On Sunday, several Pali Hill residents, including Bollywood celebrities, came out on the streets to oppose the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) move to demarcate a hawking zone in their area. The question they asked the civic body: Why should the posh residential area in Bandra have hawkers selling vegetables, fruits or clothes on footpaths outside bungalows or apartments of actors, fashion designers and businesspersons? Considering their clout, it is likely that the hawking zone at Pali Hill will turn into a no hawking zone soon.
This is not the first instance of citizens opposing hawkers outside their homes. Residents in several areas of south and central Mumbai too have objected to the hawking zones proposed in their areas. Many of them are also irked because it was they who guarded the pavements and prevented encroachments when the BMC failed miserably. Their efforts have come to a naught as the BMC has now demarcated the same pavements as hawking zones and proposes to create pitches for hawkers there.
It goes without saying that the hawkers’ policy, which the BMC is trying to implement, is going to be another headache for it - in addition to the controversy over the proposed development plan. The city is going to be divided into hawking and no hawking zones. Since nobody wants hawkers and peddlers right outside their homes, these protests are likely to take place in many areas across the city.
If anybody is responsible for the problems of too many hawkers, it is the civic body and the politicians. Going by official records, there has been a huge increase in the number of hawkers over past couple of decades. Before the BMC took up the task of preparing a policy on hawkers, their count was around 15,000. Now, officially it could be a little below a lakh. Unofficially, it could be three lakh or more.
In a country where unemployment is rampant, nobody would be surprised with the huge number of hawkers. They do have a right to livelihood. What is making citizens angry is the failure of the civic body to curb the number of illegal hawkers on our roads and pavements or just plain indifference towards the problem.
We have seen several pavements suddenly being occupied by hawkers — often even by the hawker-mafia. Local civic officials, police and politicians are accused of turning a blind eye or even helping them. Complaints from citizens are often ignored. In this city, everybody except common tax-paying citizens, have their lobbies supported by politicians and anti-social elements. In fact, whether it is the BMC or civic bodies of other major cities of Maharashtra, citizen convenience is probably the last thing on their agenda.
Since the controversy is about allowing hawking zones on footpaths, many Mumbaiites will wonder what the fuss is all about. In a large part of the city, especially suburbs, the footpaths are either already encroached or built in such a bad way that nobody would dare to use them. And in some places, they simply don’t exist. The city government, which has budget of over Rs30,000 crore, is so helpless that it cannot even build footpaths for the citizens to walk.
The local administration, the elected representatives and the ruling parties in the civic body feel no shame over the same. Walking is simply a nightmare for citizens, who make their way through crowd, illegally parked vehicles, hawkers and peddlers and sometimes, potholes. Sadly, citizens themselves do not bother to raise these questions when politicians come to their doors seeking their votes.
The citizens in Pali Hill came out on streets to prevent hawkers in their area. I wish more citizens start questioning the elected representatives and the municipal officers over the way the taxpayers’ money is being spent on roads, pavements or other civic work, which is often done in a haphazard manner.