I was in for a pleasant surprise when I visited Sector 17 Shopping Plaza a couple of weeks ago- all spruced up, free of the clutter created by the vendors who had virtually seized the entire area around the fountain, pavements and also the corridors in front of the showrooms.
It was way back in 2017 that the shopping plaza was declared ‘No vending zone’, but in the absence of any action against illegal squatters and encroachers, vendors multiplied by the day, converting the posh market into veritable flea market. Forced by the Punjab and Haryana High court, the Chandigarh administration which had been turning a blind eye to the menace of hawkers spurred into action. As a result of the massive cleansing operation carried out by the MC and Chandigarh police, hawkers have disappeared from Sector 17 giving it an open look, restoring the glory of the iconic market.
However, not only the vendors of Sector 17 market have been removed but every sector market has been cleared of encroachers and kiosks. Gone are the fruit-vegetable rehris, the golgappa /chaat stalls and the illegal kiosks from markets in every sector. The road side tandoors have been dismantled. The dyers operating on the pavement have gone into hiding. The parking areas are less cramped but, I can still see a couple of permanently parked vehicles in almost every market encroaching upon the limited parking space. These rusted vehicles with flat tyres are not abandoned vehicles but, improvised godowns of shopkeepers used for stacking their goods at virtually no cost.
I felt happy that the payments and roadsides have been cleared of all the vendors till the time I met a dhobi who makes his living by ironing clothes in my locality. Every day on my way to the neighourhood park, I am greeted by Radhe, the affable young dhobi. The other day when I walked past his shack at the corner of the payment, the place looked desolate and poor Radhe crestfallen. He had been warned by the police to pack up. “How will I provide for the family?” he asked.
As long as hawkers were just some unknown entities, their fate did not bother me. I felt good that MC has eventually got rid of the venders but the interaction with the dhobi made me feel the pain. I realized how big a tragedy it is to lose one’s means of livelihood. The Municipal Corporation has relocated the non essential category vendors to the alternate sites. The vendors falling in essential category like dhobis, cobblers, barbers etc. are not being dislocated. However, the issue is majority of them are not registered with MC. In fact, the number of registered vendors is much smaller as compared to the vendors and hawkers actually operating in the city. Hence many may lose their livelihood.
How can we snatch away the right of the poor to make a living? How will they eke out their subsistence? Engrossed in my thoughts as I was walking down , I was shaken by the sound of a horn. The driver wanted me to get aside to let his car pass. I realized I was not walking on the pavement but on the lane meant for the vehicles. Where is the pavement for the pedestrians? There are cars parked on the sides of the park and on the road. The public land in front of the houses has been converted into the lawns, well maintained or unkempt.
I empathize with the vendors, but also understand that we cannot let the city be swamped by the illegal squatters and encroachers. However, if we really want our roads, streets and markets to be wider and neater, all encroachments have to go whether by the shopkeepers, the house owners or the vendors.
(Published on January 30, 2020 in Chandigarh Tribune)