A month after the Elphinstone railway station stampede in which 23 people were killed, senior BMC officials have admitted that there is no long term solution possible to the problem of hawkers encroaching on public spaces until the Town Vending Committee is formed. Meanwhile, the MNS is forcibly evicting hawkers from around railway stations. After the stampede, the municipal commissioner had directed all ward officials to evict hawkers who sell their fares at the entrance of railway stations and to double the penalty levied on them to discourage them from returning.
Senior civic officials said removal of illegal hawkers was a continuous process and the problem could only be resolved once hawkers were given designated areas. “Unauthorised hawkers are a recurring problem. The only lasting solution is marking out vending areas and shifting hawkers there, which can only be done once the Town Vending Committee is constituted. Till then, all we can do is keep removing the hawkers and hope the increased fine amount will discourage them from returning,” said a senior civic official.
After the state government notified the rules to set up the Town Vending Committee in August 2016, the civic administration prepared a list of representatives as members of the committee. “Following the rules given by the urban development department, we drew up a list of names representing residents’ welfare associations, NGOs, a local bank, traders and market associations along with members from police, traffic police, health department and MMRDA. We sent the list to the department a month ago and are waiting for its approval before proceeding further,” said another senior civic official.
Following the stampede, MNS chief Raj Thackeray had called for an “anger march” as a sign of protest. At the rally, he had given an ultimatum to the Central Railway and the Western Railway to remove illegal hawkers from areas near railway stations within a period of 15 days. On Saturday, several MNS party workers forcibly removed hawkers from railway stations in Thane, Kalyan, Ghatkopar, Andheri and Santa Cruz.
Sandeep Deshpande, former corporator and MNS leader, claimed that the party workers were doing the job of the Railways and the BMC. “We had warned them — if they don’t remove the hawkers in 15 days’ time we will do it our way. Action should be taken against these officials who are not doing their job. We simply want authorities to take the issue seriously and remove the hawkers instead of waiting for another stampede-like situation to happen,” he said.
Referring to the MNS’s actions as “thuggery”, Dayashankar Singh, president of the Azad Hawkers Union, alleged that the issue was a political one and the state government was backing the MNS on it. “The government definitely has an agenda behind this and is encouraging MNS party workers to take up this drive and vandalise hawkers’ stalls. The Elphinstone Road stampede had nothing to do with hawkers. Why is there a problem all of a sudden when the government has been sleeping for the past three years and is not even able to set up the Town Vending Committee,” he asked.
At the BMC’s monthly meeting held on October 7, Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta had instructed ward officials as well as the deputy municipal commissioner to take up a joint demolition drive with the Railway Police in areas outside railway stations as well as the foot overbridges. Additionally, the BMC had implemented other measures such as increasing the fine and taking action against gas companies supplying cylinders to unauthorised hawkers to ensure that they don’t return.
On October 11, Raj Thackeray also met Mehta and suggested that a WhatsApp number be operationalised for use by residents as a platform for grievance redressal regarding hawkers. While Mehta had appreciated the suggestion, he had said the BMC would come up with an application resembling the pothole tracking software. Some civic officials, however, pointed out that the application could be misused. “We are still trying to come up with the software for a robust application. But it’s not a very viable solution since it can be misused by people who have a personal vendetta against hawkers,” said an official.
Officials from various wards said they had been conducting the drive against illegal hawkers daily to ensure they don’t return. Officials from L ward said they had placed an encroachment removal van at the entrance of Kurla station. “We place BMC vans at the stations every morning and evening in Kurla East and West. The hawkers have started cooperating now since we confiscated their goods,” said Ajit Kumar Ambi, Assistant Municipal Commissioner of L ward.
In A ward, which includes Churchgate and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway stations, BMC vans have been stationed at the entrances in three shifts throughout the day.