Hawkers continue to live under lockdown restrictions despite the regular announcements of the nation-wide Unlock phases, said the national coordinator of the National Association of Street Vendors in India (NASVI) Arbind Singh recently.
Singh said that hawkers nowadays engage with a fourth of their original number of customers ever since the country-wide lockdowns were announced. The earnings from such sales are enough to make ends meet but the police have allegedly made their lives difficult by displacing the hawkers from their original vending-spots.
“The vendors are often made to leave the market area by the police before their designated time. For example, previously they were allowed to do their sales from 9 AM to 4 PM. But the police used to make them move before closing time. This has a huge impact on their sales,” said Singh.
The association has appealed to centre and state governments to consider the vendors’ situation and grant them identity cards to allow them to do their work with dignity. They also asked the government to recognise vegetable sellers and fruit sellers as essential services workers and to provide them with direct online payment. So far, only six states have offered any monetary relief to vendors.
Meanwhile, Shahdara south zone Town Vendors Committee (TVC) member Berjender Kumar Yadav said that the committee is assisting hawkers avail the Rs. 10,000 loan under the PM scheme.
However, while filing for the loans they found out that the hawkers require a letter of recommendation by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to get the loan. Due to this, only two out of nearly 200 applicants have successfully received the loans, said another TVC member Mohammad Irshad.
“While getting the letter, the MCD looks at various aspects along with the fines charged by the police on the hawkers. Since nearly all the hawkers have received a fine due to the lack of a certificate, hardly anyone benefits from the scheme,” said Irshad.
The certificate Irshad referred to was a document that was to be given to the street vendors as per the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act of 2014 that protects the rights of urban street vendors in India.
“As per the Vendors’ Act of 2014, the TVCs should have conducted a survey by now to identify those hawkers who are eligible for a certificate. However, for many years this survey has been interrupted by the government for some or the other reason. As a result, nobody has a hawker certificate yet,” he said.
The law states that the TVCs are to conduct the aforementioned survey once every five years. Chapter 8 of the Act even bars the police from harassing the vendors exercising their right to work. However, there is no penalty for the violation of this rule.
“If you think about it, the street vendors are the most ‘atmanirbhar’ people in this country but they do not yet have the proper backing of the law,” said TVC member Yadav although he conceded that the Act wasn’t at fault.
Similarly, while NASVI’s Mumbai coordinator Dayashankar Singh agreed that the Act was good, he said the Act could be made better if they define a ‘hawking-zone.’
“Currently, the Act does not have a definition for a hawking-zone. So, the police and the municipality end up giving them objectionable areas as vending zones,” said Singh.
While he agreed that a train station would be a poor location for a stall, he argued that any place where the hawker set up their stall could be considered a hawking-zone as long as it did not hinder the people passing by.
When asked about the condition of Mumbai vendors during the lockdown, Singh said, “The hawkers are doomed.” He said that all the 450 ice-cream sellers (also members) who had come from Rajasthan had returned to their villages. “Nearly 80-85 percent of hawkers who had come to Mumbai from different parts of India have left. They sometimes call to ask when they can return,” he said.
Even on returning, they still face the administrative difficulty of obtaining a certificate because the BMC asks for a domicile certificate which most people living with their relatives or out on the streets do not have. As a result, only 17,461 hawkers were declared eligible for the vending certificates.
To add to the problem, the places vacated by the hawkers have been occupied by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) workers which could lead to conflict.
Perhaps the one who can aptly convey the plight of the vendors is the Azad Hawkers Union’s President Vijayalaxmi Gaikwad who saw the police lathi-charge the vegetable and fruit sellers in Vikhroli.
“Around that time, there was a growing concern that street food could spread the coronavirus infection. So, vegetable sellers and fruit sellers suffered in particular,” said Gaikwad.
A flower-seller herself, Gaikwad said the street-sellers were harassed by the police even though they adhered to the lockdown guidelines as far as possible.
“We go to the police when we need help. But when the helpers themselves are attacking us, what can we do?” she asked.
The Street Vendors Act may be read here: