Evictions Without Alternatives: Are Kolkata Hawkers Being Left to Starve?

While authorities target some areas for hawker removal, others remain untouched, raising questions of fairness. Addressing illegal parking and providing alternative jobs are crucial for a balanced approach. And when it comes to encroachment, Kolkata Police is using Waqf property named Park Court, when will action be initiated against them? Asks a concerned citizen Asif Ali

Most of us are okay with the hawker eviction drive because they will give good pictures of Kolkata, free pavements and good business to shop owners. But my questions directed to the authorities and the government are: What is the rehabilitation plan for them? What alternative are you providing? Nobody wants to live as a hawker. Is Bengal sufficient in providing jobs? Kolkata lags behind all metro and non-metro cities in job creation. Who forced them to become hawkers? Let them be provided with a job first. If you can’t provide jobs, how do you justify taking away their livelihoods?

The unemployment situation in Bengal is dire; the unemployment rate for graduates is 9.7% and for higher secondary graduates, it is 8.7% up to March 2022, as per the Ministry of Labour and Employment report on Rajya Sabha on 10th August 2023. However, actual unemployment is much higher across other categories, forcing people into hawking, roadside vending, or doing menial jobs. This drive will add on to the unemployment numbers. So, where is the rehabilitation plan? What will be the source of revenue for these hawkers next month? Will they be able to pay their children’s school fees? You can’t snatch away their livelihoods without offering an alternative. Those enjoying this drive should be alert as this could affect your job too. Eviction should not happen without rehabilitation, otherwise poverty, begging, and theft could be on the rise. Do we want hawker families to starve on the streets until they die, and their children to be forced out of school because fees can’t be paid?

What about illegal car parking, which is causing more problems? What about car parking for affluent people on the roadside? Should I share a photo of vehicles parked in broad daylight, or that of streets like Elliot Road and CIT Road? These are main roads, not to mention smaller lanes. Does your rule apply only to the poor? Why are building plans approved and constructed without providing basement parking? Except for high rises, none of these plans, even for flats costing more than 40 lakhs, include parking spaces. So what about illegal car parking?

Encroachment of Waqf properties also happens. Many Waqf Estates are encroached upon by government offices or police. For example, the famous Park Court in 7-Point Crossing is a Waqf property that now houses the Office of the South East division! When will this issue be resolved?

Not conducting an eviction drive in Burrabazar raises serious questions. Why conduct the eviction drive in Chandni Market only and not in Burrabazar? Burrabazar is Kolkata’s busiest area, with hardly any room for four-wheelers near Satyanarayan Park AC market. Pedestrians must navigate jams to travel from one end to the other. Hundreds of hawkers encroach on the roads here. Yet, when the government is on a spree to remove hawkers across Kolkata, Burrabazar has been completely left out. This raises serious questions about why this area was omitted. The government needs to answer for this selective treatment. However, we oppose any drive without proper rehabilitation, whether in Burrabazar or elsewhere based on financial status.

Hawkers are integral to the status of other major cities. Sarojini Nagar Market and Janpath in Delhi, Crawford Market/Linking Road and Fashion Street in Mumbai, and Gandhi Bazar in Bangalore—all these places have hawkers and street shopping centers where even celebrities shop. A city market without these would be unimaginable. Conditions can be improved with discipline and adjustments, but not by removing them entirely.

Rehabilitation of College Street Booksellers showed us how, under the current government, they were relocated systematically around five years ago, preserving their livelihoods and improving their environment. I stand with the hawkers until a proper rehabilitation plan is in place.

Asif Ali

is a Chartered Accountant

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