The Ghost Bazaar
Ashok Rawat (70) is used to the chaotic streets of Dadar (West), where he has lived for most of his life. But if there’s one thing that continues to irk him, it’s the cacophony of hawkers who spill out from the footpaths and onto the roads around Dadar station and Plaza cinema, leaving him no space to walk or drive.
“It’s been a problem for years. Hundreds of vegetable and cloth vendors spread out their wares on the road; only two of the six lanes are left for traffic,” said Rawat, a member of Dadar’s G-North Ward citizens’ forum.
In March, Hindustan Times and Ipsos Indica Research conducted a survey of over 10,000 Mumbaiites and simultaneously held discussions with citizen groups across the city. In the discussion on Dadar, the problems caused by hawkers and the incessant traffic jams in the area had emerged as a key concern.
In a tiny lane off N.C. Kelkar Road, as if to mock Rawat and others like him, stands Hawkers’ Plaza — a five-storey municipal building built in 2002 with Rs 29 crore of taxpayers’ money. It was supposed to house hawkers from all of Dadar’s major roads, but except for the semi-wholesale cloth vendors who occupy the ground and first floors, the place is run-down, barricaded and vacant.
Both residents and hawkers had their hopes riding on the plaza when Manohar Joshi’s government commissioned it in the late 1990s. Constructed in place of the fish and flower markets of the old Nana Patil Mandai, the market promised not just clear roads but also an upgraded commercial area for vendors.
More than eight years later, as hawkers refuse to move in, the building has turned into a white elephant.
“We were told it would be a world-class market like the ones in Singapore, and that we would get shop space for free,” said Avinash Phatak, a retired leader of a hawkers’ union. But when the market was ready, they were asked to cough up almost Rs 1 lakh for each 15 sq ft stall. “If the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) wants to make Dadar hawker-free, why charge those who can’t pay?”
According to BMC officials, who work from a room on the market’s ground floor, the decision to charge hawkers was made by the new government. “Most of the hawkers refused to come, and filed cases against the BMC. The few who did pay for stalls on the upper floors, never moved in,” said an official requesting anonymity.
Besides the cost, hawkers have good reasons for staying away. “Who will climb two, three of four floors to buy vegetables or a mere handkerchief?” said Phatak. “The goods we sell are cheap — things people buy quickly from the streets on their way back from work.”
Another hindrance is the building plan — from the second floor upwards, the stalls are not clearly demarcated with walls and shutters; there are only long rows of counters for temporary use. “Does the BMC expect us to pack our wares every evening and clear the place, just like we would do on the streets? They haven’t even provided functional lifts to carry goods up and down,” said Phatak. “Rs 29 crore was wasted. The market has no value.”
Points of View
The civic body has announced a redevelopment policy for the 92 markets under its wing. Residents and urban planners suggest how to revamp and rescue Dadar’s Hawkers’ Plaza.
Anant Gadgil, Urban Planner: Vertical markets for everyday goods are inconvenient for consumers and hawkers; their concerns must be taken into account while planning them. Now that the building is already built, the higher floors can be used for shops selling commercial goods that are not bought frequently, such as heavy electronics. Hawkers should be relocated in regularised hawking zones at the ground level.
Ashok Rawat, activist: According to the 74th amendment of the Constitution, local residents must be consulted for all development projects. Dadar is centrally located, and wholesale or semi-wholesale markets cause great congestion. The building can be turned into an integrated retail market for perishables and non-perishables, with heavy goods sold on the higher floors. Revamping costs can be borne by the municipality, vendors and consumers in the form of shares.