The street vendors at Gandhi Bazaar were evicted on January 23rd, and it has been more than a month since then. Many reasons were cited for the eviction.
The BBMP authorities said there was a demand from the traffic police and members of the public to clear the footpath and the road to ensure smooth movement of pedestrians and vehicles, according to a newspaper report ((Deccan Chronicle, Jan 25). So, it was traffic congestion and inconvenience to public that seemingly triggered the eviction.
When I spoke to some residents of Basavanagudi, they opined that the vendors were quite rude, unlike the way they were in the past. They say that vendors infringe on more urban space. Residents’ objection to street vendors was related more to their behaviour, while government’s objection was to the traffic congestion they were contributing to.
Some months ago, I had read a paper – Lessons from the unbuilt Tagore Circle underpass – by Dr Vinod Vyasulu of the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies. I think of this now because the underpass construction, which started in October 2009, has caused much traffic congestion. I wonder if the need to evict street vendors would have risen if the underpass work had never begun.
I reproduce here an excerpt from Dr Vyasulu’s paper:
"Why did (underpass) work start before it was clear that land would need to be acquired for the service road?… Why was no attempt made to share information with residents of the area?… Why now, in the middle of construction, are alternatives not being debated? There are alternatives. We could fill up the mess and go back to the old situation. Apart from the BBMP losing face and money being wasted, this would be the best option as this underpass was never needed. Why cannot this be debated openly?"
There could be several reasons for the traffic congestion – one, street vending; second, underpass construction; third, lack of a service road after the commencement of underpass; and perhaps also the parking of vehicles along Gandhi Bazaar main road.
BBMP’s parking facllity takes up a lot of space
If you look at Gandhi Bazaar main road from the Tagore Circle end, you can find a continuous row of two-wheelers randomly parked along the footpath and further down, a line of cars parked along the road. There are signs put up by BBMP that confirm that there is ‘Parking for cars’ and ‘Parking for two-wheelers’.
There is organised parking that occupies such a large part of this shopping environment which ought to be dedicated more to pedestrians and less to cars. While government has brought street vending under strict scrutiny, it maybe worthwhile to understand how traffic works, why it transits through this street and whether the cars that park or transit here have direct links to shopping activity which is the mainstay of this space.
A thorough study of car parking here would tell us if the cars belong to shoppers, shop owners or to the offices nearby, and a percentage of space can be allocated to each group.
There is so much to figure out before we come up with solutions to our city’s problems.
What can be done?
To decongest Gandhi Bazaar main road, we need to ask ourselves why the street is not functioning properly anymore – is it the increase in vendor population, increase in resident and shopper population, non-enforcement of parking rules or the unjustified construction of the underpass?
Perhaps, we need to prioritise our objectives – is our priority to provide a better environment for Basavanagudi residents, for the street to act as an efficient transition zone, to improve hygiene conditions in the region, or the underpass construction that cannot be stopped now.
To make a street better, can short-term experiments be carried out to determine the change required? Can these include conducting a meeting of shop owners, street vendors and users of the area to know their views, and implementing some of their recommendations? Can we seek comments and suggestions from Bangaloreans through a market survey?
Or can we have a public exhibition of an Urban Planning draft proposal, inviting citizens’ views in a visitors’ book or in a follow-up workshop for organisations and residents of Basavanagudi?
An initial Urban Planning Survey at Gandhi Bazaar may have questions such as:
How did Gandhi Bazaar originate? How many street vendors here have legal status? What is the extent of Gandhi Bazaar street? What is the average walking distance for customers? What are their views?
How many people enter Gandhi Bazaar everyday? Of these, how many are buyers and how many are in transit? What roads surround Gandhi Bazaar and what roads connect it to its neighbourhood? How does the Bazaar influence localities adjacent to it? What have been the government interventions over the last 20 years at the Bazaar?
How much of the National Urban Street Vendor Policy 2009 has been implemented in the city? How are the Town Vending Committees to be constituted at the city level functioning? Who is responsible for this?
We need to know what works, and what costs are involved in making a better street and a better city. There is so much to know before we come up with solutions to our infrastructural problems and livelihood issues, and create urban habitats that match up to the "world class city" that we seem to want all the time.