National Policy for Street Vendors:
Evicting Vendors in the Name of Protecting Them?
he National Policy for Urban Street Vendors, introduced by the Government in 2004, and revised afterwards, first in 2006 and then in 2009, claims to give legitimacy to the vast population of crores of street vendors (rehdi-khokha-patri-pheri walas) who have hitherto been considered illegal encroachers by the law and forced to live at the mercy of corrupt municipal officials and police who would extort ‘hafta’ from them. However, if we read between the lines of the policy, putting it in context of the neoliberal policy framework of the current regime, we find that instead of protecting their livelihood, it is far more likely to spell eviction for millions of vendors all over the country.
For many years, there has been a strong demand from vendors and their organisations for legal status to their profession, protection of livelihood, and protection from extortion and exploitation by the police and local authorities. The amendment in Article 34 of the Police Act and Section 283 of IPC, which penalises vendors in the name of obstructing the way, has been a demand of many representative organisations of the vendors. The Supreme Court, too, in 1989, had once upheld the vendors’ right to carry trade or business as enshrined in Article 19(1)g of the Constitution.
According to some estimates, nearly 2% urban population earns its livelihood by vending goods and services in cities and towns. They also constitute a highly unorganised segment of the vast unorganised sector of the Indian working class. It is also the ‘refuge sector’ for the working class and toiling masses rendered unemployed owing to government’s policies causing de-industrialisation, economic crisis, etc. hence leading to job losses. The vending population also includes a huge mass of migrant workers who came from villages in search of jobs in the industry but failed to find one. As per different studies the national capital Delhi alone gives employment to 3 to 6 lakh vendors. The rising unemployment is further adding to the number of vendors all over the country.
The vendors have been playing a very important role of providing services and goods at relatively cheap rates, and that too at the doorsteps, to a vast population in cities. They are an integral part of daily life of millions of people living in cities, who depend for the services of sabjiwala, juice-wala, chaat-wala, cobbler, iron-wala, bicycle mechanic, cheap groceries, and almost every other need of our day to day life. But the elitist and ‘official’ phraseology of our urban planning always consider them as an urban nuisance and a blot over the town ‘beautification’ efforts of the planners. For the municipal and police administration they are mere obstructions on the ways and at the same time instruments of extorting ‘hafta’. The municipalities used to collect ‘tehbazari’ rent, through employing contractors, thus giving vendors a partial recognition, but this practice is being deliberately undermined on various pretexts.
In spite of all odds, the vendors play a significant role in contributing to the informal sector economy of the nation. In Delhi as well as in Mumbai, the annual turnover of vendors in the year 2000 was Rs. 1490 crore each. Although their average daily earning amounts to far below the minimum wage, at 65 rupees a day in that year. Majority of the vendors, more that 50%, are retrenched industrial workers. Women constitute a significant section among vendors.
The National Policy
The National Policy recognises the ‘positive role’ of the street vendors, their Constitutional right to livelihood as well as the right to be able to practice trade or business as a fundamental right. “This policy recognises that street vendors constitute an integral and legitimate part of the urban retail trade and distribution system for daily necessities of the general public.” And “the street vendors assist the Government in combating unemployment and poverty, it is the duty of the State to protect the right of these micro-entrepreneurs to earn an honest living. Accordingly the Policy aims to ensure that this important occupational group of the urban population finds due recognition at national, state and local levels for its contribution to the society.” But, “At the same time, it will be impracticable that every hawker be provided a permanent site because most cities/towns suffer from severe constraints of land for commercial vending.” Therefore, there is need to ‘regulate’ vendors by earmarking restriction-free, restricted and no-vending zones in cities (reasons given are flow of traffic, pedestrians, cleanliness and hygiene etc). This has given enough space for evicting poor vendors and depriving them of their livelihood by controlling their mobility and restricting in limited spaces.
This policy does not hesitate in adopting the “considered opinion that there should not be any cut off date or limit imposed on the number of vendors who should be permitted to vend”, but this is “subject to registration of such vendors and regulation through the Town Vending Committees”. The policy provides for a digitised photo census of existing vendors. In order to protect livelihood of every vendor, a vendors’ census needed to be conducted in every city much before the policy takes into effect. We need to examine how effective, democratic, and inclusive is the process of census and registration and functioning of TVCs.
Vendors in the Dark about the Policy
Let’s take Delhi’s example. The National Vendor Policy was adopted here and process of implementation started back in 2004. The Zonal and Ward Vending Committees were constituted in 2005 by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). They were reconstituted in 2007 after the delimitation of wards. Now there are 272 Ward Vending Committees functioning, one in each ward as prescribed in the Policy. The applications for registration have been invited from the vendors after duly completing the formalities of advertising about the provisions of the Policy in the newspapers. The majority of vendors are still not aware that any such policy exists and the last date for application for registration and license was passed long back on 15 October 2007.
