The civic body’s inability to come up with a cogent policy on hawking has effectively pitted two sections of the city’s population against each other — the locals and the hawkers.
Residents need and use the wares, but don’t want to deal with hawkers in their localities. Hawkers are drawn to where there’s a demand for their goods, but face the fear of being penalised every day.
To placate pedestrians, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) conducts sporadic, convenient eviction raids. The hawkers on their part, suffer the consequences, then make a nonchalant return to the same spots a couple of days later.
The solution — a comprehensive policy, planners and activists say, will have to recognise the rights of both groups, and treat them on par with each other.
WHO MATTERS MORE?
Ironically, both these stakeholders have been left out — in the urban planning process, and when the regulations for hawkers were being framed. As a result, the BMC’s method of tackling hawkers — conduct a sudden raid, seize the goods, let hawkers return — has resulted in an organised mess on the pavements.
Cynicism is rife, with both hawkers and pedestrians left dissatisfied. “Hawkers cannot be located on pavements as they are meant only for pedestrians. We don’t oppose the relocation of hawkers, but it needs to be done in a planned manner. Hawkers and pedestrians cannot co-exist,” says Ashok Rawat, from the G North Ward Federation, a citizens group.
But activists and experts don’t hold as extreme an opinion. “We need to realise that we do not have a choice. Both hawker and pedestrian rights are equally important. Both sides will have to compromise,” says Rohit Shinkre, an urban planner and joint principal of Rachna Sansad College of Architecture.
Even the Supreme Court, in a 1989 order recognised the role of hawkers in an urban setting and reiterated their right to earn a livelihood.
A RESOLUTION IS POSSIBLE
Ashok Datar, transport analyst with Mumbai Environmental Social Network, believes a harmonious co-existence is achieveable. “Both hawking and car parking are less-than-ideal uses of public spaces, but they cannot be wished away. We will have to design our footpaths in a way to accommodate both hawkers and pedestrians comfortably.”
Shinkre disagrees: “Our hawkers’ policy will have to be dynamic and focus on micro aspects. We cannot have a blanket regulation for hawking on footpaths. We have to look at each pavement and decide on its merits.”
Many like Rawat, however, feel that in a city with shrinking pavements, pedestrians could be the ones to lose out, because despite their large number, they do not have a cohesive political lobby that hawkers do in the form of unions.
INVOLVEMENT IS THE KEY
A major reason for the BMC’s failure to regulate hawking is the lack of a participatory mechanism for everyone involved, including pedestrians, motorists and hawkers themselves.
The National policy on urban street vendors, 2009, has made it mandatory for local bodies to come up with a town vending committee (TVC) to regulate hawker issues. This body is supposed to involve representatives of the hawkers as well as members of citizens’ groups
“Hawkers need to be consulted before plans for their ‘uplift’ and regulation are made,” says Mecanzy Dabre, convenor of the National Hawkers Federation. “The reason repeated plans to regulate hawking have failed is because they did not involve hawkers and take into account ground realities.”
Various not-for-profits working on the issue have also recommended that hawkers be integrated into the revision of the city’s developmental plan. “If we count the number of people directly and indirectly dependent on hawking, it’s a staggering 15 lakh. If the BMC decides to ignore such a large chunk of the population, how is any future blueprint going to be successful?” asks Aravind Unni, architect and planner with YUVA.
No union to back them, Pedestrians are rarely involved in decision-making
Mumbai: In the battle for pavement space in the city, pedestrians often lose out to the more united hawkers’ lobby.
A study done in 2006, called the comprehensive transport study, pegged the number of pedestrian trips undertaken every day in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region at 1.5 crore. Another study by MMRDA in 2008 showed that up to 53 per cent of all commuter trips in the city are on foot — people walk distances up to three kilometres.
However, pedestrians have rarely been planned for. Even as deliberations are on in the civic body about the need to rehabilitate the hawkers on city pavements, no one seems to be asking pedestrians what they think.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has made pavements a necessity on the new roads it develops. However, lack of maintenance followed by constant encroachments means that these pavements seldom serve pedestrians.
Rishi Aggarwal, a part of the Walking Project, which raises issues of pedestrian advocacy, said, “Pedestrians in the city have generally got a raw deal as far as being counted as stakeholders is concerned. However, this is slowly changing. Pedestrians have to raise their voices against any inconveniences they suffer.”
Many believe that while consultation is low, pedestrians should adapt to the needs of the city. For instance, Krishnaraj Rao, an activist who had launched a movement in 2008 to reclaim the city’s pavements for pedestrians says that pedestrians should be ready to accommodate hawkers. “Hawkers exist because pedestrians need them. Hence, having an elitist attitude and wanting to get rid of them is not the right way to go. Hawkers and pedestrians must reach a compromise.”
Citispace, a not-for-profit that dragged the civic body to the Bombay high court in 1998 over the non-implementation of Supreme Court guidelines on hawking, had taken up the cause after pedestrians raised concerns over the city’s vanishing pavements.