Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Let’s take a walk, DMC

Twenty years since going into silence, the bugle of municipal elections in Nagaland has returned with mostly familiar notes. In at least one aspect though, we are definitely stepping into unfamiliar territory: women councillors or committee members. One chauvinistic door has been crow-barred finally ~ and we all know the price we, all of us, had to pay along the way. Not that the forced-opening ~ amply aided by the might of the Supreme Court ~ of that particular chauvinistic door has meant automatic and unreserved welcoming of the women contestants. Some of our male civil society leaders are still resorting to their brainless ‘mekhela-makeup’ playbook of hideous jibes at women contestants. One battle is won but the war, we are reminded, is far from being over. No doubt, the absence of elected urban local bodies has had adverse effects in all the State’s urban centres. But perhaps, the impact has been felt most in Dimapur, the nerve centre of all things good and bad in the State. Across localities, day by day, aspirants for seats in Dimapur Municipal Council are peppering the residents with bucketful of promises and assurances. Certain things in life really do abide and endure. Anyway, we make no judgments on their lofty promises. Electoral politics is transactional. This is an old movie and everybody knows how it ends. Good thing ~ we certainly hope so ~ is that we shall have an elected municipal body to take care of our very own capricious city. But as Alexander Pope, all those years ago, reminded us: Hope springs eternal. So we hope that the installation of a functional municipal body in Dimapur will finally lead to the city’s long-needed refurbishing and recalibration. One such case is the footpaths snaking around downtown Dimapur. It is no secret that the teeming thoroughfares of Dimapur are also crammed with hawkers and vendors ~ a combination that has long been a source of consternation for commuters and pedestrians alike. Mostly, the commuters and pedestrians tend to tolerate it because they are sensitive to the situation of vendors and hawkers ~ men and women most-affected by economic crunches. But there have been the occasional public outbursts, including in the pages of local newspapers. Because the occupation of footpaths by the vendors and their wares has made downtown Dimapur unwalkable. In the early months of last year, the Commissioner of Dimapur Police issued an order warning of punitive action on any street hawker/vendor found illegally occupying public footpath and roadside vehicle parking areas. In the order, the police identified in particular three areas ~ Nyamo Lotha Road, New Market Road and City Tower ~ where “public footpath and roadside vehicle parking areas are being illegally occupied by street hawkers/vendors”. While underscoring every citizen’s right to a means of livelihood, it asserted that such activity should not obstruct or encroach upon any public utility space/road. “Many street hawkers/vendors have set up their stalls along the roadside vehicle parking areas which protrude to the main road, thereby posing obstruction to the smooth flow of traffic. Also hawkers/vendors operating on the public footpath have caused the pedestrians to take the main road, which is hazardous”, the notice said. This led to a momentary emptying of the footpaths. But the vendors have returned now ~ and we presume, largely due to economic compulsions. Simply booting them off cannot be our solution. In 2019, Nagaland Legislative Assembly passed the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014. It aims to protect livelihood rights and social security of street vendors, designate zones for vending and regulate street vending across India. The Act also mandates Town Vending Committees (TVC), with stakeholders from municipal authorities to vendor associations, to identify street vendors, issue vending certificates and keep records of vendors. Needless to say, the implementation of this Act in Nagaland has been sluggish at best and its provisions largely ignored. Hope really is a dangerous thing but we anticipate that the installation of a shiny new DMC ~ with women councillors to boot ~ could mean taking good care of the vendors as well as our footpaths.