Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Despite a law to back them, street vendors still insecure

Times of India‎‎‎‎‎: Bengaluru: Tuesday, February 14, 2017.
Amanullah Sharif has been vending fruits in Shivajinagar for 58 years. Now 74, Sharif knows everything there is to know about his fellow vendors in Russel Square area. "Everybody here wants a licence. Some of them have been here for decades, but still have to face the abuses hurled at them by cops and civic officials. They are also forcefully removed from the area," he says.
Sharif and other vendors stress the importance of acquiring a licence or a vending certificate as the government calls it. "I applied for my licence four years ago, but still haven't got it," he says. Upon paying a fee, licence holders get the right to sell their goods in specified hawking zones.
Since eviction is a a constant threat for street vendors, licenses are in high demand. "A licence gives you an identity. It also allows you to apply for other government identification," says another vendor.
"I moved my cart to a different location, as many of the carts in the area where I parked earlier were removed by cops," said Jameela S. Now, Jameela's cart is strategically placed in front of a proper shop. She says that it's safer this way as she is less likely to be picked on by the authorities.
However, none of the vendors spoken to seemed to be aware of the Street Vendors (protection of livelihood and regulation of street vending) Act, passed in 2014. A reason for this might be that while the Kannada translation of the act was released in late 2014/early 2015, the translation of the rules was released only in October-November 2016.
Drafted to protect their rights, the law states that no vendor can be evicted from designated vending zones. It also says that following a survey, all vendors must be granted licenses. The act also stipulates formation of a town vending committee (TVC), with 40% of its members being drawn from the vending community, to decide on vending zones. But three years on, nothing much seems to have been done.
"A similar central government scheme, the National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM), has been implemented in several districts of the state. However, the Palike hasn't taken any such step in the capital," says Lekha Adavi of the Alternate Law Forum (ALF).
"There are approximately 2 to 3 lakh street vendors in Benglauru; however, on filing an RTI, we found out that the BBMP had told the directorate of municipal administration (DMA) that there were only 5,000 of them. We sought clarification from the BBMP through another RTI, but are yet to hear from them," she says.
While a licence is supposed to give vendors the right to sell goods without the constant threat of eviction, Lekha recalls a recent incident in Rajajinagar where 65 licensed vendors were evicted from a designated vending zone. The reason being a PIL filed by a resident who claimed these people were encroaching the footpath, and harassing female residents and shoppers.
Three years after the enactment of a law to protect the rights of urban street vendors and regulate street vending activities, the BBMP has no clue about the exact number of street vendors in the city.
"I'm discussing the setting up of the town vending committee. There are certain technical and legal issues that need to be addressed first. Once the committee is set up, we'll decide on the vending zones," said Sarfaraz Khan, joint commissioner health and SWM, BBMP.
"There is no fixed number of street vendors. The count increase every day with the opening of a new park or playground. We won't have a proper number until the survey is carried out," he added. The survey, he said, will be carried out shortly.
Street vendors are often seen as encroachers. It's easy to crack the whip on these small-time sellers, most of whom aren't even aware that they are protected under law. What's worse, even those who want to procure licences and set up stalls legally have been waiting for years, only exposing the lax attitude of the authorities concerned. The BBMP cannot pretend to be a tough taskmaster till it gets its act together. Demarcated hawking zones can actually spare our roads and pavements of much clutter, and permits for vendors can streamline the whole segment. But this can happen only when all stakeholders earnestly come together.