IT IS not surprising that vendors evicted from city roads and footpaths six months ago have returned before Eid-ul-Fitr. The rationale behind their return is, undoubtedly, that they had not been properly rehabilitated before eviction. Allegations, as New Age reported on Monday, are there that the vendors have returned with the support of a section of police officials and ruling party leaders under a deal to pay them three times the illegal tolls. Vendors have reopened their stalls on the footpaths blocking pedestrian movement on busy areas such as Motijheel, Baitul Mukarram, Gulistan, Golap Shah Mazar, Phulbaria and Ramna Bhaban. Needless to say, their return has intensified traffic congestion in the capital. It is also pertinent to note that because of footpaths being occupied by them, pedestrians on most occasions will need to walk on roads at the risk of being hit or run over by vehicles.
Dhaka alone is home to an estimated 2,69,00 vendors. But who are these vendors? Where have they come from? They are the landless people, many of whom are victims of river erosion and flooding in rural areas. The destruction of rural economy forced them to move to the capital and other cities in search of a living and the attitude of successive governments towards these people has been at best indifferent and at worst disdainful. They are under a constant threat of being evicted or removed from where they work by law enforcers as they do not have any policy or law to defend or protect them. They, as has been reported, are now victims of extortion by the police and the ruling party people; and those who will fail to oblige them by handing over money will be harassed and removed from their places. While Dhaka city expands, these developments have never encompassed these vendors. There is no place for these hapless people in the midst of the skyscrapers and dazzling shopping malls. They keep floating on the margin of city life clinging to the brink of survival. The woes of the permanent city dwellers will look attenuated when compared with those of these vendors. Although marginalised in developmental perspective, their contribution to urban economy is far from being marginal. They are not parasites and keep the economy rolling in their own way if left undisturbed.
In view of this reality, the government needs to work out a national policy and make a law for vendors which would give them protection against persecution by law enforcers and others. It also needs to take expeditious steps to bring the aberrant policemen and errant political leaders to book and make a list of all vendors and provide them with identity cards in recognition of their profession and some space to pursue their profession without any hassle. The incumbents, in other words, need to address vendors’ woes and rehabilitate them in the greater interest of the nation in no time.
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