After completion of registration process and allotment of space and time slabs for the vendors in designated zones, the unregistered vendors – especially the most vulnerable pheri-walas – mobile vendors and hawkers – will lose their their means of livelihood.
The MCD’s Scheme for Street Vendors says in unequivocal terms that it is the primary responsibility of all concerned SHOs to remove unauthorised pheri-walas in order to implement the Policy, otherwise it would be construed as a violation of Supreme Court order.
Will the Policy Protect the Right of Livelihood of all Vendors?
The Supreme Court spoke of the vendors’ right to livelihood enshrined in the Constitution. However, though the National Policy mentions this Supreme Court verdict, it does not unequivocally and robustly protect the constitutional rights of the vendors; hedging the ‘right’ with a host of restrictions.
It is heard that the Master Plan of Delhi and MCD have a provision for only around 80,000-1,00,000 vending stalls at various locations in the city. At present, Delhi accommodates 4-6 lakh vendors. Clearly, the Policy will be used to eliminate and evict the mass of vendors – and the vendors themselves will be blamed for their failure to register! In effect, the so-called ‘pro-vendor’ Policy will be deployed in the service of implementing Delhi’s elitist development agenda of ‘cleansing’ Delhi of its poor before the Commonwealth Games!
What will happen to the huge urban retail space currently occupied by these vendors? The Government, by evicting the street vendors, will allow this space to be filled by corporate players whose entry it is encouraging in the retail sector. The road side sabzi-wali’s consumers will boost the trade of chains like Reliance-Fresh which are now in a slump; the clientele of the street-corner chaat-wala will be absorbed by the corporate chains like Haldirams, Nirulas and Mc Donald’s.
The Policy suggests that the TVCs arrange ‘time-sharing’ by vendors in the same space – in order to accommodate more vendors in the circumscribed zones. In effect this will mean that, far from protecting vendors’ livelihood, vendors will be forcibly under-employed.
If the National Policy for Urban Vendors is to be truly effective in protecting the livelihood of every vendor, it is crucial that the policy be amended to specify that no vendor can be evicted on grounds of lack of registration and licence. Rather, police and local administrative authorities, on finding any vendor without a licence, will be required to encourage him or her to apply for registration, and licence must be mandatorily issued. Eviction must not remain an option – at most, the TVCs can allot an alternate space for vending.
Violations of the Policy
In Delhi, the MCD is adopting a procedure that is violating even the terms of the Policy. While the Policy stipulates that all vendors can apply for registration, the MCD is demanding that vendors submit ID proof as well as proof of having vended in Delhi for the past five years. Not only are these provisions not required by the Policy, these regulations are especially discriminatory against the migrant vendors, who are denied identity cards or any other papers by the Delhi Government.
In Delhi, TVCs were asked to prepare a list of vending locations. In one zone (Shahdara), the TVC prepared a list of 6004 such locations. This list was approved by the zonal Vending Committee, which forwarded it to the MCD. The MCD curtailed it to 2600, and when file was passed on to traffic police, ultimately the number was reduced to a mere 460! So actually the TVC has no effective say. And while the Policy claims to uphold the right to livelihood of each vendor, in practice, the space for vendors is being circumscribed.
Will Common Vendors’ Voices Be Heard in the TVCs?
It must be noted that the TVCs provide for 40% representation of vendors’ organisations, not vendors themselves. The TVCs, therefore, loses its wider reach and democratic potential, and tends to become limited to a smaller, more assertive or organised section of vendors.
The Government will try to neutralise the small but more vocal section of vendors who now tend to represent the vendors. The most vulnerable vendors, who are unorganised and socially marginalised, will end up isolated and without any way to voice their resentment, as their present pradhans and leaders, having got a vending licence and legal status, will have been silenced.
Why are Vendors’ Adversaries Represented in the Vending Committees?
Most objectionable is the fact that the TVCs, which allow for 40% representation of vendors’ organisations, actually provide for 60% representation of lobbies and groups that are antagonistic to vendors – RWAs, Market Associations, and Traders’ Associations, besides police, municipal and planning authorities.
The philosophy behind this seems to be one of ‘conflict resolution,’ whereby the State, through the Policy, acts as mediator between vendors and their rivals and antagonists, rather than guarantor of vendors’ inalienable right to livelihood. This philosophy is in line with the State’s policy of liberalisation – whereby it shuns its own responsibility and accountability, passing the job on to private players in the name of ‘participative process.’
Our recent experience of organising a struggle of street vendors in Mayur Vihar-I (a residential colony in Delhi) is worth examining closely in this context. Street vendors in this colony contacted the CPI(ML) after they were evicted on grounds that the local RWAs had objected that their presence on the footpaths near the residential apartments created a threat of thefts. We began organising their struggle under the banner of CPI(ML) and Delhi Rehri-Khokha-Patri Mahasangh. On January 24 2009, we held a procession and gherao of the local police thana, followed by a dharna on 27 January that continued over the next two months. When we first approached the Police, the Joint Commissioner of Police quite callously told us that the vendors were doomed for eviction anyway. When we continued our dharna and the pressure mounted, he and the DCP asked us to appease the very RWAs which had objected to the vendors. Eventually, the police offered to conduct ‘tripartite talks’ between vendors, RWAs and the police – which never materialised. The police became self-styled mediator, pitting vendors against the RWAs! When evicted vendors approached the RWAs, they did not change their stance. We prepared a list of vendors and submitted it to the police. The ACP questioned the list quite arrogantly, but talked to the RWAs on the basis of the list – but even this was in vain.
