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Calcutta's New Town a tinderbox

Stalls made of bamboo, plastic and tin occupy pavements in front of almost every housing and office complex

By Snehal Sengupta in Calcutta
  • Published 9.02.19, 5:06 PM
  • Updated 9.02.19, 5:06 PM
  • 2 mins read
Stalls near Balaka Housing Complex in New Town Telegraph picture

A sprawl of road and pavement-grabbing shacks has grown allegedly uncontrolled within this otherwise planned township of parks, boulevards, smart residential highrises and mixed-use buildings with Manhattan facades.

The dangers posed by illegal constructions lining the lanes of New Town came to the fore on Wednesday night when a fire that started in a shack spread rapidly to destroy a row of 40-odd stalls and kill a trader who was trying to douse the flames.

Mohammed Insaan Mollah, the 30-year-old victim, was fatally struck by a piece of metal from the shell of a gas cylinder that exploded during the fire. The incident occurred in front of the Sukhobrishti housing complex, around 6km from the Unitech intersection in Action Area III.

Metro drove through the township on Friday to find stalls made of bamboo, plastic and tin occupying pavements in front of almost every housing and office complex. Most of these stalls are eateries that store gas cylinders and cook in the open.

“They not only encroach on the pavements but also don’t care about safety. We live in fear that a fire will start any moment and spread to our complex,” said Mohua Chakraborty, a 29-year-old resident of Animikha Housing Complex near the Nazrul Tirtha cultural centre in Action Area I.

Calcutta mayor Firhad Hakim had issued a directive to the hawkers unions recently to ensure that tarpaulin and plastic are not used to cover roadside stalls. This was after the blaze in the Traders Assembly building in Gariahat that is suspected to have started in a stall on the pavement.

Hawkers’ shacks around 200m from Westin Hotel
Hawkers’ shacks around 200m from Westin Hotel Telegraph picture

In New Town, the stretch behind Nazrul Tirtha that leads to the Rail Vihar Complex in AF Block has more than 150 stalls encroaching on pavements. It is the same behind the New Town bus stop and in front of Home Town Mall near the clock tower. Both pavements outside the DLF II complex, around 2.3km from New Town police station, have also been taken over by stalls.

A fruit and vegetable vendor said he had been doing business in front of the Sukhobrishti complex for more than five years. His stall, which escaped the blaze on Wednesday night, remains open from 6am till 1.30pm and 2pm till 11.30pm.

“We catered to the first residents who had moved into this complex long before any market or mall opened in New Town,” Nabidul Mollah said. “You cannot just ask us to go now.”

A senior official of the New Town Kolkata Development Authority (NKDA), which is the civic custodian of the township, said more than 100 vendors had been “rehabilitated” already in the food parks near DLF I and another near the Unitech intersection.

Two more food parks are being built near the Sukhobrishti complex and Ecospace, the office annexe in Action Area II.

Hidco chairman Debashis Sen, who is also the NKDA chief, said a large group of street vendors would be rehabilitated in the new food parks within the next four months. “Both parks are nearing completion. We have asked all vendors not to use plastic and tarpaulin till then.”

According to another NKDA official, every encroachment drive so far has faced “huge resistance” from street vendors.