Kolkata, Dec 4 (IANS): Every evening before it starts to get dark, a van stops near the Grand Hotel arcade in the Esplanade area of Kolkata. It is packed with batteries. For the next few minutes, there is a mad rush as hawkers carry the batteries to their stalls and connect them to light connections. By the time darkness descends, the stalls along the encroached pavements are well lit-up.
"In Kolkata, unauthorised hawking is an organised racket. We can do nothing against the hawkers, so long as they do not encroach upon space meant for entry or exit to and from our establishments," a trader on Lindsay Street said.
A few days ago, hawkers and traders nearly came to blows in the Humayun Court area after the owner of an establishment that houses eateries and other outlets objected to blocking of passage.
It is a mess around New Market, Humayun Court and Lindsay Street, particularly during this time of the year.
"Many people throng the area before Christmas and New Year. The New Market area is a major attraction. These people have to walk along the carriageway as all pavements have been taken over by hawkers. We have appealed to the authorities on several occasions, but no concrete steps are taken," a trader from New Market lamented.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), along with Kolkata Police, is now carrying out a survey to find a way out of this mess. However, as with everything else in West Bengal, politics will play a major role in what happens eventually.
"We really do not think that anything will change. We shall continue to bear the brunt. The last two years have been very bad for business. As it is, fewer people – particularly the younger generation – visit New Market now. They prefer air-conditioned shopping malls to the old-world charm that New Market offers. The mess created by hawkers outside only adds to our problems," another New Market trader said.
Hawkers say they are not averse to relocating so long as the space offered is a prominent one with sufficient footfalls.
"We have to purchase 'dala' space here for lakhs of rupees. The authorities know about the touts engaged in this business but look the other way. Some of us have been operating here for decades. Given a better deal, we shall move," said Hafiz, a hawker outside New Market.