What can be a sustainable solution to the illegal Hawker problem in Mumbai?
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Deepak Mehta, lives in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Written May 26, 2015
The illegal hawker problem is nowhere more rampant in India than in Mumbai. In a 600 sq km city that is home to ~18 million people, real estate is a huge issue. But it is difficult to ignore the plight of the poor too.
Most of the illegal hawkers are heavily underprivileged people who cannot afford to pay for a permanent shop, or even afford to rent one considering the sky-high prices in Mumbai. This invariably forces them to sell on the streets which leads to:
Being harassed by the police
Having to pay them a hafta i.e. illegal fee to allow them to keep their stalls
Traffic congestion because most of these stalls are on the road side
A simple solution for this would be for the government to create 'legal hawking zones' in multiple places, keeping in mind the the inclination of people to buy from there. For example, in Mumbai, millions travel via the local railway network each day. The same people would prefer to make their purchases from near the railway stations. So, the government can cordon off a certain area near every railway station for the hawkers to use - open ground, no infrastructure required except for a fenced boundary. For the upkeep and maintenance of this, they can charge the sellers a small fee (obviously less than the illegal fee that they pay to the police).
They should take a leaf out of what Singapore did 50 years ago to curb the same problem.
From: The Singapore Solution to L.A.'s Illegal Street Food Vending Problem
But the overabundance of unregulated street hawkers turned into a serious problem for the island nation: Cleanliness and sanitation of food preparation areas and utensils became a major issue for vendors. Food quality and foodborne illnesses also became part of the public health issue. And food and liquid wastes polluted the city's streets.
In the late 1960s, the Singaporean government embarked on a compulsory registration drive for all street hawkers and designated temporary off-street locations for them to operate. In the 1970s and 1980s, hawker centres, or public food courts, were constructed to house the vendors.
Open-air and semi-enclosed by design (due to Singapore's year-round hot tropical climate), the hawker centres not only provide dining areas but, most importantly permanent facilities for cooking, food storage, preparation, and sanitary amenities like restrooms, sinks, and disposal receptacles. The end result was something that satisfied both the government's penchant for urban cleanliness and the country's culinary traditions.
The hawker centres serve traditional Singaporean fare, which reflects a fusion of its predominant Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures. The centres located in ethnic enclaves like Singapore's Chinatown and Little India districts feature food more oriented towards those respective cuisines. The food centres are typically found adjacent to high-density housing complexes and commercial districts.
This is already being done in many places including Nashik, Mysuru (Mysore), Bhubaneshwar etc.
Post this, the feasibility of setting up city-wise 'hawking unions' should be considered. This would ensure that the issues faced by them are heard by the local authorities and can be dealt with.
The civic body removed more than 6 lakh illegal hawkers over more than three years, but registered first information reports (FIR) against merely 34 and further fined only a section. Activists say it is this absence of strict punishment that has emboldened Mumbai’s hawkers to openly flout laws and return to the same spots again and again.
Between April 2008 and August 2011, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) claims it cleared away 6.23 lakh illegal street sellers. The first year—from April 2008 to March 2009—1.79 lakh vendors were removed, the next financial year 1.72 lakh, and in the next 1.83 lakh. In the five months beginning April this year, the corporation says it forced out more than 87,000 illegal roadside sellers. And yet, only a few of them were punished.
During the period, just 34 FIRs were filed which, on an average, means less than one FIR a month. Also, the corporation collected from errant sellers a total fine (called redemption charges) of Rs 8.7 crore. This collection, said civic activist Milind Mulay, could have been at least six times higher (Rs 56.23 crore, to be precise) had the civic body levied even the minimum fine on all those 6.23 lakh hawkers removed. The minimum redemption charge was Rs 1,120 per hawker until April 2010, after which it was reduced to Rs 620.
The data on hawkers was sought by Mulay under the Right to Information Act. Submitted by S Avhad, superintendent of licences (SL), it includes the figures from all 24 municipal wards.
