Hawkers have been a part of the urban scenario for long. They have become a part of the life of all cities in the country. However this is not the only reason for their continuance. The increasing proportion of the urban informal sector coupled by the shrinking of the organised sector have added to the number of hawkers in mainly tow ways.
Reasons for increase in hawking:
Firstly, as noted in the introduction, for the low skilled migrants seeking employment in the cities, hawking is a means of earning their livelihood. In this way a section of the urban poor are absorbed into gainful employment. Furthermore, the numbers have increased due to large-scale layoffs in organised industry. Many of these retrenched workers are able to provide for their families by taking to street vending. The study finds that around 20% of the hawkers covered in Mumbai were once permanent employees of the organised sector. In Ahamedabad, around 30% of the male hawkers
covered were previously working in large factories and in Calcutta half the street vendors covered were permanent workers in the formal sector. In these cities a large number of factories, especially textile mills and engineering industries, have closed down. Over 65% of Mumbai's workforce is engaged in the informal sector and in Ahmedabad and Calcutta this sector engages more than 75% of the workforce of the two cities. In the three cities the decline in the manufacturing sector has led to a sharp increase in the services sector.
The second reason for the increase in hawkers is due to the increase
in the urban poor. These people are able to procure their basic necessities
mainly through hawkers, as the goods sold are cheap. The findings of the
survey on consumers (Section - V) shows that the lower income groups spend
a higher proportion of their income in making purchases from hawkers mainly
because their goods are cheap and thus affordable. Had there been no hawkers
in the cities the plight of the urban poor would be worse than what it
is at present. This would have in turn lead to greater
social problems and unrest among the poor. In this way one section of the
urban poor, namely, hawkers, helps another section to survive. Hence though
hawkers are viewed as problem for urban governance they are in fact the
solution to some of the problems of the urban poor.
By providing cheaper commodities hawker are in effect providing subsidy
to the urban poor, something which the government should have done.
Proliferation of hawkers in urban areas is mainly due to the two factors discussed above. A ban on hawking will only aggravate the problems of the urban poor. It will not only deprive a section of the urban population from gainful employment but will increase the cost of living for the poor. These will in turn lead to increase in crime and public safety will be affected.
Problems of encroachment: are hawkers alone responsible?
Almost all cities have police and municipal laws that help to protect public spaces and allow free flow of traffic on the roads. Hawkers become the main victims of these laws because they are viewed as the main obstructers and encroachers. What the municipal authorities and the police overlook are that there could be many other forms of encroachment, besides hawkers. The rapid increase of vehicles on the roads creates problems not only of traffic congestion but also of parking space. Several shop encroach on the payments by illegally extending their construction and it is not
uncommon to find residents in buildings cordoning off public space in order to create their private gardens. Such encroachments are often tolerated and in most cases regularized by the municipal authorities. Municipalities rarely pull down illegal extension by the shops. They issue them notices and at times fine them.
In order to prevent illegal parking, municipalities create parking
lots in public spaces.
For example, in the up market south Mumbai area wide roads in Fort and Mahatma Phule Marke have been cordoned off for parking. In fact the wide pavement right in front of the Municipal Corporation's office has been converted into a car parking area.
In several of the city's pavements the government has encouraged hundreds of permanent counters for selling food (known as zunka bhakar stalls), allegedly for the poor. These structures occupy more than half of the pavement and they obstruct pedestrians more severely than hawkers. These stalls no longer sell zunka bhakar at Rs. 1 as they were expected to do when they were given licenses. Moreover, these are permanent constructions and they cannot be removed while hawkers can be relocated if necessary. Yet the flak for creating congestion on the roads is borne by the
At the same time it cannot be disputed, as our study shows, that hawkers do create problems for pedestrians and commuters. However, the solution lies not in banning or curbing hawking but in regulating this profession. This can only be done when the municipal authorities stop treating hawkers as antisocial elements. Hawking can be regulated only if it is legalized. There are several issues related to legalizing of hawking. We will discuss these in the following part.
In the above sections we have tried to examine the different aspects of hawking.
Despite the fact that hawkers perform an important role in urban life their importance is considerably undermined by the garment and the local administration. The main problem lies in the fact that most state legislatures have made this an illegal profession and hence hawkers are under constant threats of eviction and victimization. At the same time we can see that hawkers cannot be removed not
merely because a large number of people are dependent on street vending for their livelihood, but also because he common urban dweller benefits from their services.
Hawkers exist only because the consumers want to exist. Conversely, if the urban population did not buy from street vendors, they could not have existed, let alone proliferated.
There are no legal reasons for preventing
hawking. In fact in 1989 the Supreme Court gave a major judgment regarding
this issue (Sodhan Singh vs. NDMC). It ruled that every individual has
the right to earn a livelihood as a fundamental right. Hawking is
thus a fundamental right provided its does not infringe on the rights of
others. The court directed all state governments to evolve regulations
for hawking through zones.
Despite the court's directions very few state governments have actually directed their municipal authorities to make adequate provisions for hawking. The municipal authorities in Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Bangalore have tried to create hawking zones but in most cases these have led to protests from hawkers as well as residents' associations. For example, in Mumbai, hawkers prefer that these zones be in commercial areas. Whereas the municipal authorities have located them mainly in residential areas.
Need for a holistic approach:
The unfortunate part of the above efforts is that the problem is being looked at in a piece meal manner. A broad and holistic approach is needed to ease the problem. For example while formulating urban plans it is necessary to take into account the right of hawkers to public space. In other words, all urban plans demarcate public spaces for specific purposes such as parks and gardens, educational institutions, hospitals etc.
Hawking also needs to be included in this; Plan must take into account the idea of natural markets in urban areas. These are usually the most convenient spots for consumers. These markets need to be developed and regulated; instead we find that the authorities try to forcibly remove such market. For example, the survey of consumers in Mumbai showed that most of them bought goods from hawkers near the Railway stations as these places were very convenient for those going to work or returning home from work. Instead of developing the areas around the railway stations as natural markets, the municipal corporation is determined to evict hawkers from these places. The hawkers not only lose their livelihood but the consumers are also be inconvenienced. Similarly, areas around municipal markets, major bus stops, places of worship, hospitals etc. emerge as natural markets and they need to be developed.
Recognition of hawking as a profession would also benefit the
municipalities. They would be able to officially enforce levies on hawkers.
For example, in Imphal, which is perhaps the only place where hawkers are
included in the urban plan, the municipality not only provides space for
them but also charges a fee for garbage collection and sweeping, besides
collecting license fees. In most cities these fees could amount to several
hundred corers of rupees annually. This would provide addition revenue
for cash strapped municipalities. Instead the hawkers land up paying more
amount as bribes to prevent harassment. The hawkers’ recognition would mean that they have a right to their profession, which would in turn loosen the straggle hold of corrupt officials, placement and gangsters over them. They would also be entitled to loans from public institutions thus reducing the hold of money lenders over them.