The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is in the process of attempting, yet again, to regulate the estimated 1.28 lakh hawkers in Mumbai. However, there is widespread doubt over whether the civic body will succeed in the herculean task, which it has failed to complete several times since 1985.
The old problems still exist, along with some new ones: residents need wares, but do not want to share space meant for pedestrians with hawkers. Hawkers are drawn to high footfall areas, but are always under the threat of random eviction drives conducted by the BMC, and return within hours to set up shop at their usual spots.
The process of regulating hawkers started after the Supreme Court (SC) issued guidelines in 1985. Since then, in spite of surveys, pilot projects, protest marches, the BMC is still faltering over the same questions.
The Street Vendors Act was passed last year, to protect the rights of urban street vendors as well as to regulate street vending activities. In spite of the structure provided by the Act, the BMC is yet to impose control on the chaos that reigns in the city’s pavements.
Experts say that the problem lies with the civic body, which has still not found a realistic solution. Even before the Act was brought into effect in 2014, the BMC had conducted surveys to come up with a regulation method, in keeping with the national hawker’s policy.
To start with the regulation process after the Act was brought into effect last year, the BMC set up a 35-member town vending committee (TVC) in accordance with the Act, which had representatives from hawkers’ unions, resident association members, and authorities. But it failed to discuss with the TVC the correct process to be followed for conducting the survey, demarcating zones for vending, and eviction drives.
“The BMC is not serious about finding the solution to the problem. According to the TISS-YUVA study, they have been earning Rs385 crore illegally from hawkers. So why should they let go of that easy money now, by regulating them?” said Sharit Bhowmik, a professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
In the battle over pavement spaces in the city, the civic body has tried to pit two stakeholders against each other – hawkers and residents. Residents have been staging protest marches in the city against the vending zones in residential areas, which they claim were demarcated without consulting them; hawkers on the other hand claim their right to livelihood is at stake. “The BMC wants to show it is regulating hawkers, but honestly, they do not care,” said Sharad Indulkar, general secretary, Maharashtra Hawkers Union and TVC member.
Stakeholders believe the BMC’s old method of tackling hawkers — conduct a sudden raid, seize the goods, let hawkers return – will continue to be the method of hawker regulation in the city.