However, we found that the RWAs were not really representative of the residents of apartments. A large number of residents of local apartments – strangers to us – would spontaneously visit the dharna spot and sign a solidarity book. Seeing this, we approached many of them for support. They were warmly willing to speak out for the vendors, saying that the vendors offered several services which were essential for them, and were in no way a nuisance or a danger. One TV journalist who lived in a nearby apartment told us, “A local vendor used to repair and fill air in my little daughter’s bicycle – now that he is gone, we find it very difficult.” Many were indignant that the poor vendors were denied a right to earn an honest living and were being branded as thieves and evicted in their name. They signed a statement, and some accompanied us to submit it to the police. Once, the police accommodated the vendors at a different location – in the marketplace. Immediately, the Market and Traders’ Association swung into action, shut down their shops in protest and went to the police demanding eviction of the vendors yet again – a demand which the police accepted and acted on with alacrity. Eventually, after two months of sustained protest, all vendors were again accommodated by police in their old places, and they now continue to ply their trade, paying hafta to the police as usual.
The RWA Chairman was also Congress District President, in touch with the Congress MP (who promised to resolve the matter but never did). It must be noted that according to the National Policy, these politically motivated RWAs have been provided a place in the TVCs.
The market associations and traders associations have conflicting interests vis a vis vendors, since the latter provide goods and services at the doorsteps at much cheaper rates than the big traders in the market. Their inclusion in the TVC may guarantee safeguarding their own business interests only at the cost of vendors' livelihoods. Therefore the Policy, instead of safeguarding vendors’ livelihood as an inalienable right, mortgages this right to the very forces which are antagonistic to it!
The police–hafta–politician nexus rules the vendors today. With the Policy in place, RWAs, Market and Traders’ Associations will dominate and curb the vendors. In all this – where is the freedom of the vendor himself or herself to conduct their business and shape their livelihood and lives? The only way to do so is to democratise the TVCs. RWAs, Market and Traders’ Associations must be kept out of the TVCs; if they have any grievance, they can approach the concerned town authority. As of now, there is nomination and not election to the TVCs, and the TVC Chairman – Municipal Commissioner or Chief Executive Officer has the power to remove any nominated member. Therefore the latter can stack the TVCs in keeping with political and other vested interests. If this is to be corrected, vendors must be in the majority in the TVCs, and nomination must be replaced with a process of election after a properly conducted census of vendors. The process, however elaborate and time-consuming, is necessary.
The National Policy and the Model Bill on Street Vending both claim to be for the “Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending.” However, the experience as of date makes it clear that the agenda of ‘protection’ is being undermined in favour of that of ‘regulation.’ It recognises the vendors' rights as legal, but limits their options and opportunities. In other words, instead of strengthening the position of the street vendor, it actually ends up shrinking whatever space already exists for the vendors.
Why is this happening? The reason is that public planning is governed by private interests. The Government is not serious about ending the exploitation and insecurity in the vast informal sector; rather it is committed to serving the interests of corporate houses at the expense of the poor.
The struggle to democratise the National Policy and resist the shrinkage of space of working poor in urban retail is a crucial part of the struggle for the Right to Work and the resistance against corporate takeover of the retail sector.
Party Conference at Mansa
CPI(ML) organized a conference of agricultural laborers, poor peasants, women and youth on 1st October to mark the 102nd birth anniversary (28th September) of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.
Addressing the Conference Com. Swapan Mukherji, CCM and Party in-charge for Punjab, said that the Punjab govt. betrayed Bhagat Singh by unleashing repression on the poor of Punjab. The Conference was also addressed by Party’s State Secretary Com. Rajwinder Rana, Com. Tarsem Jodha and Com. Ruldu Singh of Punjab Kisan Union among others. The conference was also attended by the students of Delhi University and women students of Lady Sri Ram College who came to interact with the struggling agricultural labourers.
Advocates Harinder Pal Singh Issar, Rajwinder Bains, Inderjit singh and Pardeep sapoia were honoured with mementos as a token of appreciation for their resolute voice in support of the poor and marginalised against the state repression as well as in legal matters during the Mansa land struggle when thousands of workers and party leaders were facing false cases and police actions. The Conference resolved to intensify the struggle for homestead land again, demanded that all plans of privatizing the power, water supply, education, roads be scrapped, payments for all crops be made to the peasants directly by cheque, and the proposed university at Bathinda be named after the great national hero Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.