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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Pedestrian predicament: Footpath shops spill onto main roads

  • Shrinking footpaths force street use
  • Shops persist despite removal efforts
  • Eateries also occupy footpaths, pose hazards
  • Authorities plan to reclaim footpaths
Update : 14 May 2024, 09:32 AM

Farhan, a student, was walking in the middle of a road. Making a conscious effort to steer clear of makeshift shops mounted on rickshaw vans, he manoeuvred his way around approaching rickshaws. At one point, a rickshaw puller asked Farhan why he was not using the nearby footpath. Visibly irritated, Farhan pointed out that the footpath was obstructed by shops, some of which encroached onto the roadway. He said if he opted for the footpath and had to navigate through the clutter slowly, he risked missing his exam. He then stormed off. 

Once there was considerable discussion surrounding the presence of shops lining footpaths and the identities of those responsible for their establishment. However, over time, the residents of Dhaka have learned to live with them. It is widely acknowledged that makeshift shops populate the majority of footpaths, permitted to occupy the space through regular payments to undisclosed parties. The shopkeepers, however, are hesitant to reveal the identities of those orchestrating this arrangement.

Where it ends is now the big question.

Although pedestrians are instructed to use footpaths, the reality is that there is insufficient space for walking. Previously, people would walk along one side of the road, but now that area too is densely occupied. As a result, pedestrians are forced to navigate through the streets, exposing themselves to potential hazards.

Law enforcement officers, meanwhile, say they are working with the two city corporations to clear up the roads and footpaths of the capital.

During recent visits to various areas such as Gulistan, Paltan, Panthpath and Mirpur 10, it was evident that pedestrians on footpaths wore expressions of discomfort. Footpaths along Bangabandhu Avenue, Shahid Sayed Nazrul Islam Sarani, near Golap Shah’s shrine and in the Stadium Market area are gradually shrinking, making people resort to using the roads instead.

People look at different products at makeshift roadside shops in Dhaka. Photo: Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Over at the eastern corner of Golap Shah’s shrine, horse-drawn carriages are lined up along the main street, awaiting passengers. However, this practice is not in accordance with regulations, as there exists a designated area for these carriages. Despite a signboard put up by the Dhaka South City Corporation indicating the designated spot, carriage drivers find themselves unable to use it due to the occupation of space by shoe shops. Consequently, traffic jams are commonplace as the carriages are parked on the main road.

Coachman Solaiman Hossain Roni told this correspondent that coachmen could not park their carriages because of hawkers, explaining that attempts to park carriages there often led to conflicts with these hawkers, forcing them to remain on the road.

Hawkers in front of the carriage stand said they had been doing business there for a long time, adding that they had to go through a great amount of trouble to set up shop.

In front of Railway Market on Bangabandhu Avenue, the footpath is there in name only. Abdul Karim with a makeshift shop on the footpath reminisced about his old shop in Railway Super Market. Once the market was reconstructed, “we will set up shop there,” he said.

However, t-shirt seller Md Yasin, perched with his goods on a bedstead on Bangabandhu Avenue, said revenue was down because of police interventions. 

He described how traders like him vacated the area upon spotting police officers, only to return once they left. 

“And if the police catch us, they take us to the police station. We have to pay a Tk700 fine to get released through the court… those who cannot pay the fine have to stay in jail for five days,” he continued.

But will a short-term initiative produce any positive outcomes? The situation is the same in front of Pir Yamini Market in Gulistan, three sides of Baitul Mukkarram Market, east gate of the Directorate of Posts building –  footpaths are virtually nonexistent, entirely dominated by shops selling bags and clothes.

While talking to traders, an officer from Paltan police station, on condition of anonymity, said there were instructions in place to evict shops on footpaths. “We enforce these directives, but many traders set up shop regardless. Despite repeated removals, they consistently return. They have been selling their goods on footpaths for a long time.”

Eateries also taking up space

Traders specializing in clothing are not the only ones responsible for the situation – there are also eateries operating on footpaths, which use gas cylinders for cooking, posing significant hazards. Along Panthapath, footpaths have been taken over by eateries, with many creeping onto the streets.

The owner of one such shop, Md Anwar, said he and others like him had been doing business like this for a long time. “We have to work somewhere and make a living… we are doing it here.” 

When inquired about the dangers of gas cylinders and hot oil pans, he said an accident had yet to happen and the rest “is up to God.” 

Coordination, planning

Md Faruk Hossain, deputy commissioner (media) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), noted efforts to reclaim the city's footpaths for pedestrian use, mentioning the commissioner’s special instructions to ensure normal movement on both roads and footpaths.

“The police are coordinating with the city corporations to end the encroachment of roads and footpaths. The police are also taking a zero-tolerance approach to footpath occupation.”

Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Md Atiqul Islam acknowledged the recurring nature of the issue, with encroachers often returning after being removed.

“We are making a plan in coordination with the police. There will be night and holiday markets, where no one will have to pay any fee to sell their merchandise,” he said.

“The chief town planner has been instructed to draw up a plan. We want to use one ward in Uttara as a model.”

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