The headline 'DNCC launches mobile court drive against footpath grabbers today' of a news item carried in page 8 of this newspaper on Saunday is somewhat misleading. Encroachment or illegal temporary occupation is one thing but grabbing is a different proposition. Grabbing conveys a permanent occupation or an attempt to occupy so-albeit illegally. Since the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) mayor has urged all who have their goods and materials stacked on footpaths to remove those, it appears his primary target is footpath vendors and encroachers piling up construction materials such as rods, cement and sand as well as shop-owners' drums, sacks and furniture on footpath. The report is not specific about this but it is not difficult to understand that here is an attempt to return the city's footpaths to pedestrians. Vested interest groups have long established their illegal occupation of several segments of footpaths in areas of both city corporations. Without the power of mobile court, they cannot be dislodged.
While this much is understood, there is a grey area that has to be clarified. Some influential people have indeed grabbed footpaths all across the city. For many purposes they have extended their establishments such as shops or garage well beyond their rightful boundaries. Will the mobile court also go for freeing space of footpaths from such illegally built permanent construction? It is time, this was done in the interest of justice, fairness and convenience of pedestrians. In many residential areas, shops or their extended portions obstruct footpaths permanently. People are compelled to use the main thoroughfares because of such obstructions. Those establishments should not be allowed such illegal possessions forever. In some cases, gas ovens are set up on footpaths to prepare restaurant foods. This poses further threat to passers-by.
As for the drive against hawkers or vendors from some of the most crowded spots of the city, the cat and mouse game has been played without an end. Gulistan and Baitul Mokarram areas provide the best of examples. Eviction of hawkers and their return at some point have now become a subject of mockery. Young people without a livelihood cannot and should not be a disgrace for society. They need employment and in the absence of jobs, they try their luck with small investment at footpath vending. At least they are not committing a crime. But then they are creating an urban mess by obstructing space for other people's movement.
In this context, an alternative arrangement has to be made for them before their permanent eviction from footpath. One of the solutions can be their rehabilitation by making arrangement for small trades depending on their skills and choices. There are government and railway lands not far from roads and highways where specialised markets can be developed for them to continue their trades on a sustainable basis. They may be provided with some loan to expand their trade but either the city corporations or the government will construct the shops. The authorities will eventually rent or lease those out to traders.