It's time that hawkers get their due….
By the time this magazine hits the stands, celebrations for Diwali would be at its peak! Amongst other celebrations, one thing that had always attracted my attention is the manner in which the shoppers interact with street vendors and hawkers during festive period. So much so that during this season, one can see shopkeepers who have permanent establishments, also flocking around the footpaths and pavements to attract visibility and shoppers’ indulgence. Thanks to this inherent buying behaviour of shoppers that gives some respectability to this community of hawkers, who are otherwise bereft of any dignity whatsoever. With almost no right of means to their livelihood, they are subjected to constant threat of eviction, rampant bribery, and blatant seizures, at the whims and fancies of the establishment! All this irrespective of the fact that they form one of the largest unorganised work force of the nation. They are also deeply entrenched with the sections of middle class and lower middle class – who form the majority of our population. In fact, these hawkers do not generate employment only for themselves but continue to generate large chunk of employment for that section of people, including women, who, otherwise would have been left unemployed!
In fact, as the Indian economy grew, the population grew and with it also increased the community of hawkers. In Kolkata alone, the number of hawkers increased from 20,000 in 1997 to 1.2 lakh in 2010. In Mumbai, there are over 2.5 lakh illegal hawkers as the BMC has not issued a single new license in the last 20 years. Similarly, Ahmedabad and Patna have more than 80,000 on their streets while Indore, Bangalore and Bhubaneswar have around 30,000 hawkers respectively. As per conservative estimates, there are a staggering 40 million hawkers across India. If studies are to be believed, the revenue generated by hawkers of Mumbai alone is more than Rs 120 billion annually, while in Delhi it is around Rs 100 billion. Not just that, in Mumbai alone, these hawkers generate employment for around 4,00,000 people!
For the uninitiated, street vending is just not confined to India. Be it in the US, Singapore, Malaysia or Hong Kong, China, Philippines, Cambodia or Vietnam —hawkers have been doting the streets of these countries since ages. And in almost all these countries hawkers are treated at par with any other small-scale business. In a few south Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia, there are specially designated areas for hawkers. They are provided with licenses and hygienic conditions which are operated and maintained by government bodies. Malaysia goes a step further as it provides credit schemes and even training programmes to their street vendors. Similar system is in place for hawkers in Hong Kong. Countries like Thailand have designated sites in the city, from where vendors can legally operate. Contrast this with the plight an Indian hawker goes through. Street hawkers in India live and operate in one of the most deplorable conditions – from forceful extraction of illegal rent to social subjection; they are vulnerable to all forms of discrimination.
Till now, none of the welfare boards have included street vendors in their list of beneficiaries. No talks or debates have been initiated to provide them with proper ID cards. In fact, a week back, BMC decided to evict 1,000 illegal hawkers from the streets of Mumbai, prior to the arrival of the US President Obama. As if discrimination is not enough, treating them as dirt is the only other thing that the establishment understands as far as this silent work force is concerned!