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Traffic conditions in Guwahati have deteriorated to such an extent that the city is now used to traffic jams. To counter this, the state government has been building flyovers across the city. Whether the flyovers have helped ease traffic concerns is another matter, but, their gestation period is increasingly hurting businesses around them, and the situation has worsened since the pandemic. 

Take popular areas of Guwahati like the Zoo Road, one of the city’s lifelines. Before the pandemic, this was a bustling space: from people going to different parts of the city, to shoppers thronging this area for purchases, this was one of the most lively places in the region. Naturally then, the shopkeepers benefited a lot from this, and this was one of Guwahati’s most valuable real estate plots. But in January 2022, the work on the flyover connecting RG Baruah road to Geetanagar started, and the project, which will cost about Rs 79 crore, will take another 18 months to wrap up if things go as per plan. If we witness more lockdowns, that window is likely to be extended. 

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And the traders, from small to big, are uncertain whether their businesses will survive until next year. Crippled by low to no demand during the pandemic, the businesses were already on their last legs, especially the smaller ones that depend on daily sales for survival. But with the end of the pandemic, the work on the flyover has started too. And this has meant endless traffic jams, no space for parking vehicles, and establishments covered in dust. In short, no customers, few sales, and a bleak future. 

Such is the impact that local shop owners said their businesses are down about 50%. Dinesh Saikia, the owner of a Chat House near the upcoming flyover, told EastMojo, “We, the small vendors, are facing tremendous losses. No one wants to have food at a place covered in dust, and with parking space…our very existence is at stake. How can one feed his family when you only earn Rs 150-Rs 200 per day, which is not even half of what I need to run my shop. I have only one request to the authority. Please complete the project at the earliest.” 

Digen Bhattacharya, President, Zoo Road Narengi Traders Union and owner of Zoo Road Medicos, agreed that the flyover was an essential project which would ease people’s movements in the future. “But right now, the whole trader fraternity is worried. First, we were hit by the lockdown, and then the project…we need a solution before the flyover is completed,” he told EastMojo

The project will likely take another 18 months to be completed.

Smaller vendors, of course, have it far worse. Arunima Roy, a vegetable vendor shared her plight. “I am a widow with three children and this shop is the only way of an income. My three children used to go to school. But now, it has become so difficult to earn a daily meal that going to school is a luxury for us now. The barricaded area was where I used to sit before and get several customers. But now, no one stops, even if the vegetables are fresh because of the zero parking space and the dust that makes it difficult to even breathe. I request the government to kindly settle these things at the earliest.”

Almost all the traders that EastMojo spoke with agreed that the Zoo Road flyover was a necessity and they knew their businesses would suffer. However, the pandemic-inforced lockdown meant the period of losses would extend way longer than expected. Romesh Deka, the owner of New Hungry Jack, said. “Every day, we start our shop in the hope that at least we will be able to serve half the number of customers we used to have before. But the truth is, there are days when we didn’t receive a single customer. Earlier, it was COVID that broke us badly. Things are so bad I have to calculate before buying groceries for home. I still have to give salaries to my staff irrespective of how many customers they serve. How am I supposed to support my family and the shop staff without earning a penny? Will government provide us with any subsidiary protection?” he asked.  

Workers spray water to reduce dust in the air, which, traders say, has severely affected all the eateries in that stretch.

The locals also added that in the name of the Zoo Road flyover project, the authorities had removed all tree cover, which aggravated the dust problem. “Trees planted last year have been chopped off along with decades-old trees. The dust issue will be a big problem until monsoons, after which we will face even more problems,” Deka pointed out. 

Officials EastMojo spoke with on the ground said that the Zoo Road flyover was on course to be completed as per schedule. “We are doing everything we can to ensure the timely completion of this project. Any upcoming project like this will cause discomfort to locals. We understand this, but as you know, compensation or redressal of their concerns is outside our purview,” the official who was not authorised to speak with the media told EastMojo

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