Slow start

Change, however delayed, is welcome. Over the years, successive governments in West Bengal have been criticized for their inability to rein in the menace of hawkers. It seems that the ruling Trinamul Congress has finally come up with a framework to outline measures to tackle the problem. 

  • Published 3.09.18
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Change, however delayed, is welcome. Over the years, successive governments in West Bengal have been criticized for their inability to rein in the menace of hawkers. It seems that the ruling Trinamul Congress has finally come up with a framework to outline measures to tackle the problem. Among its stated objectives, the West Bengal urban street vendors (protection of livelihood and regulation of street vending) rules, 2018 call for the setting up of a town vending committee that will identify and issue licences to street vendors. In 2015, applications for hawkers' licences were about 62,000; given the state of Bengal's economy, the figure is expected to have multiplied exponentially. Enumeration - never really the government's prerogative - is thus an immediate requirement. Vending in itself is not the issue. Vendors sell daily necessities at cheaper rates to consumers with limited purchasing power. But it is the political patronage that encourages hawkers to encroach upon public space that lies at the root of the problem. It has been estimated that hawkers spill onto the measly six per cent of road space that is available for Calcuttans. What is imperilled in the process is the city's aesthetic appeal. Littering by vendors is a menace. The tarpaulin sheets are certainly an eyesore, given that they obstruct the view to some of Calcutta's landmark buildings. Hawkers also use inflammable material to set up stalls: this poses a threat to lives, of buyers and sellers alike.

But none really knows when these salient directives would come into play. The delay - the municipal authorities had expected the rules to be implemented last month - raises questions about political will to force a change. Moreover, there are worries that the state regulations are likely to dilute the stringent provisions of the Street Vendors Act that was passed by Parliament to favour hawkers. This is only to be expected in a country where street vending reportedly constitutes 11 per cent of the non-agricultural employment. The other problem with the authorities concerns the insularity of their vision. Matching international standards of urban planning is not quite an imperative. Singapore cleaned up its streets, but only after relocating vendors to specified hawking centres. In Bangkok, vendors pay a monthly fee for the upkeep of the streets they occupy. Calcutta, however, continues to endorse obsolete models. Some of the hawkers who had been evicted from Salt Lake before the Fifa U-17 World Cup had not been compensated.

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