The footpaths encircling Maheshwari Udyan, or King’s Circle, have long been a haven for book lovers on a budget. For the past two weeks, however, the spread of neatly stacked paperbacks has been missing from the streets. On March 14, book sellers at King’s Circle had to vacate the footpaths after a crackdown by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation against unlicensed hawkers in the area.
“They arrived in vehicles and confiscated my books. Many of my books got damaged as they were dumped along with food items seized from other hawkers here,” said Poothapandi Thevar, who has been selling a range of second-hand books in the area for the past 30 years.
Around 13 book sellers set up shop at various spots along the footpaths near King’s Circle. According to them, a popular South Indian restaurant in the vicinity complained to the civic body about increasing congestion due the street food stalls that have recently mushroomed on the stretch, and they have had to pay the brunt for it.
“In all my years of working here, I have never been asked to shut my business. We occupy only the corner spaces on the footpath and don’t cause any nuisance,” Thevar said.
After the municipal action, the book sellers attempted to resume business, only to be shut down again.
“I haven’t earned a single rupee today. Since we have not put up our collection for sale all these days, customers may have assumed that we have shut down,” said Satish Charate, who is carrying on a business begun by his father in the 1980s.
“We sell thousands of titles at cheap prices, benefiting scores of readers, especially students. These old book stalls characterise King’s Circle. We appeal to the officials to consider our case,”said Rajendra Karia, another seller.
Responding to the concerns, Keshav Ubale, assistant municipal commissioner of F North ward, said, “Action has been taken only against the hawkers, including book sellers, who do not have licences. The stretch had become a khau galli with too many hawkers on it. The action is in tune with the civic body’s policy of making footpaths encroachment-free for pedestrians.”
Ubale further said that the F ward is known for its prominent circles such as Maheshwari Udyan, Dadar TT and Sion Circle. “By removing hawkers, we are trying to maintain the beauty of the ward,” he added.
Another senior civic official said that if citizens want the book stalls back on the roads, they can write to the BMC. “We will the put it before the civic chief to take a call on it,” said the official.