Hawkers in Mumbai City

11 Mar

Since the late 1990’s several NGOs and residents associations have been actively promoting, with some success, the idea that hawkers are to be blamed for many of the city’s problems. To them, hawkers are a symbol of a metropolitan space gone out of control. [Rajagopal 2001:94]


Source: Dinodia

Hawkers are frequently described by civic activists, municipal officials and journalists as a nuisance. They are seen to represent the chaos of the city’s streets and the cause of the city’s notorious congestion. On the other hand, to others they represent an undeserved claim of the poor on the city’s public spaces. This despite the fact that the city’s streets and footpaths are full of privately owned car parking areas that are by far the city’s greatest encroachers of public space and the greatest obstruction to the movement of pedestrians. After knowing this, yet the self proclaimed defenders of public space, the civic activists and the NGOs are not concerned by this fact.


Source : Mumbai daily snapshot

The shop owners as well as wealthy resident associations who engage in similar practices justify the evictions as necessary actions to keep the city clean. Hawkers they claim dirty the public spaces by throwing trash and other unwanted garbage depriving pedestrians of their space, cause traffic jams and encourage anti-social activities making them unappealing to customers and residents.

The number of street vendors has increased sharply during the past few years. It is now estimated that around 2.5 per cent of the urban population are engaged in this occupation. Their numbers have increased after the liberalization policy of 1991 because of two major reasons privatization and migration.  Poverty and lack of gainful employment in rural areas and in smaller towns drive large numbers of people to the cities for work and livelihood. These people generally possess low skills and lack the level of education required for better paid jobs in the organized sector. Besides, permanent protected jobs in the organized sector are shrinking; hence even those having the requisite skills are unable to find proper employment. Therefore this section of the population tries to solve their problems through hawking since it is relatively easy and has a limited requirement of capital.

The poorer sections too are able to procure their basic necessities mainly through street vendors, as the goods sold are cheap and thus affordable. Had there been no street vendors in the cities the plight of the urban poor would be worse than what it is at present. In this way one section of the urban poor namely street vendors helps another section to survive. Hence though street vendors are viewed as a problem for urban governance, they are in fact the solution to some of the problems of the urban poor. By providing cheaper commodities street vendors are in effect providing subsidy to the urban poor, something that the government should have done.


Source : Mid-day

One of the major problem faced by the hawkers in the city is in fact the demand for hafta (bribe) by state authorities. It has been estimated that hawkers pay tens of crores in hafta each year. The most important problem they face is not the lack of sales or access to credit or even work conditions but the constant fear of demolitions, insecurity and daily harassment from authorities. Normally hawking and no-hawking zones are designated by the civic or police authorities. In some of the non-hawking zones the authorities demand high bribes each year. Therefore some hawkers don’t mind system of registration to overcome the persistent fear and insecurity. [Bhowmik 2003].

The authorities don’t encourage the system of legally registering the number of hawkers within the area.  Since by doing so, they lose out on the money collected through bribes which the hawkers are forced to pay. Recently, under the pressure from citizens’ groups and the media. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had been coming more frequently to areas where hawkers are present. The stress from the threat of BMC raids, demolitions and increased harassment had compounded several problems to the hawkers.


Source : Canvirries 03

The issue of the hawkers came to light again with the foreign direct investment policy accepted by the country; the hawkers who run a parallel economy have become an eyesore for the government. Several multinational companies want to invest in retail outlets of daily essentials and hence want the hawkers out, as their business will be affected.

India is one of very few countries that have developed a National Policy on Urban Street Vendors. The policy was adopted in 2004 with the objective of providing and promoting a supportive environment for street vendors to earn livelihoods, while at the same time reducing congestion and maintaining sanitary conditions in public spaces and streets.

