Footpaths and cat-and-mouse game

Dhaka,  Sun,  23 July 2017
Published : 16 Mar 2017, 21:23:38
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OPINION

Footpaths and cat-and-mouse game

S.H. Zahid
A sort of cat-and-mouse game is on between hawkers and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) officials over unauthorised occupation of footpaths. 

The DSCC mayor appears to be bent on evicting the hawkers from the sidewalks of busy Gulistan and Motijheel areas to facilitate unhindered movement of pedestrians, particularly during busy hours. 

There were violent clashes between hawkers and police during the eviction drives taking place in recent weeks. The hawkers staged street demonstrations protesting the DSCC action and demanded their proper rehabilitation before displacing them from the sidewalks. But the DSCC is found unrelenting. With help from the police it sporadically swoops on the hawkers occupying busy sidewalks. 

Hawkers stayed away from the footpaths located in and around Gulistan and Motjheel areas immediately after the first coordinated eviction drive. Nor did they go to holiday markets that the DSCC earmarked for them. 

After waiting for some days they are now back on footpaths and spaces along the roads in Gulistan and its adjoining areas defying the DSCC order. But the hawkers are adopting a different modus operandi. Earlier, they used to display their goods on small wooden or bamboo-made cot-like structures. Since the DSCC people take away or smash those, they do keep their goods in baskets or long plastic sheets or on wheeled steel structures. The use of these items helps them move away hurriedly with their goods in the event of eviction drive carried out jointly by DSCC people and the police. 

In fact, under no circumstances the hawkers would leave these busy commercial areas since their business would drastically fall if they move out to other places. Moreover, they have some influential backers. The backing comes in exchange for money received in millions of taka daily from the hawkers. The backers include both men in or without uniform.  The people in the latter group are also linked to the ruling party. 

Besides, the drive to free sidewalks from hawkers is concentrated in a small area of the city. Most other pavements remain occupied by hawkers during peak hours. Pedestrians are forced to walk along the main roads  in most other areas of the city. 

The problem of hawkers occupying pavements in busy areas of the city is very old in nature. In the past also there were attempts to clear the footpaths. But success has always eluded the authorities. Over the years the problem has rather intensified with the number of hawkers growing unabatedly. The problem has also political and social dimensions that the city administrations can hardly ignore. 

But the question here is: why should pedestrians' right to use the pavements without any hindrance be compromised just for allowing some people to do businesses illegally? It is the job of the city corporation or any other designated organisation to keep the footpaths safe and secure for unhindered movement of pedestrians. If they are unable to do this, they should stop repairing footpaths using holding tax paid by the city residents or widen the roads dismantling pavements. Let the people do the jay walking as they are seen doing on most busy streets. 

zahidmar10@gmail.com

 
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