Guwahati – one massive vending zone

Monday, 28 May 2018

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Guwahati – one massive vending zone

Arindam Garg | May 13, 2018 11:50 hrs


As a dutiful citizen, I pay my taxes regularly, maintain discipline while driving on the road, parking my vehicle and walking on the street. I have ingrained into my children that they should not litter around, walk on footpaths, use the zebra crossings, etc. I also try to inculcate these virtues in my students and all and sundry that I meet. However, I am at a loss of words when my daughter raises questions like, “Papa, why these people are opening shops on the footpath when you say it is for pedestrians only?” or “Where is the zebra crossing?”

I recollect that most Guwahati streets were absolutely free from vendors when I was a child. Today there are hardly any streets that are free from hawkers. Technically there are twelve municipal and six leased markets in Guwahati as per the GMC website but in reality whole of Guwahati is a market. Hawkers are everywhere - in the smallest of lanes, bus stands and yes, even on top of walls. The footpaths in the narrowest of lanes are occupied by vendors; pedestrians are forced to walk on the road. Resultantly, the vehicles, to get their passage, keep honking and the poor pedestrians do not know where to go. It does not end here. Take a walk late evening or early morning, you will find garbage littered all around. Many accidents in the city can be attributed to people walking on the road because hawkers have occupied the footpath.

Currently, a number of roads are being constructed in Guwahati by the Public Works Department but it seems that the roads are being widened and the footpaths are being built not for pedestrians but for the benefit of roadside vendors. A new footpath invariably will have a new lot of hawkers vending their products. Even meat and fish are sold right on the streets. This is appalling. I still recollect the good old days when fish and meat were sold only in the designated markets. Resultantly, the pedestrian’s plight leaves him prone to fatal accidents.

Now, how did the situation get this bad? And more importantly who is bothered, if anybody is at all? A general apathy seems to have crept in all around – government bodies like the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) who are responsible for it, the civil administration including the police, the elected councillors and ward representatives and the general public too. The GMC is the apex body responsible for governing, developing and managing Guwahati. The district administration along with the police is responsible for supporting the government bodies in this. So the important question is why is nothing happening despite the fact that the system has rules that allow action to be taken? The district administration often comes up with orders banning plastic in Kamrup Metro, i.e., Guwahati. But this important order is never implemented. Nothing has happened; all of us are happily using plastic bags despite knowing the threats it brings to the environment. Recently, the administration declared some parts of Fancy Bazar as “No Hawking Zone” - a welcome step provided it is implemented in totality. Can’t we do the same with a few more areas and look at evicting the hawkers resettling them in some alternative designated vending zones? The rules are in place but perhaps the will to implement is what is missing. This is where the role of our elected councillors and ward representatives becomes very important. They need to facilitate public work and push the bodies to work in the interest of the citizens, elected as they have been for this and being paid for the same from the taxpayers’ money.

Finally, lets us come to the role of the general public. Aren’t we ourselves also responsible for the general mess all around us? This is introspection time for each of us. What is clear is the general feeling of indifference pervading the society. People are happy to give their opinions on social media on national and international news but we hardly do anything or comment on issues which actually concern us. “I do not have time,” seems to be the standard refrain. But frankly no great time is required. What is required are emails, phone calls and some minimum activity. Small initiatives like by organising awareness camps on related social areas, explaining the importance of general discipline in life to the lesser fortunate, forming vigilant citizen groups and advising & communicating with government officials and the councillors by telling them what needs to be done in our localities would go a long way.

I am not against hawking or against street vendors but we definitely cannot have the whole of Guwahati turning into one massive vending zone. Some day, I sincerely hope that I will proudly be able to tell my children, “Let’s take a walk in our lane” the same way my father used to tell me.

(Arindam Garg, Head Department of Management, Rajiv Gandhi University, is also a social activist and a career counsellor)

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