by Bich Huong
Many people are outraged at Ha Noi police for seizing a 20 litre canister of free-tea-for-the-poor placed on the pavement in Giai Phong Street in Hoang Mai District.
In May, Tran Nam Anh, a resident in the street in Thinh Liet Ward, and his neighbours donated money to provide the iced tea daily for poor passers-by, mostly migrant workers.
Nam Anh hung a note next to the canister tank reading: "Free tea. Don't hesitate!" The tea was particularly popular during recent heatwaves. Containers of free water are also seen in other parts of the city.
Late last month, ward police seized the canister in Hoang Mai, saying that it violated sidewalk rules and affected road safety.
Nineteen-year-old student Nguyen Hung from Ha Noi's Tay Ho District said that people would stop trying to do good deeds if this was the result. He asked why police seized the tea container but ignored businesses and motorbikes that also encroached on much more pavement space.
He said the crackdown reminded him of a few months ago when young volunteers were praised for selling watermelons in the streets of Da Nang and Ha Noi to help flood-hit farmers in central Quang Nam Province.
"It's unreasonable to require people to get permission to do a good deed," Hung said. "I'm sure that Nam Anh and many people did not intend to affect traffic when they put the free canister on the pavement. People stop to have a cup of tea and go. How can they block the traffic?," Hung said.
A doctor of Sociology at the Institute of Social Sciences, Trinh Hoa Binh, said that for years, authorities including police, had failed to stop pavements being occupied by vehicles and traders. He said the public had lost trust in the police and other authorities because of this neglect.
Lawyer Nguyen Van Hau from HCM City Bar Association said people would not accept the forced removal of free water containers while illegal parking and trading on the pavements still continued.
Moreover, he said according to the Law on Handling Administrative Violations, when police seized the water container as an exhibit of a violation, the alleged violator should have been informed and given a chance to voice an opinion.
The police seized the container without consulting the tank owner. "The seizure did not follow proper legal process," he said.
Chairman of Thinh Liet Ward People's Committee Nguyen Ngoc Hai said that seizing the water container on the sidewalk was part of the police job to keep pavement order. But it seems that pressure from the media has caused some officials to have a rethink.
A week after the outcry, the canister was returned to Nam Anh to continue offering free tea. But there is one condition: the canister must not block pedestrian traffic. This seems like a reasonable solution, but wouldn't it be delightful if the authorities would take more action to free up the pavements for pedestrians. After all, the pavements were built for them! — VNS