The attack on a journalist and his wife outside Malad station on Saturday is a worrying outcome of the uncontrolled illegal hawking activity that enables criminal elements to operate in such situations, according to traders and residents in the area.
Sanjay Prasad of Jia news channel was assaulted by a group of four or five men on Saturday after he objected to a man who abused his wife as they were walking on Sainath market road, in Malad (West).
Prasad suffered a deep cut on the head and was treated at a private hospital. One person has been arrested in the matter. The men are believed to be hawkers who are operating in the area.
On Monday, a delegation of TV journalists met municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte and complained to him about the incident and the illegal hawking activity that is jeopardising the security of citizens.
Prasad, who was a part of the delegation, told Kunte that they were not even shopping there and therefore there was no reason for the attack. He narrated the incident and suggested that it was a plain case of hooliganism.
The municipal commissioner assured the journalists of action in the matter. He explained that following the Supreme Court order on regulating hawking activities, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) was working on a plan to bring all unregulated hawker under the ambit of a legal framework.
"Presently, all unlicensed hawkers are termed as illegal. The Town Vending Committee for street vendors is formulating a policy," Kunte said.
Sirish Gotecha, president, Malad Vyapari Sangh, has said that Saturday's attack is only the tip of the iceberg. Such cases of persons making lewd remarks against women happen umpteen times daily. But while few women will protest, the majority just put their heads down and move on. "These illegal hawkers occupy both sides of the road, blocking traffic," he said.
Civic staffers in the area suggest that the crowd of hawkers have been encouraged by local MLA Aslam Shaikh and MP Sanjay Nirupam. They not only support the businesses, but have dared the local civic authorities to take action. This was clearly being done with an eye on the vote bank.
"Without such backing no one would not dare to misbehave. A person who wants to do business would treat patrons with respect and not create such a situation," said a hawker, who has been operating on Sainath road for over two decades. He pointed out that new hawkers entered the area everyday and he could not see how the BMC would differentiate between legal and illegal hawkers.
A shopkeeper explained that if they complained to the ward office about the illegal hawkers, a team of the licence department would post themselves for about two hours (between 4pm and 6pm), during which period the hawkers suspend their business, and reopen during the heavy evening rush after the team has left. "Who can beat this system," he asked.
Meanwhile, on Monday, a team from the P/North ward demolished some illegal stalls in the Malad station area. Devendra Jain, assistant commissioner of the ward, said the civic staff would take all steps to evict the illegal hawkers.