Let the street vendors live

Myriad ways to survive
Last Updated 18 February 2020, 19:40 IST

There are unbelievable ways by which some are managing to survive. There are elderly men who walk the streets the whole day shouldering their knife-sharpening machines, looking for housewives who need their kitchen knives sharpened. There are others who cycle all day looking for homes which need gas-tube and cooker repair, or TV and sofa covers, or ladies who need the zippers of their bags or nighties repaired. Some get by selling just puffed rice, or salt or lemons from push carts, the total investment for which may not cross Rs 100. Even if they get 100%, or Rs 100, profit on their investment, how do they survive, after paying ‘mamools’ to officials and the police, when the Pay Commission says that one needs Rs 700 per day to run a family?

But then, the resistance to vendors carrying on even these honest and meagre livelihoods, when society has provided them with no other option, is immense.

One association of well-to-do residents wanted a seller of roasted ground-nuts on a busy street to stop making the “tan-tan” noise he made with his stirrer as he hit it against the iron pan to attract customers, because it disturbed the neighbourhood. That, when there was unbearable noise from the shrieking horns of the motor vehicles speeding on the same road!

Some affluent residents’ groups want all footpath vendors to be evicted even as they raise no voice against the two- and four-wheelers, owned by their ilk, occupying the same footpaths, making it impossible for pedestrians to use them.

Many continue to believe that vending on footpaths is an illegal activity, because the British wrote that into our municipal laws, though street-vending is an age-old means of livelihood in our ethos. Many are still not aware that “The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act 2014” has been passed after the Supreme Court upheld vendors’ Right to Livelihood under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. But even two former mayors of Bengaluru that this writer interacted with were unaware of this law and believed that evicting vendors from footpaths was a legally sanctioned right of municipalities.

Rules under the Act were framed in 2019, only after the High Court chastised the government for its inaction for five years. The law requires Town Vending Committees (TVCs) to be formed in every city, with election of 10 vendors to them. Once formed, the TVC has to ensure that a survey of all vendors in the city is done, and until the survey is complete and certificates of vending are issued to all, no vendor shall be evicted or relocated.

However, the Karnataka government set up an ad hoc TVC to do the survey, which the High Court said “would not be helpful” as the formal TVC was supposed to do it. Though the High Court gave a deadline of October 2019 for conducting elections of vendors to the formal TVCs, elections were conducted by BBMP only recently. But the committees are yet to function as other non-official members have not yet been appointed (at the time of writing this).

The Act says the municipality has to develop a ‘plan’ to ‘promote the vocation of street vendors’ by demarcating vending zones, etc., and the state government has to prepare a ‘scheme’ for the manner of conducting surveys of vendors, etc. But the ‘plan’, the ‘scheme’, the notification of natural markets (from which no vendor can be evicted), the designation of vending/non-vending zones and determination of the holding capacity of a vending zone, have all to be done on the recommendation of TVCs. In a gross display of bureaucratic arrogance and disdainful disregard for the need to involve vendors in decision-making, the government had prepared a ‘scheme’ even before the TVC was set up, which was struck down by the court as illegal.

Serious issues have also been raised about the survey that was done. At a discussion called by the Alternative Law Forum, it was revealed that the survey was done during the rainy season, between Dasara and Deepavali, and between 11 am and 4 pm only, so that many early-morning and late-evening vendors were not covered. Only 25,000 vendors applied for certificates of vending, though it is estimated that there are about 2½ lakh vendors in Bengaluru. But even out of this 25,000, finally only 14,000 signed the affidavit, as Rules place 12 conditions on the vendors, to which many feel they may not be able to adhere.

The TVC has to ensure that all existing, identified street vendors are accommodated in the vending zones, subject to a limit of 2½% of the population of the ward/zone/town/city. But even before TVCs have been constituted formally, evictions of vendors have continued to take place in violation of the law. This has prompted the chief secretary to issue a notification asking BBMP and the police to educate their personnel not to evict or harass vendors.

Though roads re-modelled under the TenderSure project were to have wide footpaths to accommodate vendors, not many vendors are seen on them. On the re-modelled Church Street, private security guards chase away vendors.

If a vendor has any grievance, s/he can appeal to a committee of three, consisting of a civil judge or a judicial magistrate as chairperson. Strangely, if the vendor is dissatisfied with the ruling of this committee, he can appeal to a committee which has the mayor as chairperson. One wonders if a mayor can sit in judgement over a ruling by a civil judge or judicial magistrate.

Vendors are the real entrepreneurs in society and their sustainable, non-polluting enterprises are the most successful start-ups. But will the government’s much-publicised measures for promoting ‘ease of doing business’ ever reach them?

(The writer is Executive Trustee of CIVIC Bangalore)

(Published 18 February 2020, 17:42 IST)

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