It has been four years. Still the memories of the fateful day — January 12, 2009 — haunt 50-year-old Shakuntala Devi when MCD officers and police marched into a market in Prem Nagar near INA in south Delhi, and evicted all 70 vendors, including her.
They were displaced because their market fell under a Commonwealth Games construction site. The vendors not only lost their goods, worth anything from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000, but also their self esteem. Shakuntala’s life has never been the same again. Now she runs a tea stall under a bridge in the same area, and faces harassment at the hands of police, corrupt corporation staff, and musclemen.
While the entire country was busy applauding at the CWG events, nobody cared about the plight of people like her. Such is the life of lakhs of vendors and hawkers spread across the city’s streets.
“I had been selling fruit in the market for over 20 years when I was evicted. The market had been there since 1966. All of us used to pay tehbazari to the corporation. And here I am now, fighting for survival every day,” Shakuntala says.
Tehbazari is a right of an individual to vend, which is allotted in return for a licence fee paid to the local body.
Years of struggle by street vendors to enjoy a secure and dignified livelihood finally yielded result on September 6 this year with Lok Sabha passing the much awaited Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill.
The bill is meant to ensure livelihood and social security to over 10 million urban street vendors, who face several barriers and harassment from municipal bodies and police across cities and towns of India. According to the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), there are 3.5 lakh street vendors in Delhi alone.
“Once enacted, the legislation will go a long way in changing the face of Indian cities and towns. Cities are changing rapidly and several opportunities are coming up. Once legalised and protected, street vendors will be able to avail opportunities as they too have equal stakes in missions of development and democracy,” says NASVI national coordinator Arbind Singh.
Organisations working for the cause of street vendors say the real tussle is over space. The holding capacity of every market in the capital is full to the brim. So if a new vendor tries to enter the market, musclemen shoo him away. And if he resists then corrupt corporation staff and police trouble him so much that he either ends up paying them or lands in custody.
It’s a hard life
Ram Kishan, 32, who sells cosmetic items at Harkesh Nagar in Okhla, says there are 300 vendors in the market and each pays a monthly protection fee to police. “I earn Rs 5,000 to Rs 7, 000 a month and I have to give anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 every month or else I can’t work here.”
Two years ago his brother refused to pay police, so they picked him up. He had to make rounds of the court to get bail. “I am a family man. I can’t afford to invite trouble so I pay heed to such illegal demands,” says Kishan, father of two sons.
Vendors usually have no choice but to suffer this humiliation. But with the enactment of the bill they will get vending certificates which will enable them to sell legally. The bill also provides a strong grievance redressal mechanism that will allow them to raise issues related to harassment and the so-called protection money.
But there are other issues as well.
Many residents complain that vendors are the eyes and ears of miscreants. “They are everywhere and they can pass on information of localities to anti-social elements. It raises the risk of thefts, robberies and other crimes,” says Rohit Vasant, resident of RK Puram.
Experts say the figures of vendors committing crime are extremely small. “Only two per cent of all crimes committed in Delhi are by vendors and hawkers,” says Sharit Bhowmik, professor of labour studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
Even the Justice J S Verma committee, which was constituted after the December 16 gang rape of a physiotherapy student in Delhi, pointed out that street vendors make city streets safe and so they should be encouraged by authorities.
“Street vending should be encouraged to make bus stops and footpaths safe for communities and pedestrians, in addition to providing street food for common people,” the report said.
However, residents say encroachment by vendors causes inconvenience. “Vendors seem to have encroached upon every inch of vacant space. They don’t even leave busy roads, which leads to traffic jams,” says Malini Shekhar, 48, resident of Mayur Vihar Phase 1.
The municipal corporations have bodies to monitor encroachment. “We keep monitoring the areas and if we find encroachments we take action,” says Yogendra Mann, spokesperson of North and East Corporations.
Some people fear that vegetable vendors who come to their localities will be driven out after the proposed vending zones are created. Actually no restrictions will be placed on mobile vendors, rather they will be issued multiple licences under the proposed legislation to sell in localities.
“Vendors are the best door-to-door service providers. I can’t imagine my life without them as they provide cheap and best products,” says Apoorav Aggarwal, Shahdara resident.
Experts are of the opinion that implementation of the bill will bring reform in municipal corporations.
“The biggest bottleneck in implementation of the bill could be lack of will on the part of civic agencies and police. Even big realtors and shop owners could try to create hindrance as they fear losing out on their share of profit margin, as vendors pose competition to them by selling more diverse products at reasonable prices,” says Bhowmik.
According to NASVI programme manager Ranjit Abhigyan, the proposed bill can only address problems faced by this community. But to solve their woes they have to stand united and voice their concerns.
“The enactment of the law will trigger organising street vendors and a major task will be to ensure proper implementation of law. Urban India is changing and the poor also has the right to reap the benefits of development. This bill gives the right to be part of the political, social need of India,” says Abhigyan.