On the face of it, the rush among various political parties to make a play for welfare of Mumbai’s hawkers is puzzling — there are after all only 14,000 licenced hawkers in the city. However, with the estimated number of unlicenced hawkers operating across the city and suburbs nearing 1.5 lakh, and given that the street vending business in the city is dominated by North Indians, the political currency to the issue is considerable.
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On Tuesday, the state government formally approved a policy proposal to regulate hawkers, but a final nod for the scheme had to wait with an angry Shiv Sena walking out of the Cabinet meeting. The Sena has reportedly sought fine print mentioning that new licences will only be given to those with a Maharashtra domicile, so a cabinet sub-committee will now plan it. Following a Supreme Court order in September 2013, the civic body carried out a survey in Mumbai, asking hawkers to get registered. While the civic body distributed around 1.28 lakh forms, about 99,000 forms were returned filled. But the real number may be fewer than that, civic officials gauge. “Of 99,000, there were many where multiple family members filled out forms. Only one licence may be given to a family. Besides, many corporators have also submitted forms. All these will be scrutinised based on the definition of hawkers prepared by the state government. If they do not fall in that definition, many of them will be ineligible for a licence,” said an official. Another official said it would take around a year to issue fresh licences.
In August 2016, the state government notified rules to set up the Town Vending Committee (TVC), required to be set up under the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act passed by the Union government in 2014. The TVCs are to conduct surveys to identify street vendors, issue certificates to eligible vendors, recommend areas to be declared as non-hawking zones, identify sites and spaces for hawking, regulate timings, etc. According to the 2014 Act, the total number of licencees has been capped at 2.5 per cent of the total population of the city.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, however, is yet to set up a TVC citing absence of clarity on definition of hawkers. “After the definition, the labour commissioner is supposed to conduct an election and give us eight names of hawkers’ representatives. So, the TVC has not yet been formed,” said Additional Municipal Commissioner Pallavi Darade. Dayashankar Singh, president of the Azad Hawkers’ Union, said a mandatory domicile certificate for a licence would be an injustice to the existing hawkers. “We are not against hawkers from any community. But most hawkers are from North Indian communities. Many of them have been doing their business for four to five decades and still don’t have a domicile certificate. This decision will affect them badly,” said Singh, adding that he was planning a big morcha against the proposal in the coming weeks.
Singh said there were around 1.5 lakh hawkers in the city, excluding those at railway stations. “At one stall, 4-5 people work on an average. Overall, around 6 lakh families are earning their bread and butter from hawking,” he added.
According to observers, the Sena has smartly thwarted the BJP’s attempt to take credit for the new hawking policy ahead of the polls. The Sena’s insistence for domicile certificate would help it play the sons-of-the-soil card.
However, the BJP has welcomed the state government’s decision saying it had been pending for some time. “The process to finalise the policy started months back, not just before the polls. It’s a good decision and is not based on any caste, creed, community or religion,” said Ameet Satam, BJP legislator from Andheri (West).
Another BJP leader termed the decision a ‘masterstroke’ to win North Indian votes and simultaneously not alienate the upper class voters who do not patronise street vendors. “The hawkers waiting for the licences will be happy as the decision has been taken. At the same time, the people residing in the buildings, who don’t want hawkers outside their buildings, will also be happy. It’s a win-win situation for us,” explained the leader.
“The domicile certificate condition will also make it clear that the BJP too is for Marathi-speaking people. Also, we don’t want to be seen as a party that encourages outsiders. If we remove that condition, there will be huge migration into the city, and it is not possible to accommodate such numbers,” added the leader.
The Congress, meanwhile, alleged that the state government’s decision was just a political gimmick ahead of the polls. “The Union government passed the law in 2014 but the Sena-BJP-led civic body did not implement it. We had written to the civic chief seeking that the law be implemented but nothing happened. We then went to the High Court, which ruled in our favour. Still, the BMC did not implement it,” said Sanjay Nirupam, president of the Mumbai Congress.
Nirupam also opposed the idea of a mandatory domicile certificate for hawkers. “Now, due to the pressure from the Sena, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has made the domicile certificate mandatory for hawkers. It is illegal and unconstitutional. The BJP-led government has taken the decision with an eye on North Indian votes. Sena, BJP are least interested in protecting the livelihood of the hawkers. They want the illegal hawkers to rise to collect hafta from them,” he added.