A thriving market for illegal vendors

 09 Feb 2013 - 6:13


A hawker selling pirated DVDs of a popular film. RIGHT: A small scuffle for getting chewing tobacco from a vendor. salim matrmakot

DOHA: On Fridays, the small grounds on both sides of Grand Hamad Avenue or Bank Street are filled with crowds of low-income workers who converge in the hundreds from the Industrial Area and from as far as Al Khor and Al Shamal.

The workers are of various nationalities, such as Nepalese, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, with the former far outnumbering the latter two.

As low-income workers are barred from visiting public parks, shopping malls and hypermarkets that are reserved for families during the weekends, many of them say since they have nowhere else to go, they converge here to meet friends and relatives and exchange pleasantries.

Many come here to hand over gifts meant for their near and dear ones back home to those who are going home, while others come with friends just to kill time.

Taking advantage of the crowds, some low-income workers vend things like bottled mineral water, chewing tobacco products and pirated CDs and DVDs of popular films and songs, mainly Hindi, Nepalese and Bengali.

Worryingly, the most popular items, which sell like hot cakes, are chewing tobacco products, mostly from India.

Enquiries by this newspaper revealed that these banned products are brought here by individuals for vending at lucrative margins.

A vendor said on condition of anonymity that a small packet of chewing tobacco that is available India for `2 (15 dirhams) sells for as much as QR2 to QR3 — 15 to 30 times its original retail price.

The illegal vendors keep their goods hidden in bags so the police cannot catch them, and solicit customers carefully, looking around to see if law-enforcement officials are around.

The vendors, who are low-income workers, do this to earn some extra income. A chewing tobacco vendor said he was an electrician and turned into a mobile phone hawker on Fridays, and made no less than QR200 each week. “That’s extra income for me since my salary is low,” he said.

The illegal vendors have become wiser over time and operate mostly between 1pm and 3.30pm since, according to them, law-enforcement officials on patrol duty, like the police or sleuths from the Search and Follow-Up Department of the Ministry of Interior, aren’t around during that time. Sources claim that many in the crowds that throng the Grand Hamad Avenue and those who frequent areas in Muesheireb also indulge in gambling.