Throwing the daily waste in bins put up by Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) is prohibited on Russell Street. That is unless you have agreed to pay the civic body’s waste collector a daily sum.
The extortion amount is usually between Rs 25 and Rs 30 each day.
A few who refused to pay, since the KMC has never asked for any fee for collection of waste, found plastic bags filled with garbage dumped outside their stores.
Hawkers and store owners who have borne the brunt after refusing to pay said that the message was clear — either pay the waste collectors or face the consequences.
“We are not allowed to put the waste inside the bins installed by the civic body. Since we do not pay the collectors, we will not be allowed to throw our daily waste in the bins,” said the manager of a store on Russell Street who requested that neither he nor the store be named.
“In the past, we have had altercations with the waste collectors as we refused to pay. One day, they dumped a heap of garbage in front of our store,” he said.
The store has now hired the services of a person who collects the waste and takes it to a moving compactor station of the KMC on Loudon Street.
“We have to run our business. There is no point fighting. So, we hired the services of a person who takes away our daily waste,” said the store manager.
Multiple stall owners along Russell Street narrated the same account to The Telegraph on Thursday.
A 72-year old man who sells snacks on the footpath opposite The Bengal Club said that earlier, he had been spared as he told the waste collectors that his income was not good enough. “But in the past two years, even I have been forced to pay.”
A KMC garbage bin on Russell Street on Thursday.Sanat Kr Sinha
A store official said that since the hawkers have to pay the waste collectors, they in turn do not allow the stores to put any waste in the bins.
The waste collectors come in the morning, roughly around 7am or 7.30am every day. Since most hawkers or stores remain closed at that time, the extortion amount is collected separately. “There are people who come once a week and take the week’s amount. They often come on Saturdays,” said a hawker.
Another man who has been selling puffed rice on the footpath for decades said that the practice of extorting money to clear waste started about three-four years ago. The hawkers feared repercussions against them if they are named in the news report.
When The Telegraph called Firhad Hakim, the chairperson of the KMC’s board of administrators, on Thursday evening, he promised “strict action”.
“This should not happen. This is illegal. I will immediately take action and stop this. If cleaners are part of any illegal act, they will be suspended. Stores have to pay KMC a fee but that is different. No waste collector can separately ask for money to collect waste,” Hakim said.
A senior official of the civic body said that such extortion could not have continued without the knowledge and complicity of officials of the solid waste management department of the KMC.
The department is responsible for collection and disposal of solid waste in Kolkata.
Russell Street, one of Kolkata’s more upscale business districts that connects Middleton Street and Park Street, is dotted with some of the city’s iconic addresses. The Bengal Club or the ITC office, for example.
There are more than 50 stalls on the footpath along Russell Street, mostly selling food.