in and out of this area on heavy vehicles. The state government had proposed shifting of Mechhua but that never happened. The trucks continue to come,” said Sanjay Upadhyay, of the Posta Goods Transport Operators’ Association.
“Shifting of a market will affect not just traders, but several other groups as well, including labourers.”
Representatives of stakeholders at Burrabazar, Posta and Mechhua markets — the three together have 4,500 shops — who attended Monday's meeting said they wanted the government to identify large chunks of land before deciding on shifting the trade hubs.
“We will need close to 300 acres of land for the complete shifting. One of the options discussed was Dankuni,” said Bishwanath Agarwal, general secretary of the Posta Bazar Merchants’ Association.
“We have said the government should oversee buying parcels of land and offer them to us at a subsidised rate. Traders’ bodies can’t go around hunting for land.”