How long will action against hawkers, encroachment last in Mumbai?

Following the tragic stampede at the Elphinstone Road station’s foot overbridge (FOB), in which 23 people died, the Railways has started removing hawkers who disrupt the movement of commuters on the FOB and station premises.

mumbai Updated: Nov 14, 2017 00:29 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation,Railways
A hawker-free Thane station. (HT FILE)

In the past few weeks, there has been crackdown on hawkers and certain encroachments in the city.

Following the tragic stampede at the Elphinstone Road station’s foot overbridge (FOB), in which 23 people died, the Railways has started removing hawkers who disrupt the movement of commuters on the FOB and station premises. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which was taking sporadic action at some places, too joined the drive and started removing hawkers from 150-meter zone from the railway stations.

This action should have been taken long ago but as it happens with several other decisions or initiatives, the authorities swung into action only after a tragic incident took place and innocent lives were lost. After a long time, entering and leaving the suburban railway stations has become slightly better (slightly because at many stations, autorickshaws are still partially blocking the entrance) and the FOBs don’t look like exclusive hawking plazas sponsored by the Railways or the BMC.

Whether both these authorities will stick to their stand or the hawkers will return after some time remains to be seen. As of now, there seems to be some will to keep the hawkers away. On the other hand, following the Bombay high court’s different orders, the civic body has been removing slums from around the pipelines supplying drinking water to the city and demolishing illegal shrines on footpaths.

The citizens will welcome this action to remove hawkers and encroachment. It however leads to another question: What about the officers who let the hawkers or encroachment come in the first place? Why no action is being taken against them? What about the politicians who protect such illegal activities by pressurizing the administration not to take action in such cases?

For the past few decades, the problem of encroachment and illegal slums has been troubling the city. While citizens rue the failure of the authorities to stop loss of various public spaces to the encroachment, several politicians see this as an opportunity to increase their vote banks.

Across Mumbai, there are barely any footpaths left where the citizens can walk freely, without the fear of being knocked down by a car or a two-wheeler. Civic chief Ajoy Mehta has asked his administration to clear footpaths, but at most places the local level staff seems to be unwilling to do so. But then, that rarely surprises Mumbaiites. We are used to this. In fact, it is the action taken in and around the railway station that surprised us.

Now, since various authorities have started crackdown on illegal hawkers and encroachment, it would make sense to find out the concerned officers who allowed the illegal activities. It is an open secret how it is a lucrative business for the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats to encourage illegal encroachments in the city.

There are legal provisions to punish the guilty officers for dereliction of duty if they have allowed encroachment in their jurisdiction.

Even the elected representatives can be disqualified for protecting illegal structures. If the political and administrative authorities are serious about tackling the problem of illegal hawkers, who occupy every possible public space and encroachments in the city, those guilty of encouraging such activities should be made to face music.

This will also act as a deterrent for others. And of course, similar crackdown is needed on the builders who add illegal floors and against the structures built by the privileged ones by grabbing public spaces. Till such action is taken, encroachers and hawkers will keep mushrooming in the city, only to be removed temporarily after an incident like a stampede.

First Published: Nov 14, 2017 00:29 IST