A hawker complained to the mayor on Friday what many Kolkatans had suspected for years — that the pavements of the city are up for sale.
A woman, who identified herself as a hawker, called mayor Firhad Hakim during the weekly phone-in programme Talk to Mayor and said she purchased space on a footpath near Gandhi Market in Shyambazar for Rs 1.5 lakh.
The woman alleged that despite paying the money, she was not allowed to sit on the pavement for hawking. She also alleged that she was assaulted.
Hakim said he will issue instructions so the person who allegedly took the money is arrested. He asked the woman to visit the local police and promised to put in a word for her so she can earn a livelihood as a hawker.
Across Kolkata, there are hawkers on the footpaths. There are stalls outside the gates of Metro stations that reduce the width of the pavements, making it difficult for pedestrians.
“No hawker can sell space to someone else if they are quitting the space. Even giving the space on rent is not legal. I will ask the town vending committee to act against such hawkers,” Hakim said.
The town vending committee (TVC), comprising elected representatives, hawker leaders, police and government officials, is empowered to regulate hawking.
The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Hawking) Act 2014, passed by the Parliament, gave the powers to the committee.
Hakim said he wanted “the person who took the money to be arrested”.
“We have framed a hawker policy. The town vending committee will be determining which hawker will sit where. No one can sell a space when they quit”, Hakim said.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), on advice from the committee, is preparing a list of hawkers who will be given vending certificates that will mention the space they occupy and their location.
“We will give the hawkers a licence (the vending certificate), but that is not transferrable. The TVC will decide who will sit in the space that someone else has quit. The KMC will take a conservancy charge,” Hakim said.
The size of the table placed on the footpath on which wares to be sold are kept is often called a dala. The word also signifies the space that the hawkers occupy. Both police and hawker union leaders blame one another for taking money and allowing hawkers to sit on the footpath, without any regulation.
A hawker union leader admitted that space on footpaths is sold and that there was no limit to the price demanded.
“The demand is more in shopping hubs like Burrabazar, New Market and Chandni Chowk,” he said. “This is why we want that the certificates are handed over quickly. This will give protection to the hawkers against extortion by police, hawker unions and others.”
The certificates will also give ammunition to the police and the KMC to act against errant hawkers, he said.
There are about 2.5 lakh hawkers on Kolkata’s footpaths, of whom about 1.4 lakh are food hawkers.
Hawker leaders said during the Covid pandemic, many who lost employment set up stalls so the number of hawkers had increased. But as the economy started to roll, many of them went back to working in the sectors they had been employed in.