Rajdeep Nandkeolyar, 34, is a busy textile designer and father of two. But the biggest challenge in his day, he says, is usually the walk from his home on JP Road, Andheri (West), to the bus stop about 500 metres away.
“It’s just five minutes,” says Nandkeolyar. “But I have to virtually stumble over hawkers almost every step of the way. Often, I just get off the pavement and walk on the road.”
The BMC occasionally clears out the hawkers here, but with no real penalties levied or follow-up action taken, the stalls are invariably back in a few hours. It’s a problem that is mirrored across the city.
Municipal laws state that there are to be no hawking zones within 150 metres of a railway station, educational institution, religious place or hospital.
But illegal hawkers set up their stalls in precisely these areas, because they are assured of plenty of customers and large volumes of pedestrian traffic.
The entire footpath along the southbound side of the arterial Lady Jamshedji Road in Mahim, for instance, is crowded with hawkers, especially on Wednesdays, a day of special prayers that draw people from across the city to the St Michael’s Church on the main road.
With two large schools, office buildings and residential buildings in the area, the result is chaos on the footpaths and people, including schoolchildren, forced to walk on the streets.
The problem has its roots in the fact that Mumbai still does not have designated hawking and non-hawking zones — despite a 2007 Supreme Court order and a national policy on hawking zones.
In Mumbai, the policy has been hanging fire because food courts and hawking zones proposed in select pockets across the city met stern opposition from residents.
Without enough political will to push through a definitive policy, the BMC instead just stopped issuing licences to hawkers, rendering all new stalls illegal by default.
There are thus just under 24,000 licensed hawkers in the city, and about 4 lakh unlicensed hawkers. The policy vacuum is one reason why the BMC does not conduct more aggressive anti-hawking drives.
“Currently we are only acting against unlicensed hawkers. We are not getting into hawking and non-hawking zones because we are yet to frame the policy,” says deputy municipal commissioner (encroachments removal) Vijay Balamwar.
Meanwhile, the cycle of BMC vans clearing out hawkers and hawkers returning as soon as their backs are turned continues.
Hawking is a unique and complex problem in a city like Mumbai, says urban planner Chandrashekhar Prabhu, and can only be addressed through long-term measures and strict implementation of existing rules.
“You cannot completely do away with hawkers because even citizens also rely on street stalls,” he said. “However, the civic body must implement its rules and penalties vigorously and enforce non-hawking zones. Pedestrians must be given precedence.”
(With inputs from Bhavika Jain)