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Potholes, water take backseat as Mumbai's netas fight over hawkers

Despite taking three years to formulate a hawking policy, corporators across parties held up nearly all other work in the BMC for a fortnight as they milked the issue dry for political gains

While Mumbaikars were reeling from a water shortage and trying to make their way around mammoth craters on the road without hurting themselves, politicians in the BMC had just one issue on their mind hawking.

A hawker poses with her registration number while being photographed by a civic official during the licensing drive. File pic/AFP
A hawker poses with her registration number while being photographed by a civic official during the licensing drive. File pic/AFP

It turns out that even after taking three years to formulate a hawking policy, the netas could not resist picking holes in it during its implementation because of its potential to earn them some last-minute brownie points ahead of the assembly elections in the state. While some parties were out to take credit for the policy, others were busy pandering to their constituencies to ensure that their votes remained with them.

The loser in all this was the ordinary Mumbaikar, as nearly all vital issues took a backseat while this political drama played out in the civic body. For nearly two weeks, corporators from the Shiv Sena and the MNS tried to outdo each other in demanding hawking licences only for the ‘sons of the soil’, giving the Samajwadi Party a chance to defend its constituency north Indians.

The Congress, too, jumped in, pointing out how the number of forms being handed out to grant licences to hawkers far exceeded the space available in the city to accommodate them. While the BJP seemed to have decided to stay aloof, it intervened once in a while to insist on licences for locals from each area.

Political analysts told mid-day that they were bewildered by how these issues could have escaped the corporators’ notice for three years, when they themselves were involved in formulating the policy.

Standstill
At various points, Sena and the MNS especially the latter raised the son of the soil issue in the Standing Committee, which clears all important issues before they are taken up by the civic body, bringing all other work to a standstill.

The SP, at one point, went to the extent of asking the Sena and the MNS whether they wanted to conduct DNA tests on everyone to figure out whether they were bona fide ‘sons of the soil’. Meanwhile, despite the pothole issue being slated to be taken up, it could be heard only on Monday.

So keen were the parties on keeping the hawking issue alive that they asked for a special BMC House session, but nothing concrete came out of it as various parties were bent on creating a ruckus. Samajwadi Party leaders did not let the matter get discussed and the House had to be adjourned later. A good fortnight after the issue was raked up and the parties saw that no more political mileage could be derived from it, the policy’s implementation went on without any changes.

Neta speak
Prakash Gangadhare of the BJP said, “The hawkers getting licenses should be from the local area, as hawkers coming from other areas will cause nuisance.” Rais Shaikh of the SP said the parties wanting licences for ‘sons of the soil’ should define that term.

“People who have been staying in Mumbai for long are sons of the soil. There shouldn’t be any discrimination while giving out licences.” MNS’s Sandeep Deshpande, meanwhile, has been saying that the whole process is against the Marathi manoos as it doesn’t give them any priority. He also alleged that the registration process has too many lacunae.

Policy
The corporation has distributed 1.28 lakh forms to hawkers across the city and has got 96,506 duly filled forms back, The clause to get the licence is that the hawker should have been fined at least once in the last 10 years and should submit the fine receipt to the BMC to prove that he has been hawking in the area for all this while. There are currently 15,000 licenced hawkers in the city.

The prize
A hawker who gets a license will get, a small space in designated hawking zones. These zones could be footpaths or plazas and the hawkers may not be allowed to sell their wares at specific times, like peak hours. The timings, etc, will be decided by the ward office at the local level.

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