HUNDREDS of hawkers at a sit-in on Sunday demanded rehabilitation before evicting them from footpath and the framing of a hawkers’ rehabilitation policy. They also urged the government to have a national policy on hawkers’ management. Leaders and activists of hawkers, as New Age reported on Monday, blocked the road in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka to push for their demands. It is true that inadequate footpaths, that took illegally occupied by hawkers, often create problems for pedestrianss. It is also pertinent to note that because of footpaths being occupied by them, pedestrians on most occasions need to walk down the roads at the risk of being hit or run over by vehicles. Around 58 per cent of traffic accidents that take place in Dhaka involve pedestrians. One, however, must not forget that, according to the statistics of the Bangladesh Chinnamul Hawkers’ Samiti, Dhaka alone is home to about 2,69,000 hawkers. But who are these hawkers? 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 the rural economy forced them to move to the capital and other cities in search of a living although the attitude of successive governments towards them has been, at best, indifferent and, at worst, disdainful.
They live in a constant fear of being removed or evicted. They are under a constant threat of being evicted or removed, from where they work, by law enforcers as there is no policy to defend or protect them. Many of them are victims of extortion by the police; and those who fail to oblige the police by handing over money are harassed and removed from their places. While Dhaka city expands, urbanisation moves apace and metropolitan appurtenances are added, these developments have never encompassed these hawkers. There is no place for these hapless people in the midst of the skyscrapers, dazzling shopping malls and flashing cars. 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 hawkers. Although marginalised in developmental perspectives, 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 hawkers which would protect them from being persecuted by law enforcers. It also needs to take expeditious steps to make a list of all hawkers and provide them with identity cards in recognition of their profession and some space to pursue their profession without any hassle. The government, in other words, need to address hawkers’ woes and rehabilitate them in the greater interest in no time.
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