It is barely a month since the opening of the much-touted and, may we also add, much- delayed shopping complex to rehabilitate hawkers from T’Nagar Usman Road. And yet the hawkers are back on the pavement, much to the chagrin of the residents in the locality. The failure of what was praised by everyone as a well-thought out solution has led to sharp criticism of the Corporation officials and the police. It also leads us to the sad conclusion that despite the best laws possible, just about everything in India fails in its implementation.

It was in 2006 that the High Court of Madras had, as part of a judgement covering several petitions concerning the hawking problem, formulated a new scheme. This involved the enumeration of hawkers and the issuing of licences to them by the Corporation. These licences were to be renewed each year and could be passed on to those who wished to carry on the business should a licensed hawker retire or pass away. The civic body was then asked to build/identify specific areas to which these hawkers could be moved and from where they could continue plying their trade. To ensure that this was done quickly, a Hawking Zone Implementation Committee chaired by Justice A Ramamurthy was set up. The scheme was to apply to ten zones identified as having problems of congestion owing to indiscriminate hawking.

Matters moved slowly thereafter and it was only after a Public Interest Litigation was filed a couple of years ago that the issue was once again brought to the notice of the High Court. The Hawking Committee in its report lamented that the lack of speed in implementation was mainly due to official lethargy and apathy. The report also hinted at official connivance in allowing the hawkers to stay where they were despite alternative accommodation being ready. The Chairman of the Committee observed that none of his observations had been taken seriously by the administrative machinery. That was when the Court set a deadline and everyone had to comply.

Everyone was happy with the solution provided, except the hawkers themselves. They were reluctant to move in due to a mistaken belief that shoppers would not bother to come to the complex. It is obvious that not enough time has been spent in counselling the hawkers before the shift. Despite having a good facility, their apprehensions persisted. They have, therefore, begun moving out in large numbers and occupy the sidewalks and service lanes. And it is alleged that the local Corporation officials and the police are turning a blind eye to this development, because it is in their interest that the original chaos continues.

The residents of the area have, however, decided not to accept the situation as it is. They have sent a series of letters to the Corporation asking as to why the orders of the Court are being violated. These questions have been raised and answers sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The reply received is a classic case of bureaucratese. The responses, and they are the same to all queries, simply have it that, “under RTI Act 2005, reply other than the information on record cannot be furnished”, whatever that is supposed to mean.

The T’Nagar Residents’ Welfare Association then represented the matter to the Chairman of the Hawking Committee, supporting its claims with photographs of hawking that continues unabated on the streets despite alternative facilities allocated. The Chairman has in turn written to the Corporation seeking an explanation. Whether the same, or a similar, answer as was received by the residents of T’ Nagar will come his way is anybody’s guess. If the response and action by the Corporation are not satisfactory, the residents propose taking the matter to Court once again. Which is where the matter was referred to in the first place.

It is sorrowful that the best of schemes come undone at the hands of petty officials who care for their own benefits, thereby ignoring the interests of the citizenry.