No space for street hawkers

No space for street hawkers

Renu Vinod
Business Standard , August 23, 2005


The New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) has ordered the eviction of encroachers in and around its market areas keeping in mind the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

When asked where these "illegal encroachers" would go once they are beaten and chased out of their livelihood space, Madan Thaplial, PRO of NDMC summed up his government's attitude to these poor street entrepreneurs: "Let them go anywhere!"

The problem street hawkers face is that they aren't exempt from burdensome legislations of the government. There are, for example, more than 600,000 street hawkers in Delhi, of whom only about 5 per cent have the tehbazari (license) permit to hawk their goods on public space. The rest are subjected to continuous harassment through extortion and/or eviction.

Raids and eviction from the space they occupy are routine in the lives of street hawkers. Once caught, their wares get confiscated because of a majority's illegal status.

The public space they occupy does not come free to these hawkers. They pay substantially to the authorities involved and suffer losses due to frequent evictions.

In this context, would it not be better if MCD or NDMC officially rented out this space? Some land would be more expensive than others. Those who can afford the more expensive space will rent that and those who cannot, go elsewhere to hawk.

This way the hawker is no longer an encroacher on that piece of land and won't be chased out and his/her wares confiscated.

Simultaneously, a local governance unit such as an empowered and responsible ward committee could issue identification badges to the hawkers. Local management authorities know their areas better.

A transparent and accountable authority issuing these badges would know who is an encroacher and who is not, and thus be able to micromanage specific ward areas. A mega-city with millions of people and tens of thousands of streets can't possibly compete in flexibility with such localised management.

Hawking and no-hawking zones can be agreed upon in consultation with hawkers' union representatives, NGOs, resident welfare associations and other concerned bodies.

Constituting zonal and ward vending committees that will comprise of such members - a process underway in Delhi - it is hoped, would contribute positively in this process.

It is time to empower street entrepreneurs with livelihood freedom and civil society groups need to take the first step in this direction.

Street entrepreneurs' too have the right to work in a just and favourable environment and they should be given the chance to enjoy the economic freedom given to our industrialists. The Centre for Civil Society's online petition at champions this cause.

The writer is research associate, Centre for Civil Society.