Marina beach vendors’ livelihoods at risk

The livelihoods of hundreds of vendors on the Marina Beach hangs in the balance, as a case filed by a consumers’ association may lead to a ban on all shops and vendors on the beach.

After the Madras High Court ruling on the petition by K.Balaji, president of Gandhi Consumers’ Forum, which sought a ban on vendors on Marina beach, most vendors are unaware of the legal proceedings. Some have a vague idea of the potential ban, but dismissed the possibility of imposing the ban.

S. Mani, an ice-cream vendor, said he had “heard about it from somewhere” but was not worried. “So many people’s livelihoods depend on this. What will they do? Also, so many people come here for relaxing; they would want snacks,” he said.

P. Karunanidhi, general secretary of the Chennai Street Vendors Association said that back in 2006, Chief Justice, A.B.Shah had first issued a notice to the Chennai Corporation to regulate vending on the beach, and that beaches across the world had vendors and that it was possible to protect the beach as well as the livelihoods it supports. Since then nothing was done to solve the problem, he said.

“We are unsure of which way the court might rule,” he said. Either new regulations will be brought in, or they might attempt to evict vendors, he said. If the judgement goes against the vendors and they are asked to leave the beach premises, “We will file an appeal and fight any such move”, Karunanidhi said. The beach supports thousands of people’s livelihoods, he said.

Activist from a group called Reclaim Our Beaches (ROB) believe that though the cause is in good faith, there is ‘no need to displace small vendors and shop keepers to have clean beaches.’ A better waste management system on the beach is the only way to save the beach, moreover, even if designated locations for stores off the beach are identified, consumers are bound to litter the beach.

Further they cited that many restaurants in the city also serve unhygienic food, ‘one doesn’t see the Chennai Corporation, or consumer forums going after them,’ they said.

The Bench comprising the Acting Chief Justice Elipe Dharma Rao and Justice Aruna Jagadeesan passed the interim order and notified a hearing after four weeks.

The petition sought to either implement the Food Safety and Standard Act, or remove the non-permanent vendors and shops in order to save the beach from indiscriminate pollution, which has made Marina beach one of the dirtiest beaches in the world.

The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2012, was introduced in Parliament on 6 September, 2012. It seeks to regulate spaces where vendors can sell their wares, and further to provide for a system of registration for all vendors of the age of 14 or above. This law will give local urban bodies the authority to regulate the spaces in which street vendors work. This petition seems to be on similar lines as the impending national legislation.

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