Encroachments at Pindi bazaars compounding traffic problems

Encroachments at Pindi bazaars compounding traffic problems

Synopsis

Political pressures and interference of traders’ union shield encroachers

Encroachments at Pindi bazaars compounding traffic problems

Without the provision of adequate parking space and removal of encroachments from the inner-city areas the traffic-related issues in downtown could not be managed, Image: File

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ISLAMABAD: Like all big cities in the country, Rawalpindi is also facing encroachment issues at big bazaars creating serious traffic problems even for the pedestrians.

The Rawalpindi Metropolitan Corporation (RMC), responsible for regulating the civic activities in the markets, seems helpless before the encroachers who, after illegally occupying the footpaths, have now encroached upon the sides of the roads with their kiosks.

This is the story of every downtown market be it the Raja Bazaar, Bara Market, Iqbal Road, Namakmandi, Ganjmandi, Mochi Bazaar, Bohar Bazaar, College Road, Gowalmandi Road, Jamia Masjid Road, Banni Chowk and the adjoining markets.

Some insiders in the RMC, requesting anonymity, have informed Bol News that illegal occupation cannot be done without the connivance of the officials of the civic body. The encroachers not only pay the shopkeepers who facilitate them in setting up illegal kiosks in front of their shops, but they also grease the palms of anti-encroachment officials of the civic body for running their businesses on footpaths and roads.

Officials at the RMC have claimed that anti-encroachment drives are carried out on a regular basis, but political pressures and interference of traders’ union shield encroachers, paving the way for the illegal activity to continue.

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The RMC officials also said that vested interests of councillors, trade union leaders of the downtown bazaars and the shopkeepers who receive rents from the kiosks’ owners, are also factors that are hurdles in the removal of encroachments permanently.

A resident of Mohanpura who has to face the ordeal of long traffic jams due to encroachments at City-Saddar Road — the hub of hardware and timber businesses — has said that the civic body is lacking the will to remove the encroachments as the anti-encroachment officials of the RMC are taking bribe from the encroachers while the elected representatives have their own limitations as they have to take votes from these people.

He recalled that in early 2000 when Haider Ali was elected mayor of the RMC, a massive anti-encroachment drive was launched. But the entire traders’ community of Rawalpindi’s inner-city bazaars went against him and the next time, Haider Ali could not even win the seat of a councillor. Later, the city bazaars were encroached upon again.

Lack of parking

The residents of the localities adjacent to these markets have said that another reason for the congestions at the inner-city bazars was due to the lack of proper parking areas, and the only parking plaza at the Fawwara Chowk was insufficient to cater to the needs of the influx of shoppers at the markets.

Chairman Rawalpindi Development Authority Tariq Murtaza had planned to turn the Raja Bazaar and other main bazaars into parking-free zones, but the plan could not be materialized due to lack of funds. Currently the traffic jams in these bazaars are a routine and sometimes the logjams last for several hours. Without the provision of adequate parking space and removal of encroachments from the inner-city areas the traffic-related issues in downtown could not be managed, said a shopkeeper.

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Exceeding limits

It has been learnt that the RMC has permitted the vendors to set up their businesses up to a certain limit at the footpaths and other open places in the main bazaars as they are registered with the civic body that receives rents from the vendors. But, the vendors more often than not exceed their limits and besides occupying the footpaths have extended their kiosks to the sides of the roads as well.

Some shopkeepers, requesting anonymity, have told Bol News that most of the traders at the main Raja Bazaar had rented out the spaces in front of their shops and are part and parcel of the illegal occupation. They have also held the anti-encroachment officials responsible for the chaos, as after the confiscation of the illegal kiosks, they (officials) return them after receiving nominal fine.

Former Rawalpindi mayor Sardar Naseem, while talking to Bol News, said that encroachments in the downtown markets was a chronic problem and needed immediate action. He recalled that in the past, the municipal authorities, in a move to remove the encroachers from the big market areas, had allotted small shops at markets in relatively less congested areas like Committee Chowk, Banni and Ghazani, but majority of the vendors sold the shops and headed back to the busy downtown bazaars again.

He maintained that encroachments could not be fully removed from these bazars as hundreds of families are earning their livelihood from these kiosks. All that the civic body could do is to regulate them and restrict them to the place where these kiosks would have minimum impact on the traffic flow, suggested Sardar Naseem.

He said that a big area, suitable for parking spaces, is available right at the heart of these bazaars from where the defunct Rawalpindi Municipal Corporation was moved to a new building at Liaquat Road.

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He also suggested that once a proper parking plaza is established, the inner-city bazaars could be declared parking-free zones which would greatly ease traffic congestion.

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