Though its implementation since 2004 has been weak and uneven, India’s Supreme Court has upheld the fundamental rights of street vendors. This Supreme Court judgment reinforced the need for state and local governments to implement binding laws based on the National Policy. India’s National Policy on Urban Street Vendors explicitly recognizes the contributions of street vendors to urban life. [Shalini Sinha and Sally Roever 2011]

Even after all the hype and the eviction by the authorities the hawkers in hill road are back again, much to the dismay of the residents. It’s a vicious cycle as they continue to pay huge bribes to stay where there and yet are treated as criminals in the eyes of the law. The problem of hawkers in Mumbai is a very complex one, merely removing them won’t solve the problem as they will move someplace else. Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, grant’s citizens the right to livelihood and therefore I believe that every individual has the right to earn his or her livelihood in an honest manner without being harassed by the state authorities.

By Steffi Ebnett


Rajagopal, Arvind: “The Violence of Commodity Aesthetics: Hawkers Demolition Raids and a New Regime of Consumption.” Social Text, 19(3): 2001. Pp. 91-113.

Bhowmik, Sharit K: “National Policy for Street Vendors”; Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 38, No. 16 April 19 2003. pp. 1543-46.

Shalini Sinha and Sally Roever: Women in Informal Employment, “Globalizing and Organizing” April 2011, http://previous.wiego.org/news/E-Newsletters/WIEGO-e-News-Jul-Dec2009.pdf

CitiSpace: “Hawking and Non-Hawking Zones in Greater Mumbai: Everything You Want to Know.” 2004

Shekhar, Vaishnavi: “Share of Migrants in Mumbai Halves over 100 Years.” Times of India. September 29, 2005

Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria: “Street Hawkers and Public Space in Mumbai.” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 41, No. 21 May 2006, pp. 2140-2146.

Banerjee-Guha: “Shifting Cities: Urban Restructuring in Mumbai,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 37, No. 2 2002, pp. 121–128.


6 Responses to “Hawkers in Mumbai City”

  1. jankipandya March 12, 2013 at 4:04 am #

    Very well comprehended Steffi.

    Removing them is not the option and legalising them would stop the hafta income for the top BMC officials at the ward level. FDI in retail and hawkers see each other at logger heads. The National Bill pending in the Parliament also has some flaws but once passed, all implementation has to be done by the Municipal Corporation. with increase in population and demand for more products the number of hawkers is bound to rise, one has to make provision for them. You cannot have a upper limit for the number of hawkers needed in the city.

    the number of hawking zones designated is not enough moreover market places cannot be fixed under the whims and fancies of the corporation. The concept of natural markets have to be recognised. The station areas instead of being non hawking zones should be made non motorised for private vehicles and auto rickshaws for some kilometres. Most municipal markets which were suppose to be within 150m of station area are far away and now used for some other purpose.

    The politicians , local corporators don’t want this issue solved. They benefit from denying these people their right as that’s how they will listen to them and vote for them. Most Corporators in fact encourage their people to take up hawking till the time they are in power.

  2. steffi March 15, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    thank you Janki for your inputs. The problems of the hawkers is indeed a very complicated one one with no easy solution.

  3. Melanie March 30, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    Aw, this was an incredibly nice post. Taking the time and
    actual effort to produce a top notch article… but what can I
    say… I procrastinate a lot and don’t seem to get anything done.

    • steffi April 26, 2013 at 6:24 am #

      thank you melanie

  4. VV April 13, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    Nice article. I find life so much easier because of these vendors. It broke my heart to see the regular vendors I interact often shelling out their earnings to cops. & BMC doesn’t give these poor souls a license for some reason. Of course it’s all a vicious circle and I’m wondering if I step in to help it might backfire on the vendors. I feel helpless. Is there someway I can help them get BMC licenses & ensure the cops don’t pester them? Any leads?

    • steffi April 26, 2013 at 6:28 am #

      Thats a very nice of you to be able to help them. but unfortunately i don’t have any leads as i am just a student. i have no contacts with the vendors.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: