The City Corporation's demolition drive has invited bouquets as well as brickbats.
CITY DWELLERS must either be heaving a sigh of relief or cursing the Corporation for its recent demolition drive. Illegal extensions of all establishments are being removed on a war footing. The move comes in the wake of the `Clean Kerala' programme, but only Thiruvananthapuram has taken it up in such an extensive manner.
The programme, being implemented with much fanfare, has dealt a serious blow to those affected.
Says Shanmugham, a shop owner in Chalai bazaar, "The drive was expected, but we didn't know it would be so quick. We haven't received any notice as such. So we didn't get time to think or act."
"Beautification or no beautification, these encroachers have no right to set up shop on public roads. Why can't they start a shop legally, with our permission?" asks Prof. J. Chandra, the City Mayor.
The drive was initiated in Kaudiar, which incidentally is the Mayor's ward, and things went smoothly.
But the officials who went to Poojapura the next day, hoping for another smooth operation, were in for a shock. They had to face extensive protests and aggression from the traders there.
Says the Mayor, "The worst part was that the councillor himself led these traders. The person who is supposed to represent the authorities in such endeavours was acting against us. So we had to stop the operations for the day. But a talk with the representatives of the traders made them see reason and since then we haven't faced any problem."
But the Traders' Association has not taken kindly to the step.
Naseeruddin, its state president, is quite vocal in his reaction. "The Local Administration Minister supports us. And we have approached the Mayor with a memorandum. If nothing comes of it, we will take the matter in our own hands."
But there are shop owners who try to see the brighter side of it all. Says Lal, a shop owner at Sasthamangalam, "We should never have constructed illegal extensions. Though we protested at first, many of us now feel that the authorities are doing the right thing."
Vijayan, another shop owner at Pattom, seconds this. "We had better remove the illegal extensions ourselves. We will end up paying up to Rs. 3,000 if these extensions are removed by the authorities."
A complaint of the traders is that the Corporation uses excavators that damage the main structure while removing the extensions.
However, more than 400 unauthorised structures have been removed in Chalai alone with the full cooperation of the owners.
The next in the line of fire are the mobile eateries that set up shop in the evening and cater to the masses till late into the night. The Mayor says the Corporation has information that some of these operators also tap electricity directly from the posts. "The Corporation foots the electricity bills for the lighting of the city and these people have no right to tap it from the posts," she says. "We will not harass the small-time street sellers who earn their livelihood. They won't be permitted to do business on the sidewalks of the main roads, but they may set up shop in the by-lanes."
Prostitution and selling of illicit liquor are allegedly among the parallel businesses run by some of these hawkers.
They were the ones who voiced their displeasure the most when the stalls were removed, the Mayor says. Activating the police force was the only help the Government gave.
Photo: S. Gopakumar
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