With eye on Kolkata civic polls, Mamata Banerjee announces legalising hawking in WB

Kolkata: With the crucial election to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation just a month away, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday announced a policy aimed at legalising hawking in the state.

"We are the first state government in the country which has decided to legalise hawking. This will ensure you are not evicted by anybody. We have formulated a policy for the hawkers. We are the first in the country to start the process of registering vendors and hawkers," Banerjee said here following a meeting with hawkers.

The opposition has slammed the decision saying it has been made with an eye on the civic polls.

Banerjee's announcement follows a 72-hour shutdown call by shopkeepers in the city's New Market against the hawker menace. The strike called by the Joint Traders Federation, entered its third day on Friday.

The shopkeepers have been contending that it was becoming difficult for them to stay in business as hawkers, apart from competing with cheaper goods, block shop facades preventing the entry of shoppers.

Banerjee said the process of registration will begin on July 15 and continue for three months, and dedicated counters will be set up for the process.

"The process of verifying the applications will be carried out between January and March. Once, verified, you will be given a registration certificate and free trade license. But this facility is available only for the existing hawkers," said Banerjee.

The chief minister also urged the hawkers not to encroach the shopkeepers or inconvenience pedestrians.

The announcement has come in for sharp criticism from the opposition with the Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Congress all slamming it in unison.

"We are not against the hawkers, but legalising hawking will not solve the problems. People are forced to take up hawking because they don't get a job as our chief minister doesn't believe in economic development. She believes only in doling out unreasonable sops," BJP leader Tathagata Roy said.

Echoing a similar view Congress leader Arunava Ghosh said: "The way hawkers are being promoted, it is alarming. Just for the sake of votes, West Bengal is being taken towards an alarming situation."

"Had this been done in pursuance of the laws regulating hawkers, it would have been acceptable. She has not been able to create jobs and by doing this she wants the youth to take up hawking as a profession," former city mayor and CPI-M leader Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said.

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