Breach of duty by authorities if choping is not stopped

I am both gladdened and saddened by the National Environment Agency's reply (Two hawker centres set 'house rules' against choping; Sept 2).

It is good that the NEA has acknowledged that "choping" is indeed a problem. But its approach to solving this is not in touch with reality.

The softly-softly approach has not worked. Many people have written to the newspapers on this. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also commented negatively after the incident involving the couple in an altercation with an elderly man over choping at a hawker centre.

Despite all these, the NEA responded lamely, while the HDB and the Singapore Tourism Board have remained silent.

This is sending the wrong signal to everyone.

All of us have seen vulnerable people and tourists carrying trays of hot food being turned away from choped tables and seats by selfish diners.

It saddens me to see that there are Singaporeans - and now, some foreign workers here too - who cannot just sit down together to eat.

The authorities don't seem to realise that:

- In building a hawker centre, they have a duty to ensure the public's safety. It is reasonable to say that diners who are forced to wander around carrying hot food to look for a place to sit (because nearby seats are all choped), do so at a real risk to other diners.

Failure by the authorities to ban choping could amount to breach of their duty.

- Choping is a waste of seating resources. Often, by the time a person who is choping comes back to his choped seat with his food, another diner could have sat there, eaten and left.

- Choping is grossly unfair because the chopers can still have priority of seats over other diners who came earlier but did not reserve a seat.

- Choping is divisive to society.

- Choping gives Singapore a bad name.

Enough is enough; I implore the authorities to immediately place signboards and notices strategically at eating places, warning, in bold red, "Strictly no reservation of tables and seats".

Then, everyone would know who's legally and morally right or wrong.

Ho Meng Hee