Op-Ed: A Little World Torn Asunder

Laxmidhar is distraught. The man from Tigiria, who looks after his family of five with the paan-cum-tea shop he runs below the under-construction Lingaraj Vihar flyover in Bhubaneswar, is about to be squeezed out of his place. “Where shall we go? Please do something for us. Sir,” pleads Laxmidhar, not ready to believe that there is precious little that this writer can do about it.

Laxmidhar is not alone. The lives of about 40 families are on the verge of being torn asunder because the authorities have decided to fence out the place below the flyover where they used to earn their livelihood till now. In fact, iron bars have already been erected on one side of the flyover with only a small opening left. Soon, that too will be closed as will the other side.

A quick inquiry revealed that the reason all these people are being ejected is to ‘protect’ them from being crushed under in case of a possible collapse of the over bridge constructed by the infamous Panda Infra. What logic! One wonders why, in that case, the flyover itself is not being demolished. What would happen to the people commuting on it if and when it does collapse?

Like the underneath of most flyovers, this one too was once a place throbbing with activity. There were vegetable vendors, paan-bidi-chai sellers, idli-bara and dahibara-aludam wallahs, egg and fish vendors and so on. Of late, a makeshift auto rickshaw stand had also come up at the place. Residents of Lingaraj Vihar, Ananta Vihar and Bhimatangi thronged the place to buy their daily needs. One of the major reasons the market thrived was the abundant parking space under the flyover. One could approach the place from either side, park his bike or car, buy his stuff and return without affecting traffic on the busy road leading to the Lingaraj level-crossing nearby. Even those coming to the Lingaraj Vihar market used to park their vehicles under the over bridge. With the entire area now fenced off, the vendors have no option but to occupy the little space between the road and the fence. And their customers would have no choice but to park their vehicles on the road, making the already clogged road even more so. The authorities don’t seem to have factored this in while taking the decision to fence off the whole place. Of course, the traffic congestion would end once the flyover is thrown open for public and the level crossing is closed. But till then, it would be a nightmare for commuters on the road.

The soon-to-be-displaced vendors say what led to the decision by the BMC authorities is complaints by residents of Lingaraj Vihar living across the road that the presence of vendors under the flyover was choking the narrow road that separates Lingaraj Vihar from the flyover. But little do they realize that the road would be congested even more than it already is once these people are ejected. After all, they can hardly be expected to go back to their villages and will obviously set up somewhere near the place.

Labourers giving finishing touches to the iron fence below the flyover

The place below the flyover also served other purposes. It provided commuters respite from the scorching sun and rain. With both sides open, it was also a very airy place where tired, sweating pedestrians and cyclists could rest a while. Once the whole place is fenced off, there will be no place for the commuters to hide themselves from sun and rain. If the experience of other such fenced off places beneath flyovers in the city is anything to go by, it could very well become a dumping yard for construction material for petty contractors working in cahoots with BMC officials or a den of vices.

The irony is hard to miss. On the one hand, the state government has embarked on an ambitious plan to provide land to slum dwellers who have encroached government land. On the other, it is bent on denying livelihood to people who just plied their wares and did not encroach the place in anyway. With space at a premium in the rapidly growing Smart City, it makes eminent sense to allow the use of such open spaces. But who will tell that to the Tughlaqi officials?

Those who have seen Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Traffic Signal’ can readily empathise with the plight of the people about to be thrown out of the place they earned their living in. But sitting in their air conditioned officers, the civic authorities would never understand that it is people who make cities, not fenced off places kept out of bounds for them.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)