“We demand dignity from the state machinery that is not even allowing us to earn a decent living,” said hundreds of New Delhi’s street hawkers in unison who demonstrated on Thursday at the Civic Centre to protest against the recently intensified desolation by the city’s municipal corporation. The protest was led by Centre of Indian Trade Unions or CITU—affiliated Rehri Patri Khomcha Hawkers’ Union.
Dev Narayan, a 65-year-old, who has been a street vendor since 30 years, told NewsClick that he has joined the protest, as the government is “snatching away his livelihood” now.
Similar views were expressed by Shahina Begum, who is a widow and sells vegetables to feed her family. She was protesting against the harassment by the local police. She said that at times, the police come and takes away her belongings, while on some days, they destroy her whole lorry, which translates to huge financial loss for her. “Now, even the government is set to make things hard for us,” said Shahina while crying.
“The police had snatched all my items on Wednesday,” said Ujala Devi, another vegetable vendor, adding that, “now they have fined me of thousand rupees which I simply cannot afford to pay.” She demanded that both the Delhi and Central government either allow them to make their ends meet or simply “poison them”.
Imran, who has set a shop on the side tracks of Jama Masjid, told NewsClick that the Delhi High Court has allowed them to set up their shops on the side of the road despite which, the officials from the municipal corporations are removing them.
What’s the full story?
According to the municipal authorities, the Supreme Court, in its judgment on September 2, ordered the removal of illegal encroachments in New Delhi, meaning that the recent action against the street vendors follows orders of the court. However, this line of justification behind the police harassment was met with strong censure from the union leaders.
According to the union, the street vendors cannot be treated as “illegal encroachments”, while safety of the street vendors is also ensured by law. In 2010, the Supreme Court declared hawking a fundamental right and in 2014, the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, was implemented. NewsClick has earlier reported regarding the key feature of the Act, which requires the state government to relocate the street vendors to special vending zones. Otherwise, they cannot be moved out of the streets.
According to some estimates, there are well over 2.5 crore street vendors in the whole country and about 5 lakh in Delhi itself. These vendors contribute significantly to the Indian economy and in view of the constant threats and exploitation they face, the livelihood protection bill was prepared in 2013 under the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime.
The objective of the law was to keep a check on the atrocities committed by the local police and municipal corporation officials against the hawkers. However, owing to the lackadaisical approach or possibly apathy of both the BJP-led central government and the AAP’s Delhi state government, the implementation has not been effective, and the required checks remain on paper.
Responding to the protest, Delhi municipal officers addressed the agitating hawkers and assured them of an immediate solution. Meanwhile, the union leaders submitted a charter of demands to the municipal corporation and declared that a big and fierce protest will be organised in case the demands are not fulfilled.