Civic activists argue that the figures show it is the BMC’s ineffectiveness in filing FIRs against illegal hawkers and fining them that encourages these vendors to return to the same spots repeatedly.
“The authorities must fine more illegal hawkers if they want to make their action effective. This would leave it uneconomical for illegal hawkers to continue,” said Mulay. “The current rules may be a deterrent but they need to be implemented strictly.”
An illegal hawker in Dadar told TOI on condition of anonymity: “The BMC takes action against a group of hawkers but fines just one of them. To ply our trade, we pay Rs 30 every day to a lineman who collects it and passes it on to the BMC and the police.”
Vijay Balmwar, deputy municipal commissioner, encroachment removal, claimed the information regarding FIRs was incorrect. “We have filed more FIRs. This information has come from SL and not ward-level senior inspectors (licence), who are public information officers.” In repsonse, Avhad said the data he submitted had, in fact, been collected from all 24 wards.
Contesting the data, Ramesh Pawar, assistant commissioner, K-West ward, claimed he has lodged 42 complaints—which lead to FIRs—against illegal hawkers this year in his ward. He explained that the BMC files two types of FIRs against illegal vendors. One is registered under section 353 of the Bombay Police Act, when a hawker “violently” prevents civic officials from carrying out their action. The other is filed under sections (313) and 516 3(A) of MMC Act 1888 for rendering services in a public place without a license, which is a cognisable offence. “The police then decides on the course of action and produces the hawker in a magistrate’s court,” said Pawar.
KANDIVLI Atul Vora, a Citispace activist, says there are many hawkers on Mathuradas Road in Kandivli (West). Just recently, residents came out on the streets in Mahavir Nagar and forced the BMC to take stringent action against illegal street sellers. Subsequently, a cleanliness drive was conducted in the area. “It was not the BMC but local residents who got rid of the hawkers. It was us who complained to the ward office. The civic body is wary of taking action against illegal hawkers since they fear being attacked. Its officers complain they have no police protection,” says Vora
MAHIM The main encroachers in Mahim, says Herman Dias, a member of Zameen ALM, are the basket weavers on Mahim station road, who scuttle all attempts to beautify the area by uprooting plants. The moment the BMC comes to evict them, they jump onto the adjacent railway property. That is why the civic body has now decided to brick up the gaps in the wall running parallel to the train tracks. Dias says the policy on hawkers will be useful since it allots few hawking zones in the G-North ward, where Mahim falls. Even so, the ALM is not banking on the policy. It is awaiting the formation of encroachment removal squads, which was promised by a former assistant municipal commissioner. In case, the corporation fails to form these squads, Dias says, the ALM will take their complaint to BMC chief Subodh Kumar
VILE PARLE (W) In Vile Parle (W), it is the citizens’ groups that have done more than the civic body to keep away encroachers. “We look after the station road area, SV Road, Dadabhai Road and Bapubhai Vashi Road,” says Veena Sanghvi, secretary of Vile Parle (West) Parivartan Sahakar Samiti ALM. “We got rid of a pav bhaji vendor on Baja Road corner and cleared the khau galli.” Every night, Sanghvi claims, at least 50 people would stand guard. “On Dadabhai Road, the footpath is narrow and encroached. There are six illegal vendors currently conducting business there. We are now focusing on evicting them”
ANDHERI (W) An attack on a shopkeeper by illegal hawkers in Andheri and similar violence in Bandra and Vakola recently prompted 13 ALMs from Bandra to Andheri to come together under an umbrella group called United K (West) Federation. The group’s objective is to keep away illegal roadside vendors from their areas. Its president Kamaljit Singh argues, “BMC action isn’t as effective as it should be. It is apparent that there is pressure on the ward officer from some sources, hindering his work. Today, since there are three BMC vans parked opposite the station, there are no hawkers there.” These hawkers, Singh says, have simply moved to the stretch between Laram Centre and McDonald’s on MA Road despite the presence of BMC and police vans there. “The vans leave after 6pm, which defeats the purpose” — Linah Baliga