The latest episode of eviction by the city authorities – the eviction drive in Gulistan area by Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) on October 27 – turned into an ugly clash among the hawkers, DSCC officials and the some activists of Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of Awami League.
In face of the hawkers' protest, DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon, on October 29, announced that all the evicted hawkers of Gulistan and the surrounding areas would be allowed to set up their businesses at the nearby Mahanagar Natyamancha.
It has been over a month since Khokon's announcement, but no visible measure has been taken to relocate the Gulistan hawkers.
Instead, they are back where they had been evicted from, running their businesses as usual, occupying the footpaths and parts of the streets.
The Dhaka Tribune tried to contact Sayeed Khokon on his phone for a comment, but could not reach him.
DSCC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Khan Mohammad Bilal was available for a comment, however.
Asked about the progress in the relocation of Gulistan hawkers, Bilal said the city corporation did not have any plan in that regard for now.
“If we take any steps about this matter, we will inform you [the press],” he added before declining to comment on the issue any further.
But a DSCC official, seeking anonymity, told the Dhaka Tribune that the problem was not the hawkers, but those who gave them support.
“There are around 3,500 hawkers in Gulistan, and they get support from local political influentials and some officials from the law enforcement. These corrupt officials lead a syndicate that extort the hawkers and allow them to set up their makeshift shops on the roads and footpaths,” he said.
Earlier, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor Annisul Huq also said they were planning to arrange holiday markets to relocate the hawkers in Dhaka North.
'We are fed up'
To say the hawkers are unhappy with the way things are going is an understatement.
This correspondent visited the Gulistan area on Wednesday to find all the footpaths and parts of the busy roads near Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, Bangabandhu National Stadium, Maulana Bhashani Hockey Stadium, Kaptan Bazar, Awami League's office at Bangabandhu Avenue and Gulistan intersection already occupied by hawkers, that too under the watchful eye of police.
Speaking to this correspondent, several hawkers complained that while they had been able to come back, they had paid heavily for it.
“They are taking advantage of us,” said Khokon, one of the hawkers. “We paid money to the leaders of the ruling party here. We are even paying tolls to police, even after the eviction drive, so that we can sell our products here.”
Another hawker named Tariqul said: “I came here from Sadarghat because I thought my business would do better here. But it is even more difficult here because of all the money I have to pay to the linemen [toll collectors who are henchmen of local political leaders] and police. I am now thinking about going back to Sadarghat. I have had enough.”
The hawkers said the linemen mostly belong to the local leaders of Awami Jubo League, Swechchhasebak League, Chhatra League and Sramik League.
On several occasions, both Annisul and Khokon have said that they have repeatedly faced obstruction from local politicians and corrupt city corporation officials in their mission to free Dhaka footpaths and streets.
Sources said some of the grabbers and extortionists enjoy the same authority as the officials of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP).
Asked in this regard, MA Kashem, president of Bangladesh Hawkers' Federation and Bangladesh Hawkers' League, said: “It is not fair of the authorities to evict us without arranging an alternative facility for us.”
Asked about the allegations against police, DMP Commissioner Asaduzzaman Miah said: “Our top officials are strictly monitoring the situation. Anyone who is found involved in irregular activities will be punished accordingly.”