June 15, 2021
Home  »  Website  »  Society  » Opinion  »  Right Under Your Nose
Street Vendors

Right Under Your Nose

An open letter to Mr Jaipal Reddy, the minister for urban development: 'The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is leading the way in sabotaging the honest implementation of the National Policy for Street Vendors through new and old devious means'

Google + Linkedin Whatsapp
Follow Outlook India On News
Right Under Your Nose
Right Under Your Nose

The UPA government has repeatedly assured the aam aadmi (and hopefully aurat?) that the benefits of economic reforms will not remain confined to the corporate sector that provides employment to no more than 2 percent of our workforce, while 93 percent of people are in the unorganized sector which has yet to experience the healing touch of liberalization. However, the wide gap between promise and performance, the disconnection between policies and their implementation is creating unprecedented anger and demoralization, as evidenced in recent election results. 

In 2001 when a liberalized licensing regime for street vendors was first announced by the PMO – which was further revised and adopted by the cabinet as the new National Policy for Street Vendors in 2004 – many of us had hoped that this would usher in an era of pro poor economic reforms. Far from freeing the livelihoods of other segments in the informal sector, the fate of the National Policy for Street Vendors (NPSV) itself is in jeopardy. City governments all over India are either making a mockery of implementing the new National Policy or doing it reluctantly as a halfhearted token measure. Right under the nose of the central government, the Delhi Municipal Corporation is leading the way in sabotaging the honest implementation of the National Policy for Street Vendors through new and old devious means.

Nearly one crore persons in India earn their livelihood from street vending in India. If one calculates at Rs 1100 per day turnover per vendor, the annual business turnover of this sector comes to over Rs. 400,000 crores. More than 99 percent of vendors are forced to operate illegally because for decades municipal corporations have stopped issuing vending licenses. Their illegal status forces them to part with a large part of their income as pay offs. In Delhi alone, over 300,000 vendors lose nearly Rs. 500 crores per year by way of bribes and losses due to confiscation of goods and periods of enforced idleness due to Clearance Operations. 

Because of the reluctance of municipal agencies to put their act together, the matter has once again landed in the Supreme Court. MCD is the cause and fountainhead of corruption. Its officials have minted hundreds of crores every year by way of bribes from street vendors on account of their illegal status due to a perverse policy of denying them licenses. And yet, the very same officials have been allowed to get away with drafting a new scheme, in the most high handed and undemocratic manner that makes a mockery of the reformist thrust of the National Policy. The schemes submitted by the MCD and the NDMC are in blatant violation of the National Policy for Street Vendors. But no one from the Urban Development Ministry, which formulated the new policy for vendors, is there to call them to account.  

Consequently, those of us who spent years campaigning and lobbying for reforming the archaic and exploitative licensing regime, are once again fighting an unequal battle in the Supreme Court exposing the devious provisions being introduced by municipal agencies to facilitate the continuation of extortion rackets.   

Frauds in Declaring Hawking Zones
For example, the MCD and NDMC have submitted to the Hon’ble Supreme Court a list of areas to be declared as Hawking Zones. There is no indication as to the process through which the MCD identified those areas.  They neither consulted urban planners nor vendors’ representatives in earmarking hawking zones. There is no evidence that the MCD tried to even assess the current location of street vendors or the holding capacity of the area designated as a hawking zone through any identifiable and scientific procedure. The promised 300,000-tehbazari licensees cannot possibly be accommodated in the given spaces. The areas earmarked are insufficient and in many cases unsuitable. Under such circumstances, the declaration by the MCD that "If vendors are found hawking in non-hawking zones, their allotment will be cancelled" is likely to cause havoc.  

Reneging Commitment Regarding Photo Census
The MCD had at one time agreed to our demand that a systematic survey and photo census of street vendors be carried out by some independent and credible organizations such as the CSDS or NCAER to determine who is actually vending on the streets so that genuine vendors got licenses in hawking zones rather than politically influential touts. However, the MCD has reneged on this commitment made before the Court in writing. They do not want a credible agency to collect data to show who is located where so that they can allot the vending sites to whom they please and where they please. This has the making of a humungous scam. Schemes are already afoot to secretly auction these sites to the highest bidder. At an average conservative figure of Rs. 100,000 per stall, the 300,000 hawking sites have the potential to deliver Rs. 300,000,000,000 to those who control the allocation of these sites. 

Clearance Operations in Full Swing
In its Affidavit before the Court, the MCD has submitted that street vendors will not be removed for flimsy reasons and that vendors would be moved only for specific public good and that too after 30 days’ notice being served on them. However, we have evidence that large scale Clearance Operations, including confiscation of goods are being carried out daily in the city without any due process, without serving any public purpose and without vendors being provided an alternative space. The game plan of municipal agencies is clear: Remove all genuine vendors and corner all the spots for its own relatives, associates, touts and henchmen or those willing to buy space at hefty amounts.  

