Pushpa Rathod, 50, the sole bread earner for her family, has been selling flowers at Kandivli for the past 25 years. At 7am every day, she goes out to source flowers. Her work ends at 8pm, with barely an hour’s break in the afternoon. She has barely Rs 200 to show for her 12-hour work day. The fear of losing her spot always looms large, and harassment from authorities no longer surprises her.
Rathod is one of the 1.2 lakh hawkers who cater to the needs of Mumbai. Even though hawking is one the biggest sources of employment in Mumbai and one of the largest means of revenue generation for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the civic body has repeatedly failed to regulate them or come up with a policy that caters to their needs, while keeping the convenience of citizens in mind. While a sizeable fraction of the hawking population comprises women, there are no toilets for them. Without access to water or electricity, they have to fend for themselves on the city’s pavements.
The lack of infrastructure for hawkers has been a persistent problem, and the threat of eviction drives always looms large. During the periodical drives, authorities extract hefty sums from them, in exchange for exempting their wares from confiscation. Hawkers allege every hawker in the city has to pay between Rs 150 and Rs 170 every day to civic officials, to save their goods. They claim that this is one of the chief reasons the BMC does not want to organise and plan for hawkers and legalise them.
As per a study conducted by academician Sharit Bhowmik, women hawkers spend more than Rs 600 a month on pay-and-use toilets and have to travel more than a kilometre to use them. Most hawkers serving food on the road need water, which they source from illegal distributors of water, at a hefty price. A majority of them don’t have kiosks to protect themselves from the elements, the high temperatures in summer or the incessant rains that lash the city in the monsoon.
While the Street Vending Act has given all the power to the Town Vending Committee to take decisions and 40% of its members are hawker representatives, they still seem unhappy with the way the whole process of marking hawking zones and licensing them has been taking place. Hawkers associations have opposed the hawking zones marked by the BMC mainly because they fear their natural markets will be taken away. And if the civic officials are to be believed, the plan is to make the roads near railway stations free of hawkers. Needless to say, these stretches are extremely profitable for hawkers.
Janak Moriya, one of the hawkers at Kandivli, said, “The survey is completely flawed. We face other problems as well, such as corruption. In order to save our goods, we have to pay the authorities. There is absolutely no infrastructure provided to us. The BMC needs to plan in such a way that basic needs such as toilets, electricity is given to us wherever needed.”
BG Pawar, the deputy municipal commissioner for removal of encroachment, said, “We are planning to include hawkers on the street as per the Act, and will be going to the committee for all the approvals.”
‘Won’t pay bribe to sell my goods’
Mohd Naseem Qureshi, hawking for the past 40 years at Churchgate, has been readily paying fines to illegally sell his wares on the road, but has decided not to pay illegal money to carry out his business. He had complained to the authorities about how money is collected illegally from vendors on the street, and submitted photographs of the extortion. He claims his actions only prompted more eviction drives against his stall.
Qureshi said, “The BMC has intentionally marked a hawking zone where there are licensed shops and stalls, and skipped the lane where there are hawkers. I complained several times and paid Rs 1,250 as fine, after the BMC took away my goods. I paid the legal fine as I knew otherwise, the money would fill the pockets of civic officials.”
‘Organise us in our natural markets’
Anusaya Bansode, hawking for the past 30 years at Mathuradas Road on Kandivli (West), has been the sole bread earner of her family for years, after her husband passed away eight years ago.
Only recently, her sons started supporting her.
She has been selling hair clips, nail polish and other beauty products, making ends meet with a minimal profit of just Rs 150 per day.
The authorities, she claims, have been generous enough in her case and have never tried to extort money from her. However, the lack of infrastructure for hawkers in the city and the absence of public toilets in her area has caused her great discomfort.
Bansode said, “I have applied for the licence from the civic authorities and want them to help us sell our wares in an organised manner, in our natural markets.”
She added, “The fee that we give can be then used to provide basic infrastructure around the hawking zones, such as toilets and water. We should not have to travel more than a kilometre to use toilets.”
‘Vendor for 35 years, but don’t have a form’
Anwar Khan, a mobile vendor as defined by the Street Vendors Act 2014, has been hawking for the past 35 years at Andheri (West), moving from Juhu galli to areas near JVPD, selling fruits on a cart.
He said that because he is always on the move, he has not been able to get his hands on an application form for a licence from the BMC.
Khan earns a profit of Rs 100 to Rs 150, depending on the sale of fruits. As the
temperatures rise, he is always worried that the fruits he carries will be spoilt.
Khan said, “I have given up hope. Whenever I used to go to ask for a form, they said they would give them to me at the spot of hawking. My business is on a cart. When they conducted the survey at Juhu Galli, I was travelling from one area to another, and they did not spot me.”