Are street vendors the only encroachers?
Gareeb ki koi <g data-gr-id="79">nahi</g> <g data-gr-id="80">sunta</g>” (no one listens to the poor). This famous line from Hindi films of the 1980s was a cry of the exploited poor against the rich and powerful. Dramatic as it may seem, this refrain is all too common in the real world too.
I am talking about the street vendors of Delhi. Beginning September 10, Delhi traffic police will launch an encroachment removal campaign cracking down on hawkers who have encroached on footpaths.
Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung recently asked all encroachments on Delhi’s footpaths to be removed. While this order must be applauded as encroachments force people to walk on the main carriageway, making them more vulnerable to road accidents, the order does not take into account illegally parked cars and two-wheelers and badly designed infrastructure like streetlights.
Who is a street vendor?
A street vendor is a person who sells goods of daily usage, often through moveable stalls.
Street vending as a profession has been in existence in India since the olden days. However, their numbers have increased manifold in the recent years. This could be because of migration of people
from rural areas to urban metropolises.
One study estimates that Mumbai has the largest number of street vendors (around 250,000), while Delhi has around 200,000. Kolkata has more than 150,000 street vendors, and Ahmedabad has around 100,000. In cities, many of these vendors are women. Some studies state street vendors constitute approximately two <g data-gr-id="76">per cent</g> of the total population of a metropolis.
Urban vending not only provides employment to the poor but also gives “affordable” services to a majority of the urban population. But they are considered as unlawful entities and are subjected to continuous harassment by civic authorities.
In 2014, Government of India passed the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act to protect the rights of urban street vendors and regulate street vending activities. It ensures that civic authorities <g data-gr-id="75">allot</g> designated spaces to existing street vendors up to 2.5 percent of the population of the ward or zone or town or city.
Delhi’s PWD minister, Satyender Jain, has assured that his government’s road improvement policy would encourage hawkers on footpaths for a lively atmosphere and to provide a sense of security to pedestrians, especially women. But Delhi traffic police has been entrusted with the task of removing hawkers from footpaths.
Delhi is currently facing a huge problem of vehicular ownership. At present, according to Delhi Statistical Handbook of 2014, the city has around 8.2 million registered vehicles. The removal of illegally parked vehicles should be on top of the priority list for the authorities.
It is clear that street vendors have to be allotted a designated space along urban streets as they have been guaranteed space by the Government of India. Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) recently did a detailed study on redesigning of the Alaknanda Road in South Delhi. The design provides a dedicated MUZ (Multi Utility Zone) for such activities.
Street vendor’s bill
In February 2014, the Indian Parliament passed The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill. Once enacted it will provide relief to hundreds of thousands of street vendors across the country who have been facing regular harassment at the hands of police and municipalities.
A study by National Association for Street Vendors of India (NASVI), a group of 715 organisations representing 450,000 street vendors in the country, states that 95 <g data-gr-id="73">per cent</g> of the 600,000 street vendors in Delhi do not have licence. In fact, there are only handfuls who know that licence is
essential to place a handcart, says Mahavir.
Obtaining a licence is no mean feat. The <g data-gr-id="74">tehbazari</g> in every municipal corporation issues the licence. For this, it charges Rs 100-Rs 1,000, depending upon the municipal authority. It also asks for some documents, which most people do not possess, or are illiterate to produce. Back on the street, they face constant harassment through extortion and eviction.
Street vendors pay a whopping Rs 600 crore as bribe every year in Delhi alone, states a study by Delhi non-profit Manushi. According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, street vending supports 10 million families in India.
“This informal sector provides a perfect distribution network for a country like India where everybody cannot afford to go to malls and retail shops. In fact, if one visits a vegetable or a fruit market, even the elite can be spotted making purchases there,” says <g data-gr-id="77">Sharit</g> K Bhowmik, a national fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research, and professor at the Centre for Labour Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He has worked with street-food vendors for over three decades.
DOWN TO EARTH
(The author is a Research Associate, Clean Air and Sustainable Mobility, CSE. The views expressed are personal. Additional inputs from Down to Earth)