By way of pretending to the Court that the work was done in a democratic manner, the MCD has submitted that Ward Vending committees, and Zonal Vending Committees have been constituted in all the 12 Zones of MCD.  

However, there is no evidence of these Committees being actively engaged in creating hawking zones. I was myself a member of one such Ward Committee in the Central Zone of MCD. So far not one serious meeting of this Committee has been held. On one occasion when the meeting was actually held, the chairman of the Committee spent the entire time gossiping about other matters. He closed the meeting saying the task of identifying vending zones will be undertaken in a later meeting because they had been unable to locate any hawking areas thus far. Known bad characters of the area, including those who have been part and parcel of the local bribe collecting mafia from street vendors, have been included as members of these Committees. 

Many devious controls have been sneaked into the implementation of the new policy, which will enable the MCD to tighten its extortionist grip on the livelihoods of street vendors instead of creating a liberalized licensing regime for them.  

Proof of Vending and Residence: There is a great deal of mischief inherent in the MCD demand that a person applying for a vending license will have to submit the following proofs:

    a.  Festival receipt/token, challan, traffic police challan or any receipt of fine or fees, certificate of a registered RWA or Market association, membership of an NGO engaged in the welfare of like-wise people.

    b. "The person should be a resident of area under the jurisdiction of MCD for the last 5 years on the date of application, having proof, ration card, election I card or any other government document". 

Recent migrants to the city are most in need of finding a source of livelihood because they have no experience of the city and have left behind families in distress. By requiring that they provide proof of having been a resident of an area under MCD jurisdiction for 5 years on the date of application is to bar those who are most vulnerable. By blocking the entry of recent migrants, the municipal corporation would be forcing them into the clutches of mafia elements that will take hefty amounts as "protection money." 

Likewise to demand old challans and receipts of confiscation of goods amounts to putting old wine in new bottles. A similar criterion has been in force all these years. After years of battle in the Courts, in 1991 vendors were told they would be eligible to apply for a Covered Tehbazari if they could prove that they had been continuously squatting and carrying on business in a fixed spot between 1970 and 1982. In order to be eligible for Open Tehbazari people had to produce evidence that they had been continuously squatting and hawking at that particular location from 1983 onwards. In both cases they were also to furnish proof of nationality and residence from 1970 or 1983 onwards.  

The absurdity of expecting police and municipal challans and receipts of punitive fines as proof of eligibility becomes obvious if one considers the fact that more often than not municipal inspectors confiscate goods without issuing official receipts so that vendors cannot claim their goods back nor have any proof of their existence in that spot. At other times, they make an on-the-spot settlement and let the vendor save his goods in return for a bribe. Many run away as soon as they see the municipal or police authorities swoop down on a market. Therefore, every incident of confiscation cannot be proved. The fact of a person being present as a hawker on the day there was a raid is impossible to prove, if the person happens to save his/her goods by running away. Moreover, most vendors are either illiterate or people with minimal education. They live in crowded jhuggis where it is difficult to safely store documents, especially since even their jhuggis are often targeted for removal. A large proportion of street vendors and hawkers live in unauthorized slums or by the side of drains, nalas and many even sleep on footpaths. To expect documentation from such hawkers and vendors is impractical.  

Moreoever, a person who began hawking in 1982 was not informed and had no way of knowing that the challan papers would acquire such high value a decade later and that the document showing economic assaults and violence inflicted on him/her by state agencies would be treated as the only qualifying criteria of his existence as a vendor and his right to earn a modest living. After the announcement of these criteria the municipal officials themselves created a whole new industry of bogus challans. Many legitimate vendors were forced to buy forged documents just as many who did not really qualify but had the money to pay up ended up getting tehbazari application files prepared through MCD and NDMC touts. 

Manushi has testimonies of numerous vendors on film alleging that MCD officials and their touts took a fee ranging from Rs 20,000 to 50,000 per person to prepare forged backdated documents and for filling in application. Despite such big payoffs, 85,000 people managed to apply in the MCD area and 10,000 applied in the NDMC area despite the above-described absurd and stringent criteria. But only 2300 got clear tehbazari after a long drawn procedure involving additional bribes. MCD has admitted in its affidavit that even today there are approximately 578 cases waiting for allotment, which were found eligible under the Gainda Ram scheme way back in the early 1990s. 

By deliberately delaying the entire process of granting sites to even those who qualified the absurd and stringent criteria, municipal officials have ensured that the level of insecurity remains very high and they can continue collecting bribes even from those who have tehbazari.  A large number could not even apply because they either failed to get the required information in time or failed to procure up the required resources for forged documents. Similarly, the process of inviting applications for mobile hawking was initiated in the year 2001, 12 long years after the Supreme Court directions. Thousands of hawkers submitted a fresh round of applications under the impression that they would be allotted fixed tehbazari sites. Those applications have yet to be processed. Even for preparing these applications MCD touts charged poor vendors Rs 10, 000 to 20,000 per person. 

