Weeks after they were evicted in August in accordance with a High Court order, vendors have come back to the subway at the KSR City railway station.
At least 50 sit along the underground paths connecting the Metro, the railway station and the KSRTC and BMTC bus terminals. They sell a variety of wares, from toys to clothing to accessories.
Metrolife did a reality check and found all kinds of crimes flourishing: women and transgender prostitutes stood soliciting, pimps loitered around and touts sold bus tickets in black.
Regular subway users are terrified of aggressive pimping. A senior employee of Indian Railways, whose office is located at the city railway station, told Metrolife, “I don’t wait anywhere inside the subway. There are women who are waiting to strike a deal. The pimps wait on the side. You can never walk through this subway with your family.”
Metrolife spotted at least 10 women lining the subway and soliciting. A constable, posted on duty from the Upparpet police station, says, “We don’t have permission to arrest anybody. We only make sure that the subway is free of pickpockets and robbery.”
The women ask for Rs 600 during the day and Rs 900 after 6 pm. “The pimps have an understanding with the lodges in the vicinity. They get a cut from what the customers pay for the room. This is how the business flourishes,” a vendor says.
The subway is also a haven for bus and train ticket black-marketing. Ramesh Naidu, who wanted to travel from Bengaluru to Mumbai, had just bought a ticket. “I had to pay Rs 3,000. I had to get home urgently and I gave in to the extra demand without question,” he says.
The Upparpet police station is located just 1 km away from the subway. Deputy Commissioner of Police (West) B Ramesh tells Metrolife that his men move around in mufti at the bus and railway stations. “We’ve booked a few cases against women suspected of prostitution. But we cannot directly go and ask. We can book cases only if we receive a complaint,” says Ramesh.
He says the police face opposition if they go after women soliciting at the subway. “We have had activists who raise slogans against us saying that we are torturing women,” he adds.
Activists say Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 protects the rights of vendors. Lekha Adavi, an advocate, says vendors have a right
to carry out their business in public places.
“According to the Act you have to give notice to the vendors before evicting them. The BBMP has done a partial survey and some vendors have got their ID cards, which allows them to carry out their duty without fear of eviction. Others are in the process of getting it,” says Lekha.
She wonders why vendors are considered a threat. “It is safe to have vendors in subways. People feel safe through crowded stretches and not through lonely stretches. Street vendors enjoy a strong bond and stand as one in case of any trouble,” says Lekha.
Leaky rooftops and stinking walls
Parts of the Majestic subway are well-maintained, some others are in terrible condition. The ceiling at most places is broken and the walls at certain places have turned into urinals. You also spot small heaps of garbage dumped at the some of the corners. When will the BBMP wake up to rendering this space clean and free of stench?
‘Police target sex workers for no reason’
Madhu Bhushan, women’s rights activist associated with Gamana Mahila Samuha, who has worked with sex workers, points out that there’s a clear difference between sex work and trafficking.
“They would have got into it because of circumstance and continue doing it because of the stigma attached to them and because they don’t have any other means of livelihood. Prostitution by itself is not a crime,” Madhu tells Metrolife. She says that sex workers have, sometimes, been instrumental in rescuing underage children and women who have been forced in trafficking.
“Apart from trying to make a living, none of the sex workers are a part of any kind of theft or other criminal activities. In fact, they help keep criminal elements at bay and inform the police in case of any untoward activity,” adds Madhu.
She observes that sex workers are sometimes harassed by the police in the garb of cleaning up the city. “There’s a Supreme Court ruling in 2009 that states that nobody has the right to beat up or harass sex workers. The then DGP of Karnataka had also passed an order to this effect,” recollects Madhu.
Despite this order, the police continue to beat up sex workers, alleging that they offend people’s morale. “The cops seek them out in their homes and in hotels and beat them up. The government does not guarantee them any work or offer any incentives for this class of society. What else are they supposed to do for a living?” asks Madhu. She points out that sex work is just a means to a living and must not be viewed through the lens of criminalisation.
Why a Town Vending Committee is needed?
A Babu, president of Bengaluru Jilla Beedhi Vyaapari Sanghatanegala Okkuta, has been instrumental in getting identity cards and certificate of vending for some of the vendors at majestic subway.
“This will ensure that the vendors will not be evicted but can carry on their business as usual. Those who set out to evict them will have to comply with certain rules and regulations. They could also be penalised if they go against the rules,” says Babu. He has also been instrumental in trying to get the work started towards constituting a Town Vending Committee. “This is an elected body that will consist of zonal commissioners, representatives from the police, health and resident welfare associations. Forty per cent
of the committee will consist of vendors.”
What the law says
The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act of 2014 makes provisions for street vending, but it may not apply to subways since they are not classified as a vending zone.
This is what the law outlines:
The Town Vending Committee should conduct a survey of all the vendors under its jurisdiction every five years. No street vendor will be evicted until such survey has been made and a certificate of vending has been issued.
All street vendors will be accommodated in a designated vending zone. In case all the vendors cannot be accommodated in a vending zone, allocation of space will be made by draw of lots. Those who fail to get space in a zone will be accommodated in adjoining zones.
No vendor will be allowed to carry out vending activities in no-vending zones. In case of declaration of a specified area as a no-vending zone, the vendors will be relocated to another area.
The local authority may physically remove vendors and seize their goods if they have not relocated to the vending zones.
Each zone or ward will have a Town Vending Committee.
A vendor who vends without a certificate may be penalised with a fine of up to Rs 2,000.