The City District Government, Lahore (CDGL)’s recent drive to systematically remove any encroachments along the main roads and set up Rerhi Bazaars in their place, has met with a mixed response.
The said bazaars, initially started at Fatehgarh and Lal Pul, Mughalpura, and now extending to Kareem Block Market and Canal Road, introduced what the government calls ‘Model Push Carts.’ The idea was to beautify the city and ensure cleanliness while also checking illegally running roadside stalls. But most vendors fear going out of work.
“The government should’ve taken care of the fact that our lives will be affected,” says a fruit vendor, begrudgingly. “We’ve been running our businesses here for ages.”
Another vendor in Lal Pul blames the town municipal administration for “discriminating against us. In the name of the anti-encroachment drive, our stalls and goods are thrown away mercilessly, so that the Rerhi Bazaars could flourish.
“The staff [of town municipal administration] blackmails us and asks for a ‘monthly’ if we don’t want our stalls to be removed.”
Yet another roadside vendor believes it is wrong to assume that push carts block traffic or cause accidents. “We are far away from the main road. I wonder why the need to establish Rerhi Bazaars,” he says.
Traditionally speaking, the push cart stalls have long served the low-income and salaried classes in downtown areas and interior city. “They are convenient and cheap,” says a resident of Lal Pul area. “They offer us fresh fruits and vegetables almost at our doorstep.”
These stalls attract even greater crowds during the night time when the vendors are looking to sell every item possible before they go back home. “It’s a very interesting situation for the customers; one they can take due advantage of,” the local says with a smile.
But the situation might change — for better or for worse — especially as the district government looks forward to expanding the Rerhi Bazaars to Canal Road, while removing all existing encroachments. This, despite the fact that the project, which was started in the month of Ramzan, has not been a success. Not so far, at least.
Even a vendor of Rerhi Bazaar at Lal Pul agrees that the bazaar is “not so successful. We’re hoping things will improve with time.”
The official version is, obviously, telling a different story. According to Naeem Arif, Superintendent, General Branch, Aziz Bhatti Town, “The drive through Rerhi Bazaars is doing very well. More and more people are applying to the town administration for acquiring space in the bazaars.”
Currently, there is no space in the bazaar for a new push cart, reveals the town official. There are 13 push carts plying in Lal Pul Bazaar and 30 in Fatehgarh. The vendors of these have been given loan by Akhuwat Foundation that works only on the recommendation of the town. If a vendor wants loan, he must first acquire space in the bazaar. Later, he moves an application. If the town administration approves it, the application is sent to the said Foundation that should issue him interest-free loan.
Eventually, the applicant is paid Rs8,000 for a push cart and an extra Rs12,000 so that he can arrange the goods he wants to sell in the bazaar. He is supposed to return the loan in installments.
The purpose of introducing model push carts is to “beautify the city and… to promote a uniform cart culture,” says the town official. “Besides, these carts shall ensure hygiene standards as they sell food items like barbeque, burgers, and even ice-cream.”
The official rejects the notion that the drive is meant to dislodge the vendors other than those part of the Rerhi Bazaars. “The model push carts are selling quality eatables at reasonable rates. These are ideal for families.”
He also speaks of the government’s plan to distribute over a hundred push carts among the vendors in the city.
Meanwhile, those who have been in the business for a long time do not share the town official’s optimism. They fear that the Canal Rd widening project shall have all of them removed. Some of these vendors are already planning to move their businesses.