Barring those above 60: Another absurd criterion for vending license is that a person should not be above 60 years of age. This amounts to inflicting great cruelty on old people and will lead to a flourishing racket of bogus birth certificates or old people being forced to apply under false names. It is well known that among low-income group families, children are often not in a position to take care of aged parents. In India we do not have any social security system worth its name for the poor. Therefore, most old people have no choice but to fend for themselves, for as long as they can. Those who have children capable of supporting them withdraw from work when they find they cannot manage any more. But those who have no support cannot be barred in this manner. Street vending is a relatively sedentary form of occupation. Therefore, it is one of the few occupations suitable for the old and infirm. They cannot possibly take on jobs involving hard manual labour. To mindlessly apply the retirement age criteria of government employment that has PF, pension and many other benefits, for the self-employed poor who have no safety net is both absurd and cruel.  

Absurd Income Criteria: Yet another devious provision is that a person is qualified to apply for a vending license only if the income of his/her family is less than Rs 45000 a year or Rs 3750 per month. This amounts to forever condemning people in this sector to grinding poverty. It is absurd to limit the grant of vending sites on the basis of income proof or declaration. How can an SDM know or verify the genuine income of a vendor? Why do we force vendors to make false declarations? For a city like Delhi, it is impossible for a family of five or six people to survive in dignity with such a small income considering that the rent of a jhuggi is no less than Rs 1000 per month in most parts of Delhi; a small tenement in a pucca colony costs nothing less than Rs. 1500 to 2000 per month. Transport expense of one earning person comes to no less than Rs. 600. Such an income leaves no room for children’s education, clothes, and other daily necessities. Most vendors have to support their village-based families, as well as old parents. They ought to be enabled to earn more rather than expected to remain forever below the poverty line. If the government is serious about poverty alleviation, it should be happy if people can earn more from street vending and climb up the economic ladder rather than insist on their remaining forever poor. 

Street vending provides one of the few entry points to poor people in the world of entrepreneurship. We would do well to remember that some of the most successful entrepreneurs of India such as Gulshan Kumar of T. Series started their lives as street traders. Many of the Punjabi refugees of the 1947 Partition restarted their lives on the footpaths of Karol Bagh and Chandni Chowk. Many of them built huge business empires on the basis of those humble beginnings.  

If we want to ensure that well off people do not corner vending spots which are then rented out to others, it is enough to say that a person must run his/her own vending stall. He cannot sell or rent it out. Those with real high incomes are unlikely to operate on the street braving harsh weather conditions.  

Ban on Street Foods: The MCD has proposed a total ban on street foods and says it will only allow pre-cooked foods, despite repeated objections by us. This was done ostensibly on the grounds that street foods are unhygienic and a health hazard. This is contrary to facts. Studies have shown and common sense confirms that freshly cooked foods in full public view have much lower chances of bacterial contamination than foods cooked in ordinary Indian restaurant kitchens, which observe abysmal hygiene standards. Restaurant kitchens are hidden from public view and what happens inside is not open to public scrutiny.  Even in the kitchens of five star hotels, there is far greater scope of mischief with food than is possible for street vendors who cook under the gaze of the public.  In a hot country like India, pre-cooked food turns bad very fast and can cause serious health hazards. Street vendors not only cook on the spot but also buy the raw materials on a daily basis. Their stocks are purchased in quantities that last only till the evening / pack up time. This minimizes the possibility of stale materials being used for cooking foods.   By contrast in restaurant kitchens, you cannot tell whether the chicken, meat or vegetables being served are actually fresh or have been lying in the refrigerator or deep freeze for days. If vendors are provided the required infrastructure such as a clean and sufficient water supply and an efficient drainage system, they can be easily motivated to observe higher levels of hygiene, as Manushi has done in the Sewa Nagar pilot project. 

For the vast majority of people in Delhi, street food sellers are a survival need. Delhi is a city of migrants, both poor and middle class. Many of them are compelled to leave their families in the village and live alone in their pursuit of livelihood. The poor migrants live in miserable jhuggies without adequate space for cooking. Middle class migrant bachelors including young students also find it more convenient to eat out because they do not get the time to cook after long hours of work and long commutes. Even when middle class families go shopping or for an outing, their idea of fun includes eating chaat, pakoras, jalebis, chhole bhathures and other snacks from street vendors.   Only street vendors can manage to serve consumers with a freshly cooked full meal for ten to twenty rupees. Food in even ordinary, modest restaurants is far more expensive, especially in a fast globalising city like Delhi.  

Recognizing the important role of street vendors in meeting the nutritional needs of the urban poor, FAO has adopted the mandate of promoting the production, distribution and marketing of safe, wholesome and nutritious food through street vendors. Dr. Boutrif, Acting Chief, Food Quality and Standards Service, FAO Rome has stressed that it is important to formally recognize street food vending as an important component of the food distribution system and develop policies to make it easily accessible while making efforts to improve its hygiene and quality rather than ban or artificially control its access. 

For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine
Next Story >>
Google + Linkedin Whatsapp

The Latest Issue

Outlook Videos