No business, hawkers in Kolkata count the losses as govt. goes on eviction overdrive

Vendors fear loss of livelihood as police officials and civic authorities begin survey across Kolkata and the State to assess encroachment of footpaths and roads by hawkers

Updated - June 29, 2024 11:04 am IST

Published - June 29, 2024 01:13 am IST - KOLKATA

Authorities dismantle stalls near the Sealdah station in Kolkata on Friday

Authorities dismantle stalls near the Sealdah station in Kolkata on Friday | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

Confusion and panic prevailed among thousands of hawkers and street vendors across Kolkata on Friday after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee directed civic authorities and MLAs to conduct a month-long survey of footpath encroachment by street vendors.

New Market, one of Kolkata’s busiest and most-crowded shopping hubs, wore a deserted look on Friday afternoon after a two-day eviction drive invoked fear among vendors. The street that would remain packed with a variety of goods, remained empty as most hawkers shut their stalls and huddled in groups, anxiously discussing what their future held.

“For the last few days, the police have been telling us to close our shops. This is our daily livelihood. How will we survive if we can’t resume selling our wares,” asked Mohammed Farooq, 21.

Mr. Farooq said his father sold jewellery on the streets for two decades before he took over the business. He said keeping shops closed for one day has a ripple effect on the families dependent on street-side business. “For the past few days, all of us have been waiting anxiously for a concrete plan of action from the corporation. Nothing is clear to us. Lakhs of us will not have a livelihood if this continues,” he said.

Hawkers shut their stalls on Friday in Kolkata’s busy New Market area following police orders

Hawkers shut their stalls on Friday in Kolkata’s busy New Market area following police orders | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

On Thursday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in a meeting with civic authorities, senior police officials and MLAs, ordered the conduct of a month-long statewide survey to assess encroachments by street vendors. “The survey started from Gariahat today. Then we will compare it with earlier data. A mobile application is being developed which will be approved by the Chief Minister. With GPS data, hawkers will be given a proper spot,” said Mayor of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation Firhad Hakim. He said warehouses for hawkers are also in the works in Gariahat and in Behala, busy localities in south Kolkata.

Puja Roy, 27, who sells cosmetics on a small mat outside the New Empire building, said since Tuesday she had to keep her goods aside, waiting for instructions from the police. “I have been running my business since I was a child to support myself. I did not want my daughter to continue my business, so I enrolled her in a good school. But how can I afford her education if I lose my livelihood overnight,” she asked.

On a good day, Ms. Roy earns around ₹700. She said she does not want to survive on funds from the Lakshmir Bhandar, the West Bengal government’s monthly scheme for women. “I want to support my family through my business. I do not even use any plastic cover for my goods. Yet I have been asked to shut shop,” she said.

Monu Ray, a 53-year-old vendor in the New Market area who sells belts, said hawkers have been “facing losses every day”.

“Our shop is 49 years old. It was originally my father’s. This is our livelihood. We do not have a lot of resources. Where will we go if our shop remains closed? There is no proper communication from the government. Everyone is saying different things. There is a lot of uncertainty and confusion in the air,” he said.

In Gariahat, another popular street shopping destination, stalls remained open, but uneasiness prevailed among the hawkers. “Today, the authorities visited our shops for the survey. They didn’t say they will remove us, they just checked our documents,” a vendor who sells handbags and wallets near the Gariahat crossing told The Hindu. He said civic authorities checked his Aadhaar card and hawker card as part of the survey.

Gariahat Indira Hawker Union general secretary Debraj Ghosh said hawkers are facing “so much competition from the retail market and malls, that they will go out of business even before the government eviction”.

While Mr. Ghosh said he “trusted the good work of the Chief Minister”, he said it is worrying that there are more than 2 lakh hawkers in Kolkata even though the last survey pegged the number at 61,000. He said there are not enough organised markets and footpaths in the city to accommodate so many hawkers.

However, the Joint Hawker Forum, New Market, and its leaders Sunny Shaw, Mohammad Imtiaz, Mohammad Shahnawaz, and Mohammad Saif Ali, remained hopeful. “Didi (referring to the Chief Minister) will not destroy our livelihood. We are sure she will come up with some plan to resettle the hawkers in a more organised way than before,” the forum said.

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