The Supreme Court’s (SC) 28-year-old guidelines were first suggested by the BMC itself. Ironically, once they were approved, the civic body conveniently implemented them only sporadically.
Now, after gathering a sizeable amount of dust, the order — once the perfect launchpad for a comprehensive policy on hawking — is starting to become outdated.
Both hawkers and activists say many of the SC’s suggestions are not feasible anymore.
If the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) implements its own guidelines, the hawking industry in the city will be regulated, hawkers will not spill on to the streets and there will be more room for pedestrians.
But this will also mean the end of street food, it will be impossible to pick up last-minute vegetables in the lane outside your house, and you’ll no longer get flowers and incense outside temples.
“Had these guidelines been implemented, the BMC would have wiped out the city’s hawkers completely. They are not rooted in reality,” says Sharit Bhowmik, a Tata Institute of Social Sciences faculty who works on issues of street vendors.
The directions to the BMC included creating hawking and non-hawking zones, specifying the area hawking pitches could occupy, creating committees in charge of regulating hawkers and even fixing a time period (7am to 10pm) during which hawking could be permitted.
Can’t do without hawkers
With 60% of the city’s population living in slums, hawkers serve an essential purpose.
According to a study called Street Vending in Ten Cities in India, 2010 by Sharit Bhowmik and Debdulal Saha, the average income of people who buy goods from street vendors is Rs8,210 a month.
“Not everyone has the purchasing power to go to their nearby supermarket to shop for vegetables, or grab a bite from a fast-food joint when they are hungry.
"It is essential to realise that the city’s hawkers need to be fit into the city’s dynamics,” says MacKeanzy Dabre, convenor, National Hawkers Federation.
A particularly contentious area is the creation of special hawking zones. Many say hawkers should be allowed to sell their wares across the city, provided they are regulated more closely.
“The idea of having hawking and non-hawking zones is flawed as this would hurt customers as well. Hawkers will obviously be drawn to crowded areas,” adds Dabre. “Rather than dividing such areas, the BMC should work on tougher norms for these hawkers.”
The BMC had demarcated 191 roads in the city as hawking zones, but doing so has only added to the mess.
“These zones can accommodate only 15% of the city’s hawkers. If the BMC did not act for 28 years, it can’t suddenly go back to those hawking zones and declare all other hawkers illegal,” says Aravind Unni, an architect-planner with YUVA, a not-for-profit.
“The only reason hawkers are illegal is because the BMC has refused to issue them permits since 1978 anyway.”
Still waiting for a policy
Regulation under these guidelines is not as easy as it seems.
“While the order should have been implemented, there are a lot of practical difficulties. Although everyone wants hawkers, no one wants them in their own locality.
"However, the guidelines remain as relevant as ever even now,” says former BMC chief DM Sukhtankarm, who first framed these guidelines for the BMC during his term, which were then approved and adapted by the court.
Take for instance, the order stipulating that hawkers should be banned outside railway stations, places of worship and educational institutes.
These are, understandably, ideal locations for vendors and buyers to meet, ‘natural markets’ of sorts — a term used extensively in the National policy for urban street vendors, the basis for city-specific policies.
The SC, in 1985, had emphasised that its guidelines were merely interim measures that were to be used till a comprehensive policy was put in place. In a 2003 order, it had asked the BMC to frame one soon. Ten years on, little has happened.
“These orders were never supposed to be a total solution, but they could have ensured that the existing hawkers were properly regulated and no others were added to the streets till a new policy came in,” says Nayana Kathpalia, co-convenor, Citispace, a citizens’ forum.