In Depth

‘Where are we supposed to go’: Street vendors fear losing livelihood as Admin paints the city ‘smart’

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A view of barricaded portion of the road which was painted over as a part of Smart City Project's "placemaking marathon." [FPK Photo/Zainab]

In his late 50s, Zahoor Ahmed, a street vendor from Lawaypora left his home early morning in a goods carrier. This has been Ahmed’s routine for the last two decades. 

Every Sunday, after travelling a distance of about 20 kilometres from his home to Lal Chowk, Farooq would set up his cart just outside the Sher-i-Kashmir park. 

“I earned a decent living, enough to feed my family for the rest of the week,” he said. 

To his displeasure, when Ahmed reached Sunday Market today, he found a major portion of the road barricaded, painted with the brightest of colours, ironical to the gloom that took over his beard clad face. 

To facilitate their marathon, the organizers identify, occupy and paints over several portions of roads with an aim to “improve the aesthetics of the city.” [FPK Photo/Zainab]

“Where are we supposed to go?” Ahmed questions.  “Please tell me how does painting roads benefit us?”

Perplexed, Ahmed had many questions for the organisers, and he continued to stare at the painted road, deciphering the elements in the “artwork” and keenly observing the crowd around him.

“See. A tourist comes and takes a picture here. That is it. Is that why they have endangered our source of livelihood?” he asked. 

Ahmed anxiously looked around, fearing that the police might arrive any time and ask him to move his goods carrier to make room for the moving traffic. 

He would set up his cart on the roadside, but today he is selling items from his goods carrier which he realises is awkwardly placed on the road, making it difficult for the shoppers to stop by.

“Forget about my loss, but are we generating any revenue out of it in any way? What kind of an investment is this?” he asks. 

Under the Srinagar Smart City Project launched by India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Development in collaboration with Srinagar’s Municipal Corporation, the Srinagar Smart City Limited launched a “placemaking marathon” on the first of this month. 

To facilitate their marathon, the organizer identifies, occupies and paints over several portions of roads with an aim to “improve the aesthetics of the city”.

The Smart City Mission defines itself as an “eco-friendly, resilient and socio-economically vibrant city that celebrates its natural and cultural heritage creating harmony and opportunities for all”.

It further reads that the Srinagar Smart City aspires to leverage its Natural & Cultural heritage/ tourism, through innovative and “inclusive solutions”, and to “enhance the quality of life for its citizens”.

“This is the market by the poor. How will you maintain your smart city when you starve the suffering population by creating hurdles for them?” asks Arif [FPK Photo/Zainab]

However, contrary to the vision of inclusivity, the vendors of Sunday Market feel that such attempts endanger their livelihood. 

“This is the market by the poor. How will you maintain your smart city when you starve the suffering population by creating hurdles for them?” Asks Arif, a street vendor who has been coming to Sunday market for the last eight years. 

On a usual Sunday, the now occupied road would serve as the parking for the street vendors and shoppers alike, and in addition to that, it would accommodate about fifteen stalls. 

Just next to Arif’s cart, Javed and his friend are setting up theirs.

When asked if they too were troubled by the narrowing down of the road, the duo agreed, but refused to speak in detail. 

“Do you want us to get beaten up by the police?” they asked, and added that they were not in a position to speak.  

A surveillance sign is put up next to the paintings (not in picture) drawn as a part of placemaking marathon aimed to “beautify the city”. [FPK Photo/Zainab]

Like Javed and his friend, many others feared that speaking against the activities of the administration would invite trouble. 

“Most of us have stayed home, because some knew about the occupied road. You see there are only five of us here today while there would be fifteen in this line on a normal business day,” said Mohsen. 

Mohsen has been coming to the market for close to a decade now. 

“What does it mean?” Mohsen asks, distantly gazing at the art installation put behind him- a drum resting on a cycle cart. 

An art installation is put up on the road as a part of Smart City Project’s placemaking marathon. [FPK Photo/Zainab]

“They have drawn snakes and ladders on the road, are they playing snakes and ladders with us Kashmiris? Are they not playing with our situation?” Umar and Mohsen asked, still looking for answers. 

“This is zulm,” Arif added. 

Agitated with the situation around, a carpet vendor, Abid, who arrived to the market in his van said that it took him thirty minutes to figure out where he would park his vehicle today.

“I would come and park my car on this patch of the road every Sunday. I was shocked to see a boat resting here today.”

Appreciating the “creativity” of the students, Abid’s only concern was that where was the alternative parking for scores of those vehicles now.

Vehicles stand parked in front of mural which was painted over a public wall as a part of Srinagar Smart city Limited’s “placemaking marathon” drive. [FPK Photo/Zainab]

“We might not come next Sunday if it remains barricaded. This is too inconvenient,” the duo says. 

For Mohsen, Arif, and Zahoor, it has been a rough year with the second wave of COVID hitting Kashmir in early April.

The trio has been finding it hard to make their ends meet, “and every time we try to recover from the loss, the administration tries to create hurdles,” says Zahoor, adding that he awaits Kashmir as it was thirty years ago.

The reporter tried to reach out to SMC Commissioner and SSP Traffic for their comments, but neither of them answered the journalistic requests.

The story will be updated with their comments as and when they respond.

 

Names of vendors have been changed as per their request, to protect their identities. 

 

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