Footpath mafia!

We need a strong administration to address the issue.

Few days back a walk through the city center Lal Chowk and adjoining areas was not only soothing but interesting as well. Overnight, almost all roadside vendors have vanished from this historic place and most of its adjoining areas. Clear roads, cleaner streets and enough space for pedestrians was a dream come true. Ultimately our roads, footpaths along with poor pedestrians got ‘Azaadi’. This wonderful situation proves that, ‘where there is a will, there is always a way’. Implementation of law is not impossible if law enforcing agencies are serious and mean business. However, the liberated space at several places was either occupied by shopkeepers by displaying their merchandise on footpaths or by habitual traffic violators who had parked their vehicles wrongly.Few months back a non-local labourer working at our work site did not turn up for work for several days and on inquiry he gave an interesting explanation. Beyond working as unskilled labourer the fellow would work as part-time footpath vendor after his routine working hours and on specific occasions when business is more rewarding he would place his cart at vital places in the city for the whole day. On inquiring further, he revealed that to place his four-wheeler cart at a specific place in the city he pays a substantial amount of ‘nazrana’ to certain officials and in turn earns a decent earning equivalent to several days’ wages as labourer. This revelation was an eye opener for a person like me with very little knowledge about such bizarre practice of exploitation and a well-established mafia involved in renting out our roads, footpaths and other open space at public places.

However, a simple resolution to implement law of the land in the best interest of administration and the people of this city changed not only the landscape of roads and streets of Srinagar, but put an end to murky business of vested interests.

Determination of administrative leadership proved its worth and made it clear that if it wants to clear streets of Srinagar, it can do it overnight. An administrative feat that could not be achieved in years was accomplished in days. Surprisingly, a large number of footpath vendors in Kashmir have their own shops and establishments, but to have good business they prefer to be on roads. A large number of roadside vendors in and around general bus stand Batmaloo, Lal chowk and Amirakadal area come under this category of vendors. This roadside market extending from cremation ground to Dalgate crossing is one of the most rewarding markets, where business turnover per day amounts to millions and obviously the nazrana money will be huge.

A good number of vendors and people selling their stocks on roads are not there by choice but circumstances compel them to be like that. They are not only victim of deprivation and official apathy, but are equally lured and duped by the road vending mafia who invite and encourage them to enter in this lucrative but indecent business. And these vendors with little access to proper business resources need our sympathy and government’s empathy. Such vendors having no other means to earn a decent living need to be identified by a suitable survey and provided with alternative business sites and schemes. Like the rights of pedestrians and other people using the roads and streets these lesser mortals too have their right to earn a dignified living in a respectable way. Denial of their right will be gross violation of human rights.

After having a good round of Lal Chowk, Jahangir, Chowk and adjoining areas for several hours, I could feel the aura of governance and the taste of rational administration. Traffic in these areas was little smoother, pedestrians like me were enjoying their newly attained freedom to walk comfortably on footpaths and business establishments in the area were feeling a sense of openness. However, the mafia and their collaborators within the administration were watching all this atmosphere of open and wideness with their fingers crossed and waiting for the day when strength of our administrative leaders will go down and they will again establish their writ; exploit poor vendors and undermine the rights of common-man.