Traders say illegal hawkers at CP are making it harder to follow Covid rules

New Delhi: The New Delhi Traders' Association (NDTA) say that illegal hawkers are making it difficult for them to follow COVID-19 safety norms in major marketplaces, especially in Connaught Place (CP).

The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) said that due to the heat, and in the absence of weekly markets (as yet unopened) all hawkers have moved inside the covered CP pavement, taking up the space meant for customers to walk and shop, narrowing down available space and making it difficult for shopkeepers to maintain social distancing and control overcrowding outside their shops. According to an order passed by the Delhi Government on Monday,

it is the responsibility of shop owners, market traders' associations, restaurant and bar associations, to ensure that COVID-19 safety regulations are being followed in the whole market area.

"If in case, it is found that the COVID Appropriate Behaviour is not being followed in Markets, Market complexes, Malls, Restaurants & Bars and / or the positivity rate, number of covid-19 positive persons, growth rate etc. start increasing in NCT of Delhi then Markets, Market complexes, Malls, Restaurants and Bars shall be closed forthwith without any loss of time so as to completely avoid and prevent any upsurge and likelihood of next wave in NCT of Delhi", the order states.

NDTA president Atul Bhargav said, "We can only ensure safety norms are followed inside our shops. How can we be held responsible for crowds gathering near hawkers' stalls and be expected to enforce social distancing? There must be some 10 feet space under the covered pavements, at least 3 to 4 feet is taken up by the hawkers, of course it will lead to more crowds."

He also said that due to high taxation, rent, electricity and water bills, and great loss of business due to two lockdowns and resulting restrictions, business for most traders is down to barely 25 percent of what it used to be. "I have 7 employees, down from the previous 12, and one just for sanitation inside the shop", says Bhargava, whose family have had a 2,000 square feet clothing store in CP for the last 80 years. "On the busiest days, Saturdays and Sundays, there may be a maximum of three customers in my shop".

The Traders Associations say they are sympathetic to the loss of everyone's livelihoods, and have repeatedly proposed the idea of setting up a separate flea market where all hawkers can set up business. "There must be about 80 or 90 legal hawkers in the CP area, but before the lockdown was enforced, we counted at least 290. We want the illegal hawkers to be removed to prevent overcrowding and for the legal hawkers to be given specific spots to put up their stall, so that they are also not harassed regularly and asked to move constantly".

However, repeated representations over the past decade to the Delhi government have not resulted in any effective measures, and the NDTA does not have any hope of a solution at this point.

The NDMC said that their plan is to move hawkers into specific 'vending zones' created at regular intervals at all major markets.

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