A crowded city
In the first week of June 2016, I was pleased to write in these columns about Srinagar freed from roadside vendors and illegal parking. The administration had done wonders by restraining ever-growing roadside vendors and reining unruly vehicles. That time it was a wonderful and comforting sight and experience of serenity, particularly for pedestrians. This whole exercise substantially contributed in regulating messy traffic on city roads. But, unfortunately, this whole exercise, now, seems to have got washed with more than five months of unrest in the valley.
Personally, I am of the opinion that roadside vendors are also important stakeholders in city business. But their share in conducting business should be in synergy with routine regular trading activities. Any disproportionate street vending activity will not only ruin the practice of business but will add to the confusion and chocking of streets. Srinagar like any struggling city in the region has a long history of roadside vending. Earlier, a cluster of vendors would create a festive 'bazaar' contributing a lot to economy and employment generation. Even now, most of the cities and markets allow street vendors to do business on any particular day of the week or during festival periods in the vicinity of shrines. Srinagar city's 'Sunday market' in civil line area and 'Friday market' in the vicinity of the historic shrine of Hazratbal are best weekly trading destinations for vendors and prospective customers, where with a large scope of bargaining almost everything is sold at reasonable rates.
Unfortunately, Srinagar roads, streets and lanes are again infested with roadside vendors and unruly commercial vehicles, that too with more strength and brazenness than earlier. Earlier vendors would only encroach upon the space meant for pedestrians and a certain area of parking places, but now they have blatantly come on roads and open space in the city center and other commercial areas. Envied by this chaotic act of vendors the bonafide shopkeepers and business establishments are now compelled to display their merchandise outside their shops and in certain cases have extended their business on roads through roadside vendors. It looks like free for all situation! Where every stakeholder in business tries to fight it out on the city roads. Interestingly, the fresh batch of vendors who have joined street vending after recent unrest with their unique mechanized carts cum display assemblies' look like dreadful extraterrestrials with UFOs from some different world. The present murky trend of roadside vending looks like a bandwagon on which every devious opportunist wants to make quick bucks. Even those vendors who used to do business by moving with their merchandise for sale on push carts in residential areas have preferred to invade the city center and do brisk business at prime locations without putting any extra efforts.
In areas like Batmaloo, Jahangir Chowk, and Lal Chowk it seems the whole area has been hijacked by vendors and rowdy commercial vehicles and very little space is left for pedestrians and regular traffic. In the evening when these vendors vacate the public places they leave huge junk generated during the day unattended and scattered adding to existing menace of hectic garbage management in the city. At times these vendors not only block the movement of the common man but even bully the prospective customers and poor pedestrians.
In the later part of the recent unrest when 'fatigue factor' was seeming to have shown its effect, many people were seen whispering about street vendors and unruly traffic being encouraged to create a semblance of normalcy. To what extent it was true or was it a mere speculation, no one can say anything with authority? But, if it was so, then such normalcy has been achieved at a huge cost of anarchy on city roads that has virtually collapsed the traffic system in the city and put poor pedestrians at great risk. Now, for last more than a fortnight traffic police are trying to discipline the wrongly parked vehicles and unruly passenger vehicles. However, unless vendors occupying a substantial part of roads and parking space are not vacated all these efforts will go in vain. It is the right time for the administration to be in its original shape and form and liberated the city from unruly vehicles and menacing vendors.