Beltola Bazar - a lifeline that is turning out to be harassment
GUWAHATI: Beltola Bazar, one of the oldest traditional markets in Guwahati, which has been a lifeline of the Beltola locality for over two decades, is struggling for space now and at the same time giving a harrowing time to commuters.
A few years ago Gauhati High Court had restricted the vendors’ business hours to time limits but the nature of the market, with its heavy footfall, virtually overruled the court’s orders informally even if not on papers. The High Court had set time limits for the bi-weekly market which is set up on Sundays and Thursdays from Beltola Tiniali stretch to Jayanagar Chariali. On Sundays, the bazar was told to be set up from 5 am to 12 noon while on Thursdays from 5 am to 10 am. However, at present, Beltola market continues to function till 10 pm to 11 pm on both the days.
“To commute through the Beltola market on Thursdays has slowly become impossible. Arrival of more vendors in recent times has made the place more crowded. It would be quite impossible for emergency services to ply in times of need,” a resident staying near the market said.
“While Beltola market is important for people staying nearby to cater to their requirements of vegetables and other commodities, a strict timing is the need of the hour for convenience of commuters.
The Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) has a bigger and stricter role to play in this,” another resident said.
The vendors of Beltola Bazar mainly come from Kharupetia, Nagaon, Barpeta, Nalbari, Sonapur, Boko, Byrnihat and Singra. There are around 700-800 vendors that include permanent and fleeting ones.
“To travel from a distant place to Beltola with vegetables is not an easy task. A time limit would kill most of our business hours. We are not illegal either as we pay taxes against our trade to GMC,” a vendor from Barpeta said.
“A respective time limit would be problematic for the vendors. We have called on the government for setting up of 9 vending zones in the city. The government’s decision is pending on the issue,” Organizing Secretary of Street Vendors’ Association, Tultul Kachari Sonowal said.
About 40 per cent of the vendors have been plying their trade at the market for more than 10 years and the rest for about 5 years.
Completion of permanent market building remains a distant dream
Construction of a multi-storey building adjacent to the market was taken up in 2014 by the authority to accommodate the vendors. However the construction hasn’t seen any sign of completion till date.
“The contractor who was assigned the construction of the building sought the High Court’s intervention when he was deprived of his payments. He was later paid upon the High Court’s intervention. He however, didn’t complete the work due to other reasons. The building was initially meant to be four storeyed but due to some technical fault it has been reduced to one storey. The GMC has been blind to this issue for long,” an official source said.
Vendors, however, are apprehensive of the fact that they would at all get any space in the multi-storey building. However, they shied away from vending in the upper floor and rather chose to vend in the open.
Beltola Bazar a heritage market
Beltola is a traditional market that was earlier a small “haat” market when it was part of the Beltola Kingdom. A Guwahati chapter research work on vending in India namely, “Street Vending in Guwahati: Experiences of Conflict” by Centre for Urban Equity, CEPT University in Ahmedabad and Society for Social Transformation & Environmental Protection (sSTEP) has revealed that though a multi storey market is under construction for vendors in Beltola, it is very difficult to tell whether both vendors and customers would go there for trade.
The capacity of this multi-storey building to accommodate 700-800 vendors is also doubtful. As Beltola is an old, traditional and historical market, the entire stretch from Beltola Tiniali to Jayanagar Chariali should be declared as “heritage market” by GMC. The traffic should be diverted towards Beltola Chariali from Beltola Tiniali and towards the national highway from Jayanagar Tiniali on Thursdays and Sundays, it said.
Potable water, toilet and space crunch for vendors
Vendors are of the view that even if heavy taxes are collected through lessees by GMC they are deprived of space, toilet and potable water. Vendors said that absence of demarcated spaces for individual vendors lead to chaos on market days. The June-October period sees more vendors in the market resulting in space crunch.
Absence of public toilets has been a source of harassment for the vendors since time immemorial.Vendors who come from distant places to the market and reach at night have cited absence of toilets as a major problem. Vendors, upon asked what they do to answer nature’s call, cited that they had no way out other than using toilets of people staying nearby or preferred going to distant places. Women vendors face the brunt of this problem the maximum. The rising concern of open defecation by the vendors in absence of public toilets cannot be negated.
“I consume less water during business hours to cut down going to the toilet,” a Garo women vendor said.
The research by CEPT University and sSTEP has recommended that to prevent exploitation by private parties, the GMC should create representative market management committees that can safeguard the interests of vendors. It also recommended formation of street vending committees and zonal vending committees in all markets.
The research further suggested that as tax collection through lessee has revealed an exploitation of the vendors, the GMC should collect tax by engaging their own employees or strictly monitor the taxation system of lessee.
“As per rough estimate, the GMC earns revenues of Rs 26 lakhs per year from Beltola market (if there are minimum 500 vendors and each pays Rs 50 per market day). Looking at the amount of revenue earned by the local government, it is imperative for the authorities to provide basic amenities such as shade, potable water, public toilet, storage and night shelter to the street vendors of Beltola market,” it said.