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Illegal hawkers and vendors near railway stations recently faced the wrath of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) workers, after their leader warned of a crackdown on them in light of the stampede at Elphinstone Road station on September 29 that killed 23 people. However, the menace of illegal hawking is decades old in the city, and the civic administration is all too familiar with it.
It has a thirty-two-year history of litigation, and has seen a series of protests but there has been no solution in sight. Struggling to tackle illegal hawkers for the last three decades, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has failed to come up with a proper policy, or implement the Supreme Court guidelines in this regard. In May this year, the Bombay High Court (HC) had slammed the civic body for its failure to regulate street vending/hawking in Mumbai to protect the rights of pedestrians, while ensuring the livelihoods of hawkers.
In 2010, the Ramdas Nayak Marg Retail Merchants Association had filed a petition seeking action against illegal hawkers in Bandra. Lawyer Jamshed Mistry, who represented the Association, said, “The issue goes back to 1985, when the first case between Bombay Hawkers union versus BMC was filed. The Supreme Court had then directed the BMC to frame a final scheme for city hawkers as per the guidelines suggested by it. Litigations kept on coming up, but no proper guidelines or scheme was framed by the BMC. Even today, the civic body is delaying the formation of TVC (Town Vending Committee), an essential ward-wise committee. This in turn is delaying implementation of the court guidelines.”
Mistry said the TVC is supposed to include representatives of hawkers and street vendors. More than ten years after the court’s direction, over three years after the BMC rolled out its plan, and six months after it decided to form the Town Vending Committee (TVC), the civic body is far from meeting its targets. The TVC is supposed to conduct surveys to identify street vendors, issue certificates to eligible vendors, recommend areas to be declared non-hawking zones, identify sites and spaces for hawking, regulate timings, etc.
General Secretary of the Maharashtra Street Vendors Welfare Association (MSVWA), Farooq Chaus, had approached the Maharashtra Lokayukta’s office complaining about the daily corruption by police while dealing with hawkers. He alleged that vendors are offered a choice to either pay a fine of Rs 1,200, or pay Rs 50 to Rs 100 to settle the matter. “In February, the BMC assured that they will start issuing street vending licence. It’s October now and BMC is yet to even set up the TVC. When will they conduct the survey and issue street vending licences,” said a member of MSVWA.
“For decades, we have witnessed only one thing, BMC evicting hawkers from the streets and the hawkers returning to the same spot within hours. Litigations, eviction drives, protests, nothing will work unless the BMC starts implementing the Supreme Court directive and chalks out a concrete plan,” said activist Nikhil Desai from Matunga.
Last week, the BMC hiked fine amounts for illegal hawkers claiming it will discourage them from returning once they are evicted. However, this, residents feel, will not help in controlling hawkers.
Ranjit Dhakne, deputy municipal commissioner, Removal of Encroachments, told The Indian Express, “The process of setting up the TVC has begun and we will set it up soon. We have already started taking action on food vendors on the roads.”
“A strict zero-tolerance policy against street vendors cooking and hawking eatables on roads and footpaths has been enforced. We have been seizing gas cylinders and other items vendors use for cooking on footpaths and roadsides,” said a senior BMC official.
The officer added, “Five members of the TVC, chaired by the BMC chief, will be administrative officials including the Mumbai police commissioner, traffic commissioner and joint commissioners. Seven other TVC members will be citizens/ activists, business associations, banking organisations, representatives of hawkers and public associations.”