HT BHOPAL Live of October 19 carried a detailed account (Authorities give in to shopkeepers) and an ably written and poignantly presented piece in Prof Zamiruddin’s ‘In Stride’ column (BMC: Where are the old woman’s fruits?) relating to the issue of removal of encroachments from footpaths of New
Market, a busy retail trading centre in the heart of Bhopal. New Market has been a victim of a number of land use irregularities, not the least of which are the parking chaos, illegal hawker corners and squatting, encroachment of footpaths and road spaces by the regular shopkeepers and a host of other
illegal acts pertaining to the encroachments/illegal extensions, a lot too many to be recounted in this brief piece. This sort of lawlessness and chaos is not confined to Bhopal. Conditions are as bad or even worse in every town and city of India.
This has gone on for a long time with the administration feeling helpless to do anything against the ever-growing list of irregularities and illegalities.
Successive civic regimes did make some feeble attempts to right the wrongs but were always prevailed upon by politicians belonging to the ruling political parties who immediately got worried about the fall out of the operation fearing loss of carefully cultivated vote banks as the raids were sure to adversely affect their standing with their vote banks.
No wonder then that the sporadic drives, unwillingly taken up and weakly carried out to bring some order to the ubiquitous madness met with little success. Once civic officials backed by the police were out of sight, squatters were back to their old ways on footpaths and roads. This hide and seek has gone on in Bhopal as well.
Once again on October 18, the BMC sprang into action. Although the timing was not suitable because of Diwali eve when businessmen have maximum sale and make a lot of money, yet this time the BMC bigwigs were encouraged by the fact that the pleas for launching an eviction drive had come from traders/shopkeepers of New Market themselves who had complained that the squatters were eating into their business and deserved to be removed.
They failed to appreciate the fact that in most cases they themselves were as guilty of encroachments on the footpaths as others and had taken illegal charge of the adjacent footpaths and even parts of the roads to park their vehicles or spread their wares and that in any operation of this kind they could themselves come
under the pickaxe.
Trusting that this time the traders really wanted the encroachments to be removed, BMC officials accompanied by the police arrived on the spot to remove the encroachments. Like its predecessors when the latest operation got going, the regular shopkeepers realised to their horror the operation was not going to be confined only to petty traders and hawkers alone - they were also targets.
Ironically, those who invited the BMC and the police to remove the encroachments turned hostile when they found the tables had been turned on them. This led to a protest march and a chakkajam. The face off forced the administration to back off as quickly as they mounted the operation. It was a complete chaos for over two hours and the traffic never orderly in this part of the City was further thrown out of gear.
As it often happens and as aptly described by Prof Zamiruddin in his column mentioned above, it were a few small fries who suffered and had their fruits and wares confiscated and the other violators were back to business as usual on the footpaths.
The BMC and shopkeepers agreed to a truce till Diwali was over. Let us see what happens then. Given the deeply entrenched vested interests, it is highly unlikely that conditions will see any change for the better. What is lacking is the political will. The encroachers know that nothing will go beyond cosmetic drives.