Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh on Wednesday promised soft loans to thousands of women street vendors who have taken over virtually all the footpaths and other available space in Imphal.
"This will enable the women vendors to earn livelihood through some other means of earning, far away from the city," he said on the sidelines of a function commissioning a garbage truck donated by the State Bank of India to the Imphal Municipal Corporation.
In Manipur, all markets are exclusively run by women.
Biren Singh said: "The squatting women vendors are obstructing traffic and pedestrians in the fast growing city. With the bank loans the vendors could start weaving, rearing of ducks and hens and the like and do the business elsewhere.
"In such an eventuality, there will be no overcrowding in the city," he added.
This is the second attempt by the government to clear away the street vendors.
Some months back, Minister T. Shyamkumar, who is in charge of the Imphal Municipal Corporation, had evicted the street vendors as he had planned to have a clean city. But the women returned to their respective places within hours.
Shyamkumar, who was present in Wednesday's function, said: "We seek the cooperation of the women vendors and appeal to them not to scatter fruit and vegetable peels on the streets."
Women vendors sharply reacted to the Chief Minister's suggestion that the women vendors take loans to embrace new businesses.
Fish vendor Pishakmacha said she made purchases from a number of fishermen coming to Imphal and ran her family "with the meagre profit" she made. "I cannot make a living by rearing hens or ducks."
Nungshitombi Laishram is a greengrocer who reaches Imphal daily by 3 a.m. "I am over 70 years of age and I cannot do any other work," she said.
Piyari Lisam, who sells cookies and sweets under a flyover, said: "Street vendors are an evil necessity in all cities. The corporation has recognised us. The Chief Minister should not speak irresponsible things."
In the past, an alternative market was allotted to the women vendors but they refused to shift to the new place, saying it was customer-unfriendly.
Another vendor, Lukamani, spoke menacingly: "The BJP government has not learnt any lesson from history. The mighty British could not browbeat us even after bayoneting the women vendors."