If Mumbai’s streets were kept open to only those hawkers with valid permits, there wouldn’t be more than 15,500 of them.
The Brihamumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) reached this figure in 1978 and hasn’t issued new permits since.
This shortage of permits has led to two developments: First, there is a flourishing market for the existing permits, which get renewed after they lapse, with some hawkers paying a premium to use some else’s permit. Second, this means a majority of hawkers work without valid permits, allowing corrupt BMC officers
and the police to keep the illegal business going.
“When the BMC refuses to issue permits or regulate the lakhs of hawkers, it makes them unlawful. Officials, brokers, politicians — all benefit from this illegitimacy,” says Haider Imam, general secretary, All India Trade Union Congress.
Shekhar Prajapati, a vegetable vendor from Vile Parle, says: “Issuing permits would mean the BMC would earn revenue. Right now, all the money is going into the hands of a few.”
The few permits that can be “bought” command astronomical prices. On an average, a permit holder asks for a deposit starting at Rs25,000 or Rs30,000. At least half this amount is then charged by them as rent every month.
Hawkers say many of these permits are replicated and used for more than one stall. Fashion Street and Linking Road are notorious for this practice.
Why the BMC has not issued new permits is a question most officials skirted.
Mohan Adtani, additional municipal commissioner, said, “Once we finish a study of the city to find more places to relocate hawkers, we will start issuing fresh permits for them accordingly.”