The return of vendors  

Mahmudur Rahman     | Published: November 01, 2018 22:22:32 | Updated: November 02, 2018 20:53:31

For a while--just for a while, confidence stemmed that the city mayors would once for all clear the pavements of street vendors by finding space for them elsewhere. Like most pipe dreams, this too went up in smoke. They're all back in rank and file, a social conundrum that pits legitimate business against illegal ones. From coconuts and snacks to used and new clothes, the footpaths offer it all and strangely enough the shopping mall owners don't seem unduly bothered.

On the one hand, it is indicative of increase in purchasing power notwithstanding the beggars in the 'beggar free zones'. It supports small and medium businesses churning out any number of products that are obviously selling on Dhaka Streets. That public place is shrinking isn't a concern where livelihoods are concerned. Clearly defined footpaths have been taken over in such a way that makeshift tarpaulins create a tunnel that gradually becomes an almost permanent structure. There are allegations that a nexus of political off-shoots and the police are the main protectors of these businesses for a 'consideration' that is sizeable in totality and totally off the National Board of Revenue's radar.

These are growing pains in a growing and developing economy and other countries have had their share of the agony. Combine traffic and jaywalking agony with this and you have an unsavoury potpourri of unwanted garbage lining Dhaka's streets. The small shops selling cigarettes, snacks and tea have to provide freebees for the police and certain 'privileged' others. The concept of Friday free markets along certain city roads, with traffic banned for the day was popular in the last century but vendors find custom harder to come by on weekends and prefer the 'casual buyers' during the weekdays during and certainly after office hours. No credit cards required, just cash dealings with even electronic money gaining popularity in such transactions.

The symbolic police drive always draws media sympathy and business owner ire and the friendly agreement is about waiting a few days for the dust to settle. Given that even normal shops glibly encroach pavements, street vendors are emboldened. They have faith and belief that their merchandise packed and wrapped for the night won't be stolen either. Compare that with the locks and bolts that can't keep out thieves and dacoits from multi-storeyed apartments. It's just one of those strange occurrences that defy the logic and is part of life. The spread of such vendors especially in locality of schools and offices further exacerbates road space scarcity but the sight of vendors lining up in front of even well appointed electronics showrooms reveals the helplessness of legitimate business against social and administrative odds.

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