Disgruntled vendors are staring at an uncertain future due to government apathy

The street vendors are a disappointed lot today. They have been receiving short  shrift in urban  planning missions and the policies  meant for them are being downplayed and misused. It is about time that the authorities gave them their rightful place.

vendors street in Delhi

Tears trickle down his eyes as Balveer Singh, a kiosk owner in Lajpat Nagar Market, narrates his ordeal, “The authorities come and seize the items we are selling. There is no prior notice or warning; they just come and evict us from our locations. We feel the authorities have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye towards us,” he laments. Balveer’s case is not an isolated one; it is the plight of many vendors trying to eke out a living in the capital of India.

“We are also striving for a better future like everyone else. We too have mouths to feed at home. The unjust ways in which we get treated is downright humiliating and frustrating,” rues Balveer.

The authorities and their henchmen resort to high-handedness and unleash a reign of fear to scare away vendors from many prime locations. With schemes like the Master Plan for Delhi coming into focus, the uproar over the harassment faced by the vendor community is mounting. What’s worse, the surveys ordered by the court to issue certificates to the vendors are also disorganised and ill-managed by the authorities concerned.

Sandeep Verma, a Town Vending Committee (TVC) member and convenor of the National Hawker Federation (NHF), who has been fighting for the vendors’ rights, says, “The way the authorities treat the laws and deal with the vendors is deplorable. Harassment is just an understatement.”

“It is a sad state of affairs for the vendors. There are no notices or warnings given to them. The authorities evict these poor souls from their locations forcibly and in blatant violation of the law,” Verma points out.

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The Street Vendors Act, 2014 was brought into effect to provide an identity and some basic rights and protection to vendors. The vendor community and the people associated with them rejoiced when it was announced but it has apparently fizzled out. The road has been bumpy and full of tribulations for them.

Vendor pedia-of-Delhi_GFX

Master Plan for Delhi

“The Master Plan for Delhi is what the government is emphasising on now. The plan in no way tries to accommodate the street vendors as a part of it. They want to exclude them even when the court has ruled that a percentage of the population can indulge in street vending activities,” says Shalaka Chauhan, another TVC member.

“The authorities aren’t prompt in their response to the surveys as well. It is happening at an inordinately slow pace and without the knowledge of the vendors,” she underlines.

The problems don’t end for the vendor community here though. The authorities have found multiple ways to demoralise them and create hurdles in their attempts to take stock of the surveys and obtain other essential information. The vendors are thus unable to keep themselves up to date with the ongoing developments that relate to them.

The government’s concern is to build a better future for Delhi: a Delhi where people can travel hassle-free and for the capital to be at par with global standards. This is being done by policies and proposals as a roadmap for Delhi’s planned development. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has been conducting demolition drives for some time now in an effort to curb illegal shops and constructions. The vendor community is still at a loss to figure out what is happening. The new changed laws make it more complicated for them to keep tabs on the situation.

PM SVANidhi Scheme

“The vendors are poor; they lack even basic knowledge. The government thinks they are educated enough to operate a computer and fill their forms and stay updated on the matters concerning them. To further complicate things, a vendor has to insert the longitude and latitude of his location for acquiring a LOR (Letter of Recommendation). These conditions are just ridiculous,” says Verma.

The PM Street Vendor’s Atma Nirbhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) Scheme was launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in June 2020 to provide affordable working capital loans to street vendors so that they could resume their livelihoods that had been affected by the Covid-19 lockdown. Many vendors claim that they have been issued LORs with the wrong details due to which they are not able to apply for loans from banks.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Indo Global Social Service Society (IGSSS), a civil society organisation working with informal workers and settlements, street vendors who fall into the C and D categories of the scheme — those who do not have a COV — would be allowed to operate without the threat of intimidation or displacement by the police or municipal authorities.

Up to 75 per cent of the vendors surveyed belonged to the vulnerable C and D categories and only 11 per cent of the respondents had received the Rs 10,000 loan. The study included over 1,600 respondents from 15 cities, spanning 10 states, and was conducted just before the second wave of the pandemic arrived, which caused a livelihood crisis for those working in the unorganised sector.

“I re-issued my COV twice, but the input details were still wrong. They listed me as a mobile vendor when I clearly stated that I have been running this kiosk in the same location for over 2-3 years now. I can’t apply for bank loans without the right information on my LOR and COV,” says Abdul Alam, a food kiosk owner in the Jama Masjid area.

The government’s help has also become an unattainable task for many vendors. The rules, regulations and requirements are weighing heavily on them, as they are largely illiterate and incapable of doing anything else except fend for themselves.

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A fight for resolution

“The government kept the TVCs out of the discussions when deciding where to organise the surveys, which location would be preferable, at what time should they start and for how long should they go on. TVCs were formed to keep the vendors and the community informed about the government’s rulings and updates. The representatives of the TVCs have all the necessary information on the vendors of their area. Excluding them from the meetings means hampering the flow of information, which has already happened,” laments Verma.

The Delhi government’s planning and execution of the surveys have been heavily condemned by the communities and the vendors. The improper dissemination of information and the callousness with which the government is handling these surveys give a clear indication of how serious it is when it comes to identifying the vendor community as an integral part of the economy of the city.

“There are thousands of vendors from many areas who aren’t even aware of the surveys. Only a negligible number of vendors who happened to know about them, participated in the surveys,” reveals Verma.

“The other problems that the vendors faced were with the right documents. The set of documents that are required for entering the survey were limited. There is no such law that restricts vendors from entering the surveys on the basis of not having the stipulated documents. An association membership card, COVs, LORs and other documents as such are enough for the vendors to register for the survey,” he explains.

The government did come out with a solution later. But the solution wasn’t viable for the vendors. The government created an online portal which the vendors can use to register themselves if they have missed out on the opportunity to enter the survey. This move didn’t seem like a pertinent option since most of the vendors are not technically sound. Assuming that they can create their own email IDs, let alone operate a computer, only serves to strengthen the point that the vendors are nowhere in the future scheme of things for the government.

“My days are filled with struggles. From earning to feed my family to securing my kiosk and my kiosk’s location, I only keep worrying about what new problem is in store for me next. I am staring at an uncertain future. I just hope that a common ground can be found between the authorities and vendors like me,” Abdul says.

A bumpy road ahead

For now, the path towards enacting an impactful and seamless law that can give the vendors and the communities their rights and protection as promised under the Street Vendors Act, 2014 seems tough and full of impediments.

As rightly pointed out by Abdul, there is a need to find a common ground. The Master Plan for Delhi and the upcoming plans for the city should be made in accordance with the Street Vendors Act. We need to identify that these vendors are an important cog in the wheel that runs the capital. They are the lifeline of the city. Neglecting their contribution and profession, would not only cause dislocation and disappointment, but will also rob the city of its very essence.

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“People like me and my community are fighting at the ground level. We are filing cases against the companies responsible for the surveys. We are also filing cases against the police officials responsible for the mismanagement and for not handling the situation correctly. We are taking them to court based on our own findings and evidence and thus have been able to get some relief. But what we need in this situation is a permanent solution. A lasting remedy,” says Verma, as he wipes away the sweat from his brow. He remains steadfast on his resolve of championing this cause, and we wish him and his community all the best on their journey of obtaining justice and dignity for themselves.

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