Hawkers may have rights but what about responsibilities?


By Patricia Mukhim

 There are enough bleeding hearts to take up the cause of hawkers in this city and beyond it, but there is none to speak of the rights of the pedestrians. Is it fair that the whole stretch of road from Motphran right up to Paltan Bazar be turned into a hawkers’ paradise even while pedestrians have to walk on the road and face the risk of being run over by the multitude of vehicles that throng the area? This is also the busiest area of the city with bazaar buses, Tata Sumos and taxis crowding over each other. The person riding in a vehicle might not face the plight of a pedestrian. And this city actually still has a huge number of citizens who don’t own a private vehicle. I would invite those who shout out for the rights of hawkers to take a walk around Motphran down to the Khasi Hills District Council and see if they would still like to propose that hawkers continue with their right to open a shop wherever they want.

The hawkers have got a stay order from the courts in the same way that those who have encroached on the Wah Umkhrah have done. It makes me wonder what sort of legal counsel the Government has since all cases are won by private individuals. I cannot recall the Government winning a single case so far. Government officials, including senior ones have been dragged to court and berated in the open court but the Government can still not afford to pay a legal counsel that can help it vacate stay orders, which  on the face of it, militate against the larger good of the citizens of the State. Where in this country would you find encroachers getting a stay order so they can continue to build and stay on as illegal occupants on encroached land? Can the law be on the side of the illegal occupants? What kind of law is that?

It has often been said that the rule of law is not visible in Meghalaya. This is more apparent today than ever before. There are hundreds of people with a “Learners’ license driving around during school hours (when traffic is at its height and the roads are choc-a-bloc) but without a professional driver at the side when that is what the law stipulates. Then there are kids in uniform who hold the steering and drive at an abnormally high speed while their parents look on with conceit! I have seen several under-aged drivers almost on a daily basis but as a citizen I have no right to stop and fine such errant drivers. And the Traffic Police is not omnipresent. So what do we do other than lose our cool? Then there are drivers who slow down traffic because they are speaking on their mobile phones. Everyone does this even on the Shillong-Jorabat highway where drivers tend to drive at break-neck speed. And mind you we hardly see any highway traffic police except at places where trucks are likely to pass. And we know why.

Speaking of the rule of law, these days we also have young people who set up bars in their cars. These open air bars have resulted in huge fines accruing to the police department. The closure of some of the bars in the city has pushed regular tipplers to turn the darker areas of the city into evening bars. When social drinking is prohibited because of some silly order from the Excise Department you are bound to have people making the best use of the open air where no law enforcer can intrude. So these days we have the entire stretch of the Shillong – Umiam (Barapani) road turning into a car bar. No policeman ventures on this road at night. Or they don’t care to do so! At the Umiam Viewpoint every morning those who sweep the place have to collect hundreds of beer, whisky and vodka bottles. There is no place in this city where you will not find liquor bottles by the roadside. We are a citizenry that is out to break the law. If there is a signage prohibiting littering such as the Fire Brigade roundabout, you will find garbage thrown right there. It’s a different matter that garbage collection system has all but collapsed in most localities today.

On Thursday, the Dorbar Shnong of Mawlai and Mawiong along with the MLA met with the Municipal authorities and the Urban Affairs minister to draw the attention of the Department to the Marten dumping ground which apart from the stench has also turned slushy. The trucks leaving Marten carry with them a whole lot of mud and muck which is deposited on the highway. The question to the MUDA/Municipality is: Why is the road leading to Marten not black-topped? Why is the place so badly maintained? Are there no funds for maintenance of Marten? Why is everything so decrepit and at breaking point? Where is the urban governance going? Can we have an answer from the Urban Affairs Minister? What is really happening in the Government? Does anyone really know? Is anyone accountable?

These days not much work is getting done since the Government is unwell and is apparently undergoing treatment in Delhi. In the meantime the public is bearing the brunt of this impermanence and a sort of policy paralysis which has hit the MUA Government since May 19.

So the hawkers are now one up on the Government and they have some socialists to back them up. The trouble with the socialists is that they are good at stirring and fomenting anarchy but do not really have a solution to any problem. So if the hawkers are allowed to set up shop anywhere they want, do they also enjoy the inalienable right to litter the place? And the moment the district administration comes down on the hawkers then there is this familiar plea that they are poor and no one can take away their livelihoods. Fine argument but can the socialists who are also the cheerleaders for the hawkers, please allow them to set up shop in their localities or right in front of their homes for starters? That would be a good example of, “Charity begins at home.” Since these cheerleaders also live in some of the posh localities of Shillong it would be interesting to see if the Shnongs within which they live would allow hawking as a full time activity.

Frankly speaking, the Government here has been sleeping for a long time. It only wakes up in spurts and when it is put on the mat by sundry pressure groups. The Government should have demarcated areas that are out of bounds for hawkers for the simple reason that footpaths are meant for pedestrians, not for hawking.  Every city in the world has an identified flea market where hawkers can peddle their wares. Why is the Meghalaya Government taking forty years to identify such a place? And if after having identified the place and developed it, the hawkers refuse to move there then I believe the Government needs to get tough and ensure that the footpaths are cleared of hawkers. And in this there can be no communal divide. A hawker is a hawker whether he/she is tribal or non-tribal. The same sets of laws should apply in both cases.

I guess by now people know my politics. I have no patience for Leftist ideologies that have failed across the world but are sought to be enforced in this lawless state. I believe in the rule of law and anyone who contravenes that rule of law ought to be punished. If individuals and groups are allowed to violate the rule of law then anarchy will prevail.  There is already a certain level of anarchy in Meghalaya and I have pointed out the reasons why. We need a strong government that can enforce the rule of law and not be intimidated by larger than life pressure groups/activists.