Venkat Sandeep Bandla (Asian College of Journalism)
Vendors, Dealers, Peddlers, Hawkers…Whatever might be the nomenclature, they all form an integral part of an economy, dispensing goods and services to customers at affordable prices. With their lives are full of uncertainties, they operate in a hostile environment fending off civic authorities and policemen with bribes to escape eviction and confiscation of their wares. Studies have shown that, all over India, street vendors have paid more than Rs.400 crore annually as bribes. (Reference:). Everyday they wage a relentless battle to retain their vending spots. Many of them work for long hours at designated areas to make a buck or two. For some it is a primary source of income, whereas some treat it as a part-time job – another source to meet the growing needs of their families and rising prices.
Committees to address hawking related issues in Tamil Nadu
In Tamil Nadu, regulation of street vending and hawking is not a new phenomenon. Since 2001, many committees have been constituted by the Chennai High Court to study and resolve the problems associated with hawking. The Justice Haidi Committee was one of the earliest in this regard which came up with recommendations like banning hawking on more than 49 roads and allowing the licensed hawkers an area of 20 sq.ft. in recognised hawking zones.
Later in 2003, as an improvement on the Haidi Committee, Justice Kanagaraj Committee gave its recommendations for 35 streets after surveying 10 Corporation Zones. The committee stressed for proper recognition and representation of hawkers by giving them licences to operate. The vendors who fail to register themselves can be evicted. In case of relocation for developmental purposes, the committee suggested the establishment of commercial complexes. In order to monitor the implementation of Justice Kanagaraj Committee, another committee headed by Justice Ramamurthy was formed by the Madras High Court. None of the committees succeeded in addressing the issues and the motivation taken before forming the committee eventually fizzled out.
The issue of licensing was partially implemented as the corporation failed to regulate the new vendors and hawkers. Moving the vendors to commercial complexes was a non-starter because of the space crunch faced by the city, one of the most common complaints made by the authorities. According to a report published in The Times of India, a study has been conducted by a local NGO which highlights the dimensions of the existing footpaths in the city. The study was done in ten zones of the city. Majority of the pavements in the city have a width less than 1.5 meters. In areas like T.Nagar and Mylapore the width is less than 1 meter. About 40 percent of the 830 km footpaths surveyed in the city lie in the same condition. Added to those streetlights, garbage bins, vehicles and many such things occupy the space on the footpaths. Lack of proper parking spaces for two and four wheel vehicles is another pressing problem which causes heavy congestion in most parts of the city. The hawkers and vendors do not add to the existing issue but the poor urban planning does.
In the same year, 2003, the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) devised a scheme to divide the cities into three areas – red, amber and green. Red would represent the areas where hawking was prohibited, amber for restricted hawking and green for no restrictions. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation circulated a draft on ‘National Policy on Street Vendors’ for comments.
One of the main recommendations of the policy is the establishment of Town Vending Committee (TVC). The TVC’s that are constituted in every ward of the Municipal Corporations would be responsible for recognising and allocating spaces for hawkers depending on the local situations. Other recommendations suggested a comprehensive survey of the hawkers in the city by a professional organization and proactive allocation of spaces for hawking in the old and new areas of the city.
Latest legislation to address the problem of street vending
The continued struggle of the vendors associations, unions and civil society made the Supreme Court recognise ‘street vending’ as a form of livelihood in 2012. Thus, The Street Vendors’ (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill was drafted and was introduced on September 6 in the Lok Sabha.
The legislation focuses on protection of vendors from harassment by police and civic authorities, representation of women and vendors in the decision making bodies, demarcation of vending zones and establishment of a dispute resolution mechanism with an effective grievance redressal.
In spite of favourable recommendations, many vendors are doubtful if the civic authorities can help them with regard to resettlement and rehabilitation. The earlier draft stated that there would be at least 40 percent of the vendors representing the TVC (Town Vending Committee) providing a participatory decision making process. But, this was removed in the bill and thereby gives the local municipal authorities’ way too much power to dictate on the issues faced by the hawkers. Even decision on the welfare schemes including loans can be taken by the municipal authorities only.
The Chennai Corporation recently stated to the Madras High Court that it would act on the shops in the city within a span of four months. Their main focus would be on T.Nagar, one of the most densely populated areas with hawkers and pavement shops.
Laws in this regard only remain on papers. Issues can be solved locally if the Town Vending Committees (TVC) along with hawkers, residents, representatives from the civic authorities debate on the problems and arrive at an amicable solution. Relocation and rehabilitation has to be done sensitively so that the vendors retain their pre-eviction lifestyle.
Official statistics shows us that there are more than 3,000 hawkers operating in 31 designated areas. The unofficial count reveals that the number of hawkers is more than 10,000. The city will witness over one lakh licensed street vendors and hawkers if the Street Vendors Bill is passed in the current session of the Parliament. It will be interesting to note the development of, the yet to be opened hawker complexes in Ayanavaram and T.Nagar.
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