ON May 1 the Union Cabinet approved the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill. The revamped Bill, the result of a protracted struggle by street vendors and based on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Urban Development, will ensure that the proposed Act overrides State and municipal laws.

Arbind Singh, national coordinator of the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), welcomed the decision and hoped it would be passed in Parliament soon.

Speaking about the history of the struggle for a Central law, Ranjit Abhigyan of NASVI said, “We raised the demand for a Central law in 2009 following mass displacement of vendors across cities. In October 2010, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to enact a law on hawkers’ rights. This led to a countrywide campaign. In May 2011, the National Advisory Council (NAC) also recommended a Central law. The Bill was finally drafted in December 2011 and introduced in the Lok Sabha in September 2012, following which it was referred to the Standing Committee.”

The Bill comes in the backdrop of large-scale eviction of hawkers and vendors across the country without adequate attempts at rehabilitation. According to the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009, about 2 per cent of the population in cities consists of street vendors. In the National Capital Region, hawkers and vendors displaced in connection with the 2010 Commonwealth Games are still struggling to revive their businesses. The efforts at rehabilitation by the authorities have only led to some of these hawkers being pushed to the margins of the city, where there is little scope for business.

The 23rd report of the Standing Committee on Urban Development specifies that the process for getting a vending licence should be simplified and any one of easily accessible documents such as voter ID, PAN card, driving licence, aadhar number, ration card or electricity or telephone bill should be enough to establish one’s identity. In Delhi, vendors in the small markets were faced with continuous displacement in 2009-10 in connection with the CWG. Sriram, a member of the Footpath Vikreta Ekta Manch drew attention to Prabhu market, a small fruit and vegetable market close to Jorbagh: “This market was designated as a hawking zone by the MCD [Municipal Corporation of Delhi] in 2001. During the CWG, about 50 vendors were displaced citing security concerns. A month after the CWG ended we approached the police and the MCD on behalf of the shopkeepers. An MCD official demanded Rs.1 lakh from the vendors to allow them to get back to the pavement. We could cough up Rs.70,000.

“Though the vendors could settle temporarily, the market was disbanded on April 29, 2011, and the shops were destroyed. It was only after a Delhi High Court order in May 2011 that the relocation of the vendors was stayed and they could carry on their business in the locality. The MCD had proposed to shift the vendors to Madanpur Khader, a sparsely populated locality on the outskirts of Delhi where there would be little scope for business.”

Jalaluddin, who owned a fruit juice shop in the market, lost it during the demolition drive. An earlier such drive had cost him his hutment on Barapullah Road. He said: “In 2009, a demolition drive destroyed the house I had lived in for 25 years. When the market was also disbanded it really broke a part of my heart.” He said he regularly paid the licence fees of Rs.150 a month to the MCD and Rs.600 a month to the police.

Despite this, the harassment did not stop. Jalaluddin also rued the sudden raids by the MCD, during which they confiscated his goods and forced him to pay between Rs.1,200 and Rs.1,800 to get them back.

For Durgi, 63, who runs a vegetable shop in Prabhu market, the demolition drive in 2011 meant a loss of about Rs.10,000. The meagre amount of money earned from the shop was the only sure source of income for the family, as her three sons worked as daily-wage labourers.

Prem Nagar market was another one that was demolished during the construction of the Thyagaraja Stadium in 2009. After the CWG games got over, a central inspector of the MCD allowed 40 of its 70 vendors to move back to Prem Nagar temporarily and allotted other hawking locations to the rest. However, in 2011 a new Deputy Commissioner overturned this order and relocated all hawkers to Madanpur Khader on the outskirts of Delhi.

In August 2011, a single-judge Bench of the Delhi High Court, disposing of a petition filed by 40 hawkers, instructed them to file their representation before the Zonal Vending Committee.

The petitioners in September 2011 approached the Supreme Court, which allowed an appeal to be filed before the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court. The case is pending. Meanwhile, the situation of those who lost their livelihoods has worsened. Shanti, who has lost both her young sons and her husband, used to sell paan and bidi in Prem Nagar market. She has now been given a temporary shelter near Prabhu market, where she barely earns around Rs.100 a day. “I have paid licence fees to the MCD every year,” Shanti said. She receives Rs.1,000 as old-age pension, but it comes once in three-four months.

Sagnik Dutta