New Market is not just any market. It is a very important part of Kolkata’s history. It is also one of the city’s most important civic assets.
One of only a few covered markets from the era that survive today, Kolkata Municipal Corporation ought to protect and conserve it. The civic authority should take pride in the precious possession and showcase it like Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.
New Market pulsates with history. Its architecture represent a mixture of influences. Even if we were to leave aside the hawkers, the place should be looked after and showcased for its built heritage.
The hawker situation around New Market has worsened over the years. And it has happened in full view of civic officials. It is only because traders are protesting that officials are finally taking notice.
Not just New Market, the hawker situation plagues the Grand Arcade and the entire stretch of Chowringhee. What was once the city’s most recognised boulevard with wide pavements where walking was a pleasure have now been completely disfigured by settlement of hawkers. It has killed off spaces meant for public to use.
We don’t want areas to be sterile. In Mumbai, there is regulated hawking in areas around Oval Maidan, Churchgate and Colaba Causeway. Hawkers can also be part of the history of places.
But here, hawkers have completely colonized these places. Public spaces have been completely taken over. People cannot walk on pavements that have been completely overrun by hawkers.
Around New Market, even cars cannot access parking lots. There needs to be control. The parking areas need to be cleared completely of hawkers, hawking needs to be restricted in a manner that doesn’t interfere with visitors, and the area needs a visible and long-term police presence.
I hope the government makes an effort, not just there but in other parts of Kolkata as well; not just for trade but for people to use spaces in a reasonable manner that benefits Kolkata. We need to demonstrate that while this city has a heart, it also has the rule of law.
(Chaudhuri, author and founder of Calcutta Architectural Legacies, spoke to Subhro Niyogi)