‘Corporation should renew efforts to earmark space for hawkers’

A stroll on most of Coimbatore’s roads is not a pleasurable activity anymore. Pedestrians dread walking along the roads as there is no space – vehicles have taken over road margins to push pedestrians towards the middle of the road. The only alternative – pavements – are equally unfriendly as they are either under the encroachment of hawkers or too uneven for a tireless walk.

For the hawkers or roadside vendors, it is a question of livelihood as they cannot afford to take on rent permanent structures. Caught between the pedestrians and hawkers are the Coimbatore Corporation and the Coimbatore City Police, which will have to provide a solution that is acceptable to all concerned. The two government agencies got a chance to regulate the hawkers when the Central Government came out with the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors in 2009.

The Corporation as the nodal agency was tasked with taking on board the workers to form a Town Vending Committee, whose job was to earmark places for vendors depending on the road, license their business to prevent harassment and ease congestion on pedestrian pathways.

The Committee went threadbare into the issue, spoke to the hawkers, roped in the police, listed the hawkers and waited for the Corporation to act. The wait continues, say sources. Meanwhile, the initiative lost steam as officials who were involved were transferred out of Coimbatore.

This has left the vendors at the mercy of the police, who only have an archaic law to deal with the hawkers. The police sources say they deal with the hawkers under the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Town Nuisances Act, 1889. The maximum fine is Rs. 50. The police do not have powers to seize the goods or force the vendors to pay the fine. They can only approach the court for a warrant if the vendors do not turn up in the court to pay the fine, the sources say.

They want the Corporation to renew the efforts to earmark space for the hawkers as the move is part of the larger initiative aimed at regulating traffic in the city.

For the hawkers too the move will bring the necessary relief, says A. Nelson Babu, Coimbatore District General Workers’ Union, a CITU affiliate. He says there are 10,000 hawkers who sell food, kerchiefs, toys, flower, plastic goods and much more. Most of the roadside vendors are former mill employees who have taken to such business to keep the family going. They are not against regulation but only demand a fair, transparent system that recognises their existence.

Sources in the Corporation say they are looking into the issue and will come out with a solution at the earliest.

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