Monday, May 20, 2024

Relocation of hawkers


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The State Government has stated that about 200 hawkers would be relocated in the MUDA complex to make the entire Police Bazar stretch a pedestrianised zone. This is much needed considering that pedestrians have been inhibited from walking in every part of the city even if they choose to walk rather than drive. Shillong city is pedestrian unfriendly because most footpaths have been taken over by hawkers. A classic case is that of the footpath alongside Civil Hospital, Shillong. Then we have Laitumkhrah which has made walking especially for the sight-impaired and the disabled extremely precarious. The question is whether the hawkers will agree to shift and if they don’t, whether the Government has the will to use the force of law against them. This is city where people don’t make a public issue of something as basic as the rights of a pedestrian. The problem is also that hawkers are multiplying by the day and they are coming from the rural outback where there are no livelihoods.
About 80% of Meghalaya’s people live in her villages but with 76 % of these rural settlers becoming landless there is no incentive for them to stay back in the villages. With no farmland on which to grow vegetables and rice or other crops why would villagers want to stay in the villages? In Shillong these hawkers live in miserable conditions in one or two room homes in some of the slum areas where there are no toilets and no running water. Its not as if people want to leave their villages but there are compulsions. At times their children who pass out of Class 10 and have to shift to Shillong for Classes 11and 12 and later for college. Most villages only have up to Class 10 and children have to migrate to Shillong and stay in rented accommodation. They are left to themselves. In some cases their mothers accompany them and they rent accommodation. This is expensive in Shillong. This forces the mother to find a livelihood of which hawking is the only option.
Poverty in Meghalaya is a reality and the economic divide is growing. A socio-economic study is needed to help the state understand the reasons for stark poverty and what could be the alleviating factors. The consultants employed by the Government should spend time in rural areas where the comforts of city life are out of reach. Power is available only on some days. If there is a squall it will take weeks for electricity to be restored. Water is not a luxury that comes through taps. Transportation is difficult for those relying on public transport. In short what is taken for granted in Shillong are luxuries for the rural folks. When and how can this divide be bridged? The hawkers represent the larger problems of the bulk of the population in Meghalaya.

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