Livelihood issues for Delhi’s poor ignored

For the past few days, the whole discussion about Delhi has focused on the relationship between Delhi Police and Delhi Government. In the interim, issues related to governance, especially matters of civic governance, have been grossly neglected. Neither the chief minister nor his ministers or officials have had the time to engage the municipal corporations on problems of vital importance. 

Municipal governance of Delhi does not just entail cleaning drains or building roads. They indeed are an important clog in the wheel of the municipal responsibilities. However, there are also matters which relate to the livelihood of its people. 

One such responsibility relates to the livelihood of the city’s street food vendors. The chief minister has gone to town calling cops names alleging that they take bribes from the street vendors. But has the chief minister ever realised how inaction by his government is ‘empowering’ the average cop in taking a bribe. Sometime back, the various municipal corporations of Delhi, after the Parliament passed the act for the protection of street vendors, released a circular giving protection to the street vendors saying that they would be removed only after a survey has been conducted. 

The survey, on the other hand, can be conducted only after Delhi Government notifies the relevant rules for the protection of street vendors under section 38 of Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi and New Delhi Municipal Council had long back sent their input to the Delhi Government for notification of the rules to be followed by the municipal bodies. The Kejriwal government has preferred to sleep over the matter rather than act on it.

The Delhi Government would be doing a yeoman service to poor vendors, if it was to notify these rules. Having said that I have my genuine doubts about the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) desire to genuinely help street vendors. Other than making a show on camera of its love for street vendors, the Kejriwal government has done very little. Whatever little protection, which the street vendors enjoy, is thanks to the circular issued by the municipal bodies. For the uninitiated, the municipal bodies in Delhi are controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party and not the AAP.

On the contrary the AAP government in Delhi has unveiled a very dangerous scheme of snatching away livelihood from street vendors and rendering them jobless. According to vendor advocacy bodies, with whom I have had a chance to interact, the Delhi government’s move to provide subsidised meals through Aam Aadmi Canteen scheme will ruin the livelihood of thousands of street food vendors.

 It will prove to be a major setback for these food vendors who provide a hearty meal to the working class that includes labourers, students and caregivers of patients in government hospitals, apart from thousands of vendors in the city at a very reasonable rate.

According to their estimates there are 10-15 lakhs construction workers and labourers in the city. Apart from that there are 4.2 lakh people in the slums and 5 lakh street vendors. The livelihood of street food vendors depends on catering to this population. After the implementation of this ill-thought scheme, these street food vendors will be robbed of their only source of income.

Instead of introducing such a scheme, the Delhi Government should first notify rules for the implementation of the Street Vendors Act. Thereafter the municipal bodies can insure that these street food vendors are provided proper infrastructure and training, which in turn would add professionalism to street food vending and increase their acceptability in society. This will be a major step forward that will serve two purposes at a time – poor residents will get good quality food at cheaper rates and the livelihood of these street food vendors will be augmented. 

The street vendors need recognition and encouragement in action from this so-called “pro-poor” government and not mere wordy homilies. 

(The writer is Leader of House, MCD, South and general secretary, Delhi BJP. The views expressed are personal)
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