The hawker problem has been plaguing the major cities of India for decades. In Kolkata eviction of hawkers happened on a large scale with the ‘Operation Sunshine’ in the mid nineties. But it was much ado about nothing since the hawkers took no time to reclaim their positions on the footpaths. The entire hawker eviction process is a politically sensitive and a highly paradoxical situation. While the footpaths disappear for the pedestrians, the hawkers generate the revenue of Rs 72 lakh each month for the ‘authorities’, not to mention the vote bank issues involved. This is the scenario of Kolkata. Mumbai is no exception either.
Realizing the fact that the hawker problem cannot be eradicated completely, since they have become a part of the system, Ajay Maken, the Union Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation was searching for a permanent solution to the hawker problem in all the major cities of the country. The outcome is the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill 2012. The mandates of this bill are applicable to all the major cities of India facing the hawker problem.
Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill 2012:
The much awaited Street Vendors Bill was passed by the Parliament session in early September 2013. The bill has two important amendments which may be a source of infinite joy for the hawkers but it is the pedestrians who seem to get the raw deal. One amendment is that the total number hawkers to be allowed in a city will be 2.5% of the total population of the city. Now take for instance the city of Mumbai with a population of 1.25 crore. The city currently has 2, 65,159 hawkers of which 2.5 lakh are unlicensed and 15,159 are licensed. If we apply the amendment arithmetic, the new Bill will unwittingly increase the number of hawkers by another 47,000 which implies the total number of street vendors in Mumbai will be around 3.12 lakh.
The second amendment of the bill mandates a total restructuring of the Town Vending Committee. The Town Vending Committee is headed by the Municipal Commissioner. According to the amendment of the new Bill a new committee will be formed with a 40% Hawker Union representation (instead of the earlier 4%), 10% of the representation constituted by various NGOs while the rest 50% representation will be constituted of authorities like the police, the bureaucrats and other concerned bodies. As declared by Maken on the functionality of this new committee, “This committee will be responsible for issuing licenses and certificates to regularize hawkers. It will decide where the hawkers are to be located.” He further added, “Existing hawkers will not be evicted till the issues of license, registration and hawking zone demarcations are settled”. During his tenure in Mumbai, Maken visited the family of one Madan Jaiswal, a hawker of the Vakola, who met his unfortunate demise during an eviction mission headed by the Assistant Commissioner of Police Vasant Dhoble. Maken even collected information regarding the current financial status of the family. While the actions of Maken raised some eyebrows, he emphasized on the ‘humanitarian angle’ of the hawker rehabilitation and dismissed emphatically any political motive associated with the ‘vote bank politics’.
Other important mandates of the Bill are:
• Extending of total cooperation and protection to the hawkers vending in bus stands, taxi stands, metro stations, buses (both public and private) and trains because these vendors have been identified as providing ‘essential services’ in the said places
• Running stalls or the vending of goods are to be done by the hawkers ‘personally’, they cannot lease, rent or sell the vending businesses under any circumstances
• Any eviction or relocation notice should be accompanied by a 30 days period
• Confiscated goods will undergo a ‘panchnama’ and has to be released within a maximum period of 15 days
• In the case of the imposition of a penalty, the penalty value cannot exceed the total value of the confiscated goods, and the maximum upper limit of a penalty has been fixed at Rs 2,000.
The Bill will also permanently put an end to the malpractice of the police and other legal authorities of extorting protection money/hafta from the street vendors. The bill is not inclusive of the railway hawkers, as the Railways have their own vendor license granting policies regarding vending on platforms and inside trains under the Railways Act.
Reaction of the hawkers to the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill 2012:
The National Hawkers Federation in India (NHF) is the largest association of all the existing unions and organization of the hawkers and street vendors. Before the Street Vendors Bill was passed, the NHF held a vehement protest meeting at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi which later streamlined into a peaceful rally to the Parliament. The five point demands of this protest meeting were:
• Passing of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill 2012 in the current monsoon session of the Parliament
• Constituting a Central Task Force for the rapid implementation of the Bill
• Provisions for accommodation for hawkers and street vendors under the RAY and JNNURM (BSUP) schemes of the Government
• Inclusion of the hawkers and street vendors in the E.S.I. scheme to ensure Health Service Packages
• Ensuring social security for the hawkers and street vendors through the establishment of a Hawker Welfare Board.
It is uncertain whether the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill 2012, met all the five demands of NHF but definitely the hawkers and street vendors are overjoyed enough with the new Bill so as to plan a ‘Victory Rally’ on September 20th at the Azad Maidan in Mumbai.
While the hawkers and the street vendors are rejoicing the passing of the bill, the residents are more than dismayed. Pedestrians are extremely perturbed with the visions of a disappearing footpath under the trolleys and plastic sheets of the vendors and the general feeling is that such a Bill is ‘anti people’. Before the Bill was passed the President of the Azad Hawkers Union in Mumbai, Daya Shankar Singh, commented, “It is good that the center is fast tracking the process of passing the bill. We have given a number of suggestions such as doing away with the domicile status when it comes to issuing licenses and demarcating hawker zones.” Most of the residents said that they are going to fight against such a law. But fact remains that the Hawker Raj is here to stay and there are always two sides of a coin (here, the Bill).