Eviction ruins Hampi vendors

Eviction ruins Hampi vendors

The car street in front of the Virupaksha temple in Hampi, cleared of encroachments and illegal buildings. dh photo

Silence pervades what used to be a busy market, following the demolition of shops that lined the road to clear encroachments. a week ago.

This is the same market place, where legend has it that measuring can fulls of pearls and diamonds were sold during the rule of Vijayanagar kings. The street has now lost its identity and is deserted.

More than 250 families, which earned a livelihood for generations as shopkeepers, are now in doldrums. The shops sold fruits, coconuts, flowers, camphor, vermilion, bangles, portraits of gods and goddesses, decorative items and sugar candies. Those running hotels on the street too face a grim future.

Unesco, which had included a 41 sq-km area in Hampi and its surroundings in the World Heritage list, had recommended that encroachments and unauthorised buildings in the area be cleared. Failing which, the heritage status would be withdrawn, Unesco had said, 12 years ago.

The High Court had also ordered that the encroachments be cleared. It is in this light that the district administration has undertaken the drive to clear the encroachments.

A proposal on handing over a 15.9 sq-km area - comprising the Virupaksha temple, the ‘salumantapa’ in front of the temple, car street and the Basavanna temple - which was under the State archaeology department to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was submitted in 2003. The demolition of the shops last week is the first step in this direction.

The shopkeepers said the officials had informed them about clearing the encroachments eight days ago at night when it was raining. Without even giving them a chance to think, the shops were demolished at 9 am the next day.

Alternative arrangements have also not been provided for the shopkeepers. “Not knowing what to do, we are staying put in the same place,” said Keshavaram, who used to run a hotel and Mangal Gujarati, who sold clothes.

“Our peak business is during the Hindu month of Shravan, and between December and March. Since our shops have been demolished in Shravan, we stand to suffer huge losses. The allegations that we fleece foreign tourists is baseless. They are good bargainers and hence, domestic tourists are our lifeline,” said Thippamma, Sujatha, Shashikala, Sakkubai, Eramma and Wahida Begum.

They owned an assortment of shops like those selling bangles, clothes and tea stalls. Though the district administration has promised to rehabilitate them, no one has a clue as to when it will happen.

If the shopkeepers are rehabilitated far away from the temple, no tourist will come, as they will buy the items at shops on the street beside the temple, says Komarappa, another shopkeeper.

Many people, including writer Girish Karnad, say since cranes were used for the demolition, damage had been done to the ‘salumantapa’ and other monuments. They said that the shopkeepers were now in distress.

Narasimhan, chief of the Bangalore zone of ASI, said excavations would be made to restore the ‘ratha beedhi’ and the mantaps to their original glory. Sale of flowers, fruits, coconuts, camphor, vermilion would be allowed in the mantaps, he said. The tourism and the Kannada and Culture departments have promised to give Rs five crore for rehabilitation of shopkeepers, he added.

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