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]
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.
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.
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.
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.