Every morning, Leelawati, 70, lays out her handicrafts at Block A in Connaught Place, Delhi’s prime shopping destination. She is pensive and scared. The municipal squad can oust her from there any time. Working there for over four decades has not helped her get a licence.
Leelawati is among the hundreds of street vendors who sell handicrafts, posters and costume jewellery in Connaught Place. As Leelawati speaks of her daily struggle, she holds on tight to a pack of old documents, her best defence against the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC).
“It contains copies of outdated stay orders and fine receipts issued by the NDMC. Sometimes officials let me off the hook when I show them these documents,” she said.
“But this is not a permanent solution. I need a licence.I have been selling my items here since 1972 but I don’t have a licence despite applying many times,” she said.
Vendors say the NDMC routinely confiscates their stock. Getting it back is a nightmare. “After every few weeks, the officials confiscate our items haphazardly. We struggle for months to get our stock back,” said Vaiso Jain, who has been selling posters since 1989.
Usha Gangadiya, who sells handicrafts, said it took months to make the items. She had to pay a fine to get these back. “One vendor employs at least 20-25 people to make these items. When these are seized, our hard work goes to waste,” she said.
Most women who sell handicrafts in CP’s inner circle hail from Surendernagar in Gujarat.
The NDMC is removing unauthorised vendors to decongest Connaught Place. Recently, the corporation removed all vendors from outside Palika Bazar. They have now approached court which will hear it on Monday.
Officials said removing unauthorised vendors was important for the safety of people. The NDMC identified around 40 vendors at Palika Bazar and 60 in CP’s inner circle who will be allowed to work.
“Vendors with licences will get smart cards. Lakhs of people visit CP and we need open space. Unauthorised vendors were a security threat,” said an official.
Vendors say they are an important part of the ‘CP experience’ for foreigners. “Foreigners love to buy handicrafts from us. Such is the craze that I managed to learn English selling my wares,” said Kiran.
They complained that over the last few years ‘fixers’ have helped outsiders enter the market. “The number of vendors is rising. People now sell mobile covers, sunglasses and belts. Only those people should be given a licence who have been here for years. But that is not the case,” said a vendor.