The plan to move hawkers and street vendors from Laitumkhrah Main Road to the nearby Lady Veronica Lane has come in for sharp criticism from stakeholders connected to the area.
The government, with the backing of local MLA Ampareen Lyngdoh, plans to shift hawkers occupying space from the Police Point roundabout to Laitumkhrah beat house to Lady Veronica Lane, which is adjacent to the main road.
The lane houses Bethany Society, Mary Rice Centre for Special Education, Bansara Eye Care Centre, Jyoti Sroat School, Asian Confluence and is also an entry point for St Edmund’s College.
A resident of the area, Monalisa Wankhar, today said that the move by the government was taken without the knowledge of the residents and other stakeholders.
“This is a small and congested road. There are schools for the physically and mentally challenged and there is also an eye hospital,” Wankhar said while calling the decision “hasty”. It must have been made without thinking about the people it will affect, she added.
She and others concerned have written to the government on the matter but have yet to receive a response.
Under the plan, 89 hawkers will be allotted space on the footpath running on one side of the lane, which is primarily used by school students, people with disabilities and the infirm.
The lane is also prone to flooding during the rainy season as it lies slightly below the main road. The footpath in question covers a large drain, which, if inundated by water or blocked by rubbish, can overflow. This makes the site unhygienic for any hawkers who sell vegetables, fruit or meat, Wankhar pointed out.
Secretary of Bethany Society, Carmo Noronha, said that taking away the footpath is like taking away the rights of the pedestrians, of children and of the disabled who will no longer be able to commute in safety and security.
“By taking away the footpath which is an access to these children you are actually jeopardising or preventing them from reaching their schools or colleges safely,” Noronha said, adding that there should be a balance between the rights of pedestrians and the right to a livelihood for hawkers
He also suggested that the street vendors can be relocated to Jacob’s Ladder (Wah Pomdngiem) or the road from Shillong College to St Mary’s College instead.
Bertha Dkhar, Executive Director of Bethany Society, pointed out that during one of her visits to the area, Ampareen Lyngdoh had said that the footpath was constructed for the convenience of school children and people with disabilities.
“But now we hear that on the same footpath, which was meant for the convenience of the people, the vendors will sit. Apart from them, there will be the buyers,” Dkhar said.
She also expressed concern for those children who have to use vehicles due to their disabilities as Ampareen had mentioned last month that traffic would be regulated to prevent congestion in the lane once the hawkers are moved there.
Shillong is already a disabled-unfriendly town, with public transport not designed to accommodate the disabled and most footpaths are either too narrow for wheelchairs and/or are raised too high above the street level. Blind people already have to bear with shouts when they bump into people on the roads or into hawkers’ stalls and Lady Veronica Lane has been up until now a safe space for them but the government plan threatens their sanctuary.