Ulhasnagar municipal boss seizes cell-phones of hawkers for a unique reason

Dtermined to change lawless images of Ulhasnagar, municipal boss seizes cellphones of unauthorised hawkers at start of anti-encroachment drive to prevent them from alerting others


Posters advising people on keeping the city clean. Pics /Navneet Barhate

Rajendra Nimbalkar 1, Hawkers-0. Since June 16, the commissioner of Ulhasnagar civic body has one-upped illegal hawkers with an ingenious, yet simple, plan: seizing mobile phones of those caught in encroachment drives. Hawkers have a notoriously well-established network. So, when civic officials begin cracking down on hawkers in one locality, they immediately alert their colleagues nearby through phone calls.

Nimbalkar (52) says alerted hawkers often flee to narrow lanes or planned hideouts. "When we start confiscating the goods of one hawker, he contacts another through his mobile phone, thereby sabotaging our plan. It almost takes hours to confiscate the goods of just five hawkers."

To outfox the hawkers, the UMC has begun seizing cellphones at the start of anti-encroachment drives. With their warning network crippled, hawkers are unable to make a quick getaway before the arrival of the authorities. On June 16, 32 cell phones were seized. The owners got them back only six hours later.

"The hawkers were warned that their phones would be kept for longer periods of they didn't mend their ways."

The civic commissioner says he was prompted to come up with this out-of-the-box solution to the hawking menace due to a manpower crunch. "Usually, we need a staff of around 100, including officers and dumper trucks, for these drives. Later, we conduct a panchnama, among other procedures. So when hawkers get away, all our efforts go to waste."

This isn't Nimbalkar's first attempt at reining in lawless Ulhasnagar. Since the time he assumed office last September -- he was briefly transferred to the Panvel Municipal Corporation during the civic election in May -- he has dabbled with several nifty plans. He was the brain behind the proposed campaign to send eunuchs to the residences and offices of property tax defaulters, as well as use dhol performers to name and shame tax evaders. He also lured voters to exercise their franchise in the recently-held civic election with a selfie contest and by offering them discounts on restaurant bills.

The UMC has now hired around 100 women from 320 self-help groups to deliver property tax bills to residences of 1.72 lakh payees. "Earlier, we used to send the property tax bills by post. We'd spend R25 lakh on the initiative. This time, women will go door-to-door to deliver the bills," says Yuvraj Badane, assessor and collector and assistant municipal commissioner, UMC. Each female staffer gets R14 per delivery. "The order was passed on June 15," Badane.

Babu Moshai, pick up your litter

Nimbalkar is also doing his bit for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Posters with riffs of catchy Hindi film dialogues and tropes from the '80s and '90s will be put up across Ulhasnagar to promote cleanliness. "The Bollywood touch will help citizens connect with the campaign. We have prepared several posters, and will put them up in a few days," he said. Further, he said officials from Vengurla in Sindhudurg district will visit Ulhasnagar today and spread awareness about zero waste management.

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