Venkat Sandeep Bandla
Just before the Street Vendors Bill, 2012 could become a legislation, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by an advocate K.Balaji (President of ‘Gandhiji Consumer Forum’) is threatening the existence of the street vendors operating along the entire stretch of Marina Beach.
According to a report published in the Times of India, Balaji contended that the Marina beach, the second longest beach in the world is in a “pathetic” and “shabby” condition. He also said that the foreign tourists are afraid of visiting the beach as it is one of the dirtiest in the world today.
Scores of vendors and hawkers operate on theMarina, along with food stall owners, joy ride operators and vendors who offer horse riding for a fee. The Madras High Court, in an interim injunction, restrained civic authorities from permitting the hawkers and vendors to carry on their business on the beach.
Most of the vendors and hawkers work in two or more than two jobs to earn sufficient money to run their families.
Siva Kumar*, a vendor who resides in Mt.Road, sells fruit juice in the morning and returns to the beach at 4 o’clock to sell balloons. “These days you cannot sustain your family with one job. The expenses are too high. Money which I get from selling juice and balloons is irregular. Sometimes I make good money sometimes I don’t. During weekends I make Rs.400 but, it is not the same during weekdays,” he says.
P. Ramakrishnan*, an ice-cream vendor, also dabbles in two professions to make his ends meet. He is a fisherman by day and an ice-cream vendor by night. “The stretch fromAnna Squareto Light House is divided into different areas with more than 2000 vendors. Each area has an association which collects Rs.20 per individual per month, to pay the policemen. We at our beach have an association which caters to 120 vendors,” he says, handing out ice-cream to the children.
“The policemen seldom create any problems, because they get their monthly amount on time. But, when they are ordered by the government they try to drive us away from the beach premises,” says Murugesan*, a Pav Bhaji vendor.
Responses to Proposed Street Vendor Bill
The Street Vendors’ (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2012 is an outcome of the Supreme Court’s recognition of ‘street vending’ as a source of livelihood after long struggle by vendors associations, unions and civil society. The draft was approved by the Union cabinet on August 17, 2012 and was introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 6, 2012. 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.
According to the bill, anyone who has been a vendor for 14 years or more can register themselves as street vendors with the Town Vending Committee (TVC) and pay a one-time fee which would allow them to operate in ‘specific vending zones’. Identification cards would also be issued for this purpose.
The work done by the National Advisory Council (NAC) to draft the bill met with a mixed response by the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI). They along with the street vendors still have some reservations about some key points in the bill.
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 present bill also nullifies the provisions tabled in the National Policy for Urban Street Vendors, 2004 in case of land acquisition and evictions for public purposes. There would be legal ambiguities as there is no clear definition of ‘public purpose land’.
Ramakrishnan says, “I live in the nearby fishing village* and my family depends primarily on fishing. Being the sole earning member of my family, I took up this job of selling ice-cream. If the government plans to relocate us, where will I go?”
B. Rajagopal Naidu, retired director of telephones and avid beach lover says, “Apart from the vendors there are others who depend of them. For example, few months ago, there were coolies who used to help the vendors carry their wares and machines onto the beach for a nominal sum but now they are no where to be found. The entire system is quite delicate and if the authorities plan to relocate them, the alternative space should ideally reflect their pre-eviction life.”
In a report by Live Mint, Sharit Bhowmik, professor and chairperson of the Centre for Labour Studies at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) says, “My concern is that everything in the Bill is left to the schemes of the individual municipalities of different states, which defeats the purpose of a Central legislation. Instead of facilitating vendors, the schemes could be influenced by vested interests from various bodies, such as the area’s resident welfare societies, which are increasingly deciding how public areas must be used.”
Vendors and hawkers operating in and around the premises of railway stations are exempted from this legislation. ‘The bill is not applicable for the vendors on the land controlled or owned by the railways under the Railways Act, 1989.’
Bhowmik, who was consulted on the Bill by the Parliamentary standing committee on urban development, also wants vending on railway land to be brought under the proposed law. “For instance, the local trains are Mumbai’s lifeline,” he says. “If you don’t let hawkers sell snacks outside the stations, it affects both the vendors and consumers.”
In response to the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by K.Balaji, P.Karunanidhi, General Secretary of the Chennai Street Vendors Association said, “We have stated our objection to the PIL and the date of the hearing hasn’t been announced yet.”
“Instead of relocating the vendors, the authorities can regularize the fee which they are currently paying to the association. The government will get income and the vendors and hawkers will be free from the harassment by police and other civic authorities,” he says.
(* Name changed to protect the identity of the vendors)