Smita Patil (38) clasped her son Yash’s hands tightly before stepping out of her flat at S.V. Road in Bhayander (East). A little loosening of her grip would mean a possible separation of mother and child in the sea of hawkers they have to wade through to reach Yash’s school.
This is a practice Smita has been following for 15 years, ever since the first of her three sons started going to school.
Yash studies in Class 2 at Saint Francis School at Jaisal Park, barely half a kilometre away from his house at Shantivan Housing Society. Smita’s two other sons are dropped to the same school by her husband, Sanjay, before he leaves for work every morning. That leaves Smita the twin task of dropping off Yash at noon and escorting the two other sons back home. “Those two hours drain me,” said an exasperated Smita.
For the lakhs of residents of this densely populated, but badly planned suburb, the congestion caused by hawkers is as old as the suburb itself. Space is scarce and buildings have been built cheek by jowl.
Civic officials claimed they regularly conduct drives to ward off hawkers. “However, we cannot evict them till we provide them with hawking zones, as per a Supreme Court order,” said Shivmurty Naik, civic chief. He said once work on the eight hawking markets is complete, the problem would end.
However, residents said the problem persists due to the connivance of civic officials with the powerful hawker “mafia”. Even shops along the roads encroach upon the footpaths. This forces pedestrians to walk on the roads, creating traffic chaos. “If someone needs immediate hospitalisation, it would be impossible for an ambulance to get here on time. It would take 30 minutes just to cover a kilometre,” said Sanjay, a data operator in a publishing house.
Meanwhile, back home, Smita fed her sons, washed the utensils and prepared for a second plunge into the sea of humanity to fetch Yash back from school.