A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court of India lambasted the Centre and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) for their apathy and callous attitude towards encroachment evidenced by their repeated inaction and ordered them to remove street vendors, hawkers, squatters etc from Delhi’s roads and pavements with immediate effect. This order comes hot on the heels of a massive sealing drive in Delhi which has already brought the trade sector, which employs almost 30 percent of Delhi’s workforce and is the single largest contributor to the state’s GSDP, to a grinding halt.
The BJP-led Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) headed by the overweening Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi are the primary stakeholders here. They are suitably aided by a status-quoist bureaucracy which is either happy to operate from its cashmere-lined towers of ivory or is more than willing to be deployed as an armament in the frequent political skirmishes between the BJP-led central government and the AAP-led Delhi government if recent incidents are anything to go by.
Allow me to explain.
Most of the street vendors in Delhi are unskilled or low-skilled people, made up of migrants from states, both near and far, who arrive at Delhi’s doorstep, every year, escaping poverty and persecution back home and in search of jobs and a better life.
These vendors provide a variety of goods and services — be it selling cheap, yet beautiful trinkets or dispensing a quick round of immaculate haircut — and propagate their trade through word-of-mouth and local community networks in the absence of budget and resources needed to mount a sophisticated marketing campaign. In Delhi, street-selling provides direct employment to more than three hundred thousand people by rough estimates.
Even though the act of street vending is unregulated, it serves as an important feature in a modern city like Delhi and forms an essential link in the informal supply lines of modern urban city life. In fact, instead of using the pejorative word of ‘encroachment’, street vending should be viewed through the canon of it being a natural outcome of the urbanisation process manifested by the considerations of mutual interdependence between the society and the market with the decreased involvement of typical and dominating market forces.
However, it is also true that these vendors routinely face harassment and extortion from police officers, local municipal inspectors and self-anointed pradhans who operate under political patronage. Case in point: recently, a BJP MP from Delhi was pulled up by the Delhi High Court for allegedly distributing illegal tokens to street vendors in his area and collecting money from them with the ostensible aim of providing them with ‘protection’.
To this end, the Centre, in 2014, in order to regulate the act of street vending and to protect street vendors from the pulls and pushes of an organised extortion mafia, enacted the street vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act (hereafter referred to as the Act).
Section, 3, 4 and 7 of the Act stipulate that the ‘appropriate’ government agency needed to do the following:
(a) Create Town Vending Committees (TVCs) in each ward/zone of the city which will ensure that the interests and rights of all street vendors settled in that particular ward/zone are protected and appropriate grievance redressal mechanisms to prevent extortion are in place.
(b) Undertake Surveys in the jurisdictional area of each TVC to identify the street vendors in that area, and to accommodate them into legal and authorised vending spaces by issuing them government ID cards.
(c) Ensure that no eviction of street vendors takes place until and unless the first round of the survey is complete.
However, all of the above provisos have been marred by some form of infirmity or the other in Delhi due to the following reasons:
- Dilatory Tactics of the LG and Bureaucracy
The AAP-led Delhi government notified the constitution of Town Vending Committees, under the Act, in September 2015. After extensive public consultations, with street vending unions and activists, which lasted a few months, amendments to the notification were made and the file was sent to the LG for his ex-post facto approval.
However, flying in face of both statutory and constitutional convention, the LG repeatedly raised redundant objections on the notification, even though it was not his domain area. His accomplice in this was an intransigent bureaucracy which deployed the crutch of long and circumlocutory file notings: clearly under political pressure from the masters that be to slow-down the work of Delhi Government.
An unfortunate consequence, as per a report tabled in the Delhi Legislative Assembly, the above led to a delay of 376 days in notifying Town Vending Committees.
- Lack of Surveys and Improper Deadlines
With scant disregard to the binding provisos of the Act, the insipid administration of MCD is yet to conduct a proper survey to identify and map street vendors all over Delhi. In fact, the last surveys were conducted back in 2007 and 2011 and the present database of street vendors is woefully outdated.
Additionally, as per the Rules notified under the Act, all street vendors needed to submit a certain set of ‘registration’ documents to the MCD. The MCD set an impractical deadline of 10 days for street vendors to furnish these documents. The High Court of Delhi intervened, extended the deadline to 30 days and pulled up the MCD by remarking: “Having regard to the fact that some of the street vendors, who belong to the lower strata of society, are illiterate and would learn about the public advertisements through word of mouth, this Court was of the view that 10 days time was highly insufficient”.
- Glaring Anomaly in the Act itself
Section 22 of the Act stipulates that 40 percent of the TVC should have a representation of street vendors voted in by the street vendors of that particular area.
However, a recent study has found a glaring anomaly which makes such voting almost impossible. Prior to the constitution of the TVC, all street vendors in that particular area are illegal and not recognised as per the provisos of the Act. It is only after the constitution of the TVC that ID cards are issued and street vendors are legalised. In such a case, prior to the constitution of the TVC, no voting can take place without there being any statutory street vendor. It is a classic and reductive case of the chicken-and-egg situation.
BJP should stop indulging in petty politicking at the cost of Delhi’s citizens
BJP, still smarting from the humiliating drubbing that Arvind Kejriwal doled out to it in the 2015 Delhi elections, has tried to shift the onus of inaction and blame to the AAP, all the while making incoherent and fatuous political noises.
This sort of behaviour has become quite typical of the BJP which resolutely refuses to drive the vehicle that has been entrusted to it only to wrongly park it at Kejriwal's doorstep and then asks everyone to challan him.
BJP is at the Centre and controls most of the important government authorities in Delhi. Instead of resorting to mud-slinging and blame-games, it is high time that it pulls its act together and solves the problem of street vending in Delhi.
Pranav Jain works with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Delhi Government on Key Issues. He tweets @pranavj142.
Updated Date: May 18, 2018 15:15 PM