The city of Kolkata is flourishing. Yet it has many problems. Pavements in the city occupied by the hawkers have made the city life most deplorable. The problem has been aggravated since the partition of Bengal in 1947 and again during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. The displaced persons from the then East Pakistan, and thereafter from Bangladesh, started petty business on the pavements for want of proper settlement for their livelihood. Some others of the surroundings added their stalls too. Now the problem posed by the hawkers is growing graver day by day.
The hawkers use the footpath as tax-free and rent-free open spaces for their stalls. These stalls obstruct free movement of the passersby because of the narrowing of space. They are sometimes compelled to walk on the streets instead of on the footpaths. As a result, the streets become crowded causing accidents and traffic jam. Now the Government and the Corporation of Kolkata have taken it as a serious problem and duly notified to close their stalls on the pavements and make it elsewhere. The ‘Sunshine’ operation has also been done. But the trade unions support the cause of the hawkers and insist on their rights to use the pavements for going on their business as before. However, some hawkers have been moved away from the pavements and in some areas, they have been rehabilitated and allowed to resume their business afresh. It has also been decided that some Hawkers’ Corners should be built where the hawkers will be allotted suitable spaces to resume their trade as thousands of families are dependent on them. But despite all attempts for rehabilitation, the hawkers are often agitating for their rights and blocking the streets for meeting their demands. The hawkers, in fact, have lost the sympathy of the public because the government has offered them an alternative location for their trade, and still they are creating problems for the city life. Meanwhile, it is reported that some hawkers have committed suicide as they have lost their means of earning their livelihood.
The problem cannot be denied as some fifty thousand hawkers earn their livelihood by trading on the pavements of the city. This has become a social problem and the demand of the trade unions for the rehabilitation of the hawkers cannot be easily brushed aside. In this connection, it should be understood that the streets of the city have not increased in the ratio of the vehicles multiplied rapidly. If the hawkers remove their business elsewhere, the vehicles can move smoothly, and the people may be happy to use the pavements of the city to reach their destination. Under the circumstances, the hawkers should leave the pavements for the commuters, and they should better accept rehabilitation elsewhere as offered to them. The city of Kolkata may regain its former cleanliness if the hawkers leave the pavements and city streets as desired by all concerned. The city life would be normal and ideal if the hawkers are settled at suitable places where they can resume their trade again. The trade unions including the business communities should extend their cooperation with the government for a solution. Otherwise, the use of force will make the situation bitter. In other big cities of the world and in some cities of India too, hawking on the pavements is not allowed as easy movements can hardly be ignored. Unfortunately, in some Asian countries, trading on the main streets, pavements and railway stations have become a common affair. Consequently, public health and laws have become less important and ignored. It has become a nuisance to public life and this nuisance must be stopped at any cost. Of course, the government should set up more Hawkers’ Corners so that the hawkers are not thrown out of employment.
In fine, we can say that for the sake of civic life, the steps taken by the government to remove the hawkers from the main streets and pavements of the city appear justified. Let us hope that Kolkata should flourish with its hawkers-free pavements as desired by all concerned, and the over-crowded “City of Dirt’ should really become a ‘City of Joy’,