Crack­down on Mumbai street ven­dors sparks a row

Kuwait Times - - International -

MUMBAI: A crack­down on street ven­dors in Mumbai after they were blamed for a stam­pede at a train sta­tion last month high­lights the di­min­ish­ing ac­cess to pub­lic spa­ces for the city’s poor and marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties, ac­tivists said. A re­port on the rush-hour stam­pede dur­ing a monsoon down­pour that killed 22 peo­ple, said ven­dors crowd­ing a nar­row foot­bridge were partly to blame. Since then, city of­fi­cials have dou­bled a fine for il­le­gal hawk­ers, and said they will in­tro­duce a mo­bile app for res­i­dents to regis­ter com­plaints about hawk­ers.

Mem­bers of a lo­cal po­lit­i­cal party have clashed with ven­dors out­side train sta­tions, say­ing they pose a risk to com­muters. “City of­fi­cials have not done any­thing to cre­ate hawk­ing zones and is­sue new li­censes,” said Salma Sheikh of ad­vo­cacy group Azad Ven­dors Union in Mumbai. “The law clearly states there can be no evic­tions till a sur­vey is done. Yet ven­dors are be­ing evicted, their wares de­stroyed; this is a bla­tant vi­o­la­tion of our rights,” she told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

Ven­dors sell­ing ev­ery­thing from snacks and tea to toys, clothes and shoes are a com­mon sight in In­dia’s cities, with their wares on pave­ments, out­side schools and at traf­fic lights. Only about 20,000 hawk­ers in Mumbai are li­censed, with the num­ber un­li­censed es­ti­mated at more than 150,000. Un­li­censed hawk­ers of­ten have to pay po­lice­men bribes, and flee evic­tion drives which are be­com­ing more com­mon as cities are up­graded with high-speed in­ter­net and air-con­di­tioned metro trains. A plan is be­ing drawn up to reg­u­lar­ize hawk­ers, a city of­fi­cial said.

“A sur­vey has been done. We will be hold­ing a meet­ing in com­ing weeks to de­cide on a com­mit­tee to is­sue li­cences and de­mar­cate hawk­ing zones,” said Ran­jit Dhakne, a deputy mu­nic­i­pal com­mis­sioner. In­dia passed the Street Ven­dors Act in 2014, which pro­tects from evic­tions and re­lo­ca­tions. States were re­quired to pass a law adopt­ing the pol­icy, but few have done so.

In­for­mal street life that of­fers liveli­hoods to the poor are in­creas­ingly seen as a prob­lem, even as of­fi­cials ig­nore il­le­gal park­ing and ex­ten­sions of shops on to pave­ments, said an aca­demic who has stud­ied the is­sue. “It is a para­dox that the same peo­ple who want the con­ve­nience of street ven­dors also want them re­moved,” said Hus­sain In­dore­wala at the Kamla Ra­heja Vidyanidhi In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tec­ture in Mumbai.

“De­ci­sions about who be­longs in the city, and what streets and pub­lic spa­ces should be used for are in­creas­ingly be­ing con­trolled through the priv­i­lege of prop­erty own­er­ship.”

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