By Jamila Najmuddin
Forced evictions of hawkers, practicing their businesses on the pavements illegally, are a global phenomenon, occurring in both developing and developed countries, and in democracies and dictatorships alike.
Many evictions are counted not in hundreds, but in the thousands. The consequences of forced eviction for families and businesses, and particularly for the poor, are severe and traumatic as property is often damaged or destroyed and productive assets are lost or rendered useless.
The word eviction itself runs a chill down the spine and although in Sri Lanka, evictions do not hit the headlines daily, the matter will be receiving publicity soon when hundreds of pavement hawkers in Kandy will be forcefully evicted using military force.
These hawkers, some who have been on the Kandy pavements practicing their businesses for over 30 years, are now seeking urgent help to keep their businesses running without being forced to move elsewhere.
The Kandyan authorities however say that the hawkers have to move and will be given an alternative place to continue their businesses.
The decision to evict the hawkers came after the Acting Mayor of Kandy Suminda Wickramasingha told the Kandy Municipal Council members last week that he would clear the Kandy pavements off hawkers even if he had to quit his Chair. “I will resign even if I have to but will evict these hawkers who have made no space for the pedestrians to walk peacefully,” Wickramasingha said.
Wickramasingha confirmed to Daily Mirror online that military and police force will be used if the hawkers refuse to move and start a protest in the area.
Despite the Acting Mayor’s stern decision to evict these hundreds of hawkers, hawkers told Daily Mirror online that they will not leave the area as they have been functioning their businesses on the Kandy pavements for years. “The decision to move us is not fair. We have not caused any harm to anyone. This is our living and our families will be shattered if we are shifted to a place where the public does not visit,” Saman Anura Perera said.
Saman has been running his business as a pavement hawker for over 15 years and says he will not move from the crowded Kandy central market, where a large crowd visits to buy the best bargains on offer. “We have families. We will not move. The alternative area which they have chosen for us is a place which no one visits. Is it fair to isolate us?” Saman queried.
The hawkers who say that they have not been given any official notice to vacate from the Kandy pavements urge the authorities to reconsider especially since military force will be used to evict them. They also state that their businesses are peaceful and cause no harm to the public.
While the authorities maintain that it is illegal to keep the hawkers on the pavements which they are currently occupying, the hawkers says that their mere presence is security to the thousands of pedestrians who walk past them daily.
However the authorities state otherwise claiming that it is dangerous for the pedestrians to walk with hundreds of hawkers occupying the pavements. “Pedestrians have to be given room to walk peacefully. They have no space. Hawkers on the Kandy pavements have increased within the last few months and we need to move them into another area where they can continue their businesses,” Acting Mayor Wickramasingha said.
He added that while the task of evicting all the pavement hawkers was impossible due to the large numbers present in the Kandy city, they would however evict as ‘many as possible.’
“No where in the world has anyone been able to evict all the hawkers. But we will try to evict as many as possible. I have already written to the Minister and the law enforcement authorities and they have granted us permission to move the hawkers elsewhere,” Wickramasingha said.
While the authorities maintain their position, hawkers such as Saman say they lead a difficult life and are already struggling to earn a living for their families. Saman’s family says that if Saman is evicted from the Kandy pavements, then they will have no future.
Whether moving these hawkers into alternate lands which the hawkers state are isolated, will bring peace to the public of Kandy is yet to be seen. However what is already known is that hundreds of hawkers in Kandy are about to face trauma and hardships when their businesses are removed and moved elsewhere after many years. (Daily Mirror online)