Need for a holistic approach to encroachment problem

CHENNAI May 7. There was a sense of futility in exercise during the late afternoon swoop on Loops Road, parallel to Santhome High Road, a few days ago by the Chennai Corporation officials as they removed more than 100 encroachments. A posse of police ensured that the operation was ``incident'' free.

The civic officials claimed successful implementation of a High Court directive. But it was only a routine incident in the lives of several residents living in relative poverty. For them, it is just a matter of time before they would resettle in some area and wait for another such raid.

A holistic approach towards encroachment and hawking continues to elude the city, even while the officials continue to carry out orders of the High Court. According to statistics available with the Chennai Corporation, more than 7,600 encroachments were removed from the 155 wards of the civic agency from 1996 to March, 2001. More ``successful'' operations have been completed in the following months, the most recent of which was the Loops Road eviction.

While on the one hand, the government has effected removal of encroachments to buy back the carriageway and pedestrian lanes, on the other is the mystery surrounding a committee set up to draw guidelines for hawking in the city.

The Justice Abdul Hadi Committee was constituted in 1998 to lay down guidelines for hawking in the city. The draft scheme outlining the guidelines for hawking in the city was presented in September last. But there has not been any progress ever since.

Sources say, the first draft of the committee is still pending before the First Bench of the High Court. The tenure of the committee had ended on September 10, 2001 and an extension was sought. The extension had not been granted and the committee has been defunct ever since. A writ petition is also pending against the draft scheme in the High Court. In its draft scheme published on September 25, 2001, the Committee had identified 49 arterial roads to be declared as `no- hawking' zones. Prior to the publication of the draft scheme, the committee panel had met representatives of registered footpath vendor associations on July 27 and September 4, 2001.

After the publication of the rolls, suggestions were called for once again. Till the first week of December, more than 100 suggestions were registered with the Corporation. But now, the encroachment removals continue without the solutions promised by the committee. According to a survey by Chennai Corporation, there are more than 7,000 `permanent' hawker encroachments in its ten zones.

Forcible eviction alone will not be able to solve the problem, academicians have argued. `The Corporation should think of models being followed in Singapore or other European countries where specific ``hawking zones'' are earmarked'', a National Seminar on the impact of Hawking on Traffic Management in Metropolitan Cities conducted by Anna University's Division of Urban Systems Development stressed in November last.Another a survey done by Penurimmai Iyyakam, a voluntary organisation working with footpath vendors, in October last detailed the economic conditions of the hawkers. They collected details from the hawkers of Bharati Road in Triplicane, Poonamallee High Road, Aminjikarai, Ayanavaram market, Mirsahibpet, Royapettah, NSC Bose Road, Allikulam, M.H. Road inPerambur, North Mada Street in Mylapore and Tana Street in Purasawalkam.More than 81 per cent of the respondents who spoke to the Iyakkam said they were heavily indebted to pawn brokers or local goondas. The vendors were being financed by `thandal' method, where they were used to paying a two to five per cent interest every day.

The encroachment removal drive could just a piecemeal arrangement till the hawking management is given a boost.

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