Since the early 1990’s Manushi has been involved in campaigning for economic reforms that will reach the vast majority of our people, the self-employed poor. The hard working traditional producers and entrepreneurs of India have been kept poor through active state interventions that deprive them of their just dues. Through our research, writings and campaigns we have tried to combat the misperception that loosening of government restrictions results in anti-poor policies. We have tried to demonstrate how the still flourishing License-Permit-Raid-Raj continues to keep the livelihoods of the poor in its vicious grip by tying them up in a web of illegality though they are pursuing legitimate and useful occupations.
Our work with street vendors and the cycle rickshaw sector and longstanding engagement with farmers’ movements are all part of a larger endeavour to push for a bottom-up agenda of economic reforms. Our people are perfectly capable of fending for themselves and moving out of the poverty trap if the Government machinery stops harassing them, extracting bribes, depressing incomes and making it impossible to earn an honest living without groveling and other humiliations, including beatings and blackmail.
For example, in Delhi alone the number of street vendors is estimated to be anything between 250,000 to 500,000. However, licenses (tehbazari) are granted to less than 4000. Thus 98 to 99 per cent street vendors are considered illegally operating and are treated as virtual criminals for trespassing on public land which officials treat as their own fiefdom for collecting bribes. Therefore, the routine drama of clearance operations is enacted to keep them terrorized so that they dare not resist paying bribes. Similarly, rickshaw licenses have been granted to only a few thousand and that too under illegal benami ownership, while the M.C.D. estimates that there are actually 600,000 rickshaws in the city. Manushi’s investigations found that in Delhi alone, the loss of income to rickshaw pullers and street vendors due to bribes, confiscation of goods and vehicles, as well as fines and enforced idleness when vehicles and goods are taken, comes to about 600 crore rupees per year.
Manushi has undertaken the following activities towards policy reform for street vendors and the cycle rickshaw sector and achieved the following:
1) 1996-1997: Made documentary films on the plight of street vendors and cycle rickshaw pullers and the absurd tyrannical laws that trap them in a complex web of illegality. These films have been used extensively for advocacy campaigns to sensitize policy makers, influential citizens and the general public about these outrages.
2) 2000 onwards: Organized several public hearings about the plight of street vendors and rickshaw pullers that were presided over by the Central Vigilance Commissioner, opinion leaders and influential citizens.
3) 2001: Prime Minister Vajpayee responded to media reports of our public hearings by announcing a New Policy for Delhi’s vendors and rickshaw pullers that supported Manushi’s recommendations. This policy recognizes that the number and locations of licensed street vendors and cycle rickshaws should be determined by market demand rather than bureaucratic quotas.
4) 2001-2003: Manushi actively participated in the deliberations of a National Task Force appointed by the Ministry of Urban Development to draft a National Policy for street vendors in 2001. The Central Cabinet adopted this new policy in January 2004. Manushi has since then been actively campaigning to get the New Policy implemented in letter and spirit.
5) 2002: Manushi filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court to bring attention to the willful sabotage of the policy reform measures recommended by the Prime Minister in 2001 and to expose the additional distortions being introduced by the MCD and Delhi Police in the cycle rickshaw policy. 2005: Filed an intervention petition in the Supreme Court to challenge the large scale clearance operations being carried out in Delhi by the MCD and Delhi Police to forcibly evict lakhs of street vendors in the guise of beautification of Delhi and to apprise the Supreme Court of the corruption friendly regime of vending licenses being instituted in the name of implementing the national Policy for Street Vendors. The Supreme Court accepted Manushi’s suggestion that a photo census of the existing street vendors be carried out by an independent agency as a necessary first step towards identifying genuine vendors for grant of licenses and eliminating bogus claimants.
6) 2005-2006: Executed two pilot projects, one each for MCD and DDA, to demonstrate through concrete example how street vendors can be accommodated in the cityscape in a dignified and aesthetic manner so that they are not viewed as a source of chaos and obstruction. One of these pilot projects is in Sewa Nagar under the jurisdiction of MCD Central Zone and the second one in Nehru Place under DDA’