Street Vendors Act 2014 remains yet another false promise — Srividya Tadepalli reports for Thozhillalar Koodum.
Second week of March was a week of harassment for T Nagar Street vendors who were suddenly detained by police , made to pay fines and were stopped from working inside the Bus Depot.
Timeline of the events
|9th March: Four street vendors who were inside the T Nagar bus depot are detained by the police for several hours and asked to pay a fine of Rs.300 each.
10th March: Six more street vendors are detained for over four hours and asked to pay fines. Bus Depot security personnel take away one vendor’s utensils with food products by force. Empty utensils are returned after few hours. Steet Vendors file complaint through Union against the bus depot manager whose complaint the police and security were acting on.
11th March: Inspite of assurance, street vendors are prevented from their work. After their appeals are neglected, over forty people (including thirty vendors and ten other union members) block the main entrance to the depot from which buses start their routes in protest. Protestors are intimidated (including threats to forge false cases of prostitution against them). When it fails, the police appeal to street vendors to disperse and take the issue to the police. At the police station, vendors present the copies of the High Court order against evictions (2015) and the 2014 Street Vendors Act. The police inspector seeks two days to read and discuss with the Depot manager before making any decisions. Until then, vendors agreed not to sell inside the Depot.
14th March: On receiving no word from the inspector, union members meet the Mayor, who speaks to the bus Depot manager and the area Deputy Commissioner of Police, informing them that it is the right of street vendors to continue to sell inside and around the depot. The Mayor also warns the Inspector against threatening vendors with false cases.
The group meets with the Assistant Commissioner, who without committing on their right to sell around the depot, merely cautions them against future complaints from the Depot manager
Tamilselvi sits next to her daughter-in-law, knitting jasmine buds together behind the T.Nagar bus depot. For forty years she has been selling flowers here, and now her two daughters do what her old legs won’t allow her to do anymore and climb in and out of buses with flower baskets on their hips. She usually sits on the platform inside the depot, with her flowers spread out on a small mat in front of her. Though her move from inside to outside the depot is the only visible marker of the chaotic sequence of events that led her there, it has been an eventful week for her.
On the 10th of this month, she and five other street vendors were picked up by the police and detained for over four hours. Rani, Sumathi, Chitra, Malliga, Neela, and Tamilselvi were all taken to the Mambalam R2 police station at around 3 pm and asked to each pay a fine of Rs.300 (for which they weren’t given receipts) and were allowed to leave only after other members of their union arrived at the station to demand their release.
Sathish, Joint Secretary of Democratic Trade Union Centre (DTUC), says such detentions have become routine in the last 2-3 months but such actions are in contempt of a Madras High Court order from September 2015 that grants protection and permission to street vendors to continue as they are until implementation of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014. In fact, one of the people listed as respondents on the 2015 order is the Inspector with whom Sathish and others have been interacting, yet Sathish maintains that the inspector feigned ignorance of the order itself.
On the same evening that Tamilselvi and the other women were detained, the bus depot’s security personnel stopped Saravanan from entering a bus to sell raw mango slices. In addition to driving him out of the depot, they also forcibly took his food vessel. When they returned it a few hours later, Saravanan discovered that his mango slices, which would have earned him Rs.300 for the day, had all been eaten.
When members of DTUC found out that police and security were acting on a complaint from the new bus depot manager alleging that vendors were obstructing traffic and causing nuisance, they filed a complaint against him. The Sub Inspector personally compensated Saravanan, and assured the group that everything would go back to normal the next day. However, the next day came and harassment continued.
On the 11th, when vendors were driven out of the depot again, forty union members (including thirty vendors) gathered at the main exit of the depot, blocking buses from beginning their routes. Within fifteen minutes, the inspector and the assistant commissioner from R1 Mambalam police station arrived and protesters were being intimidated with various threats. They were told that once the elections were over and their union lost interest in them, they would have to face the police alone. They were also told that false cases of prostitution could be lodged against each of them (a majority of the 32 street vendors in the T. Nagar bus depot area are women).
When the threats didn’t work, the police resorted to pleading, asking the protesters to move to the police station with their complaints. And so the group walked to the station, refusing to be taken there by police jeeps. Copies of the High Court order were shown to the Inspector, who said he needed two days to read and consult with the depot manager before making any decisions. It was agreed that for those two days vendors would not sell inside the depot.
The Street Vendors Act, 2014, requires that i) a town vending committee be formed, ii) that this committee conduct a survey of all vendors in its zone and issue vending certificates, and that iii) all vendors be designated to a vending zone, among other things. It states that “no street vendor shall be evicted or, as the case may be, relocated till the survey specified under sub-section (1) has been completed and the certificate of vending is issued to all street vendors”
The High Court order, in addition to laying out how the committee will be formed and who the representatives will be, reiterates that street vendors must not be disturbed before a survey is carried out and certificates and vending zones are sorted out.
On the 14th, when there was no call from the inspector, DTUC members went to see the mayor, who informed both the bus depot manager and the deputy commissioner that the law was on the side of street vendors until all directives of the 2014 act were carried out. He also warned the inspector not to threaten people with false prostitute cases again.
When they met with the assistant commissioner again, DTUC members were told that he could not make a statement for or against allowing street vendors to carry on their business and that he didn’t want to hear another complaint from the bus depot manager.
It is unclear whether or not any survey is ongoing in the city/state. Until the town vending committees are formed, it seems as though vendors will keep facing harassment and the same sequence of events will keep playing out over and over again. Sathish says street vendors are forced to behave like criminals in many parts of the city, hiding their goods as though they are drug dealers and scurrying out of police sight. Adding to their misery are the ‘fines’ they have to pay local rowdies and the police. DTUC President, Kumaran, says the next step for them is to demand the dismissal of the bus depot manager and the inspector, and that the fight is far from over. This situation has risen principally because of the State Government not completing the process of identifying, licencing and regulating street vending, while also demarcating zones for vending as mandated by the National Act. The penalties for State governments failure is being paid by poor workers barely making minimum wage. They are also subject to arbitrary actions by local authorities seeking monetary and other favours. This increases their cost of doing business and enhances their economic vulnerability, apart from causing significant psychological stress and social stigma.
Amidst all the tension at the T.Nagar bus depot, Tamilselvi speaks on behalf of the bus conductors and drivers who are still being hostile on account of the short blockade last week. “It is understandable that they are upset, it is the natural way to react in their position. You don’t need to write about it, they’ll forget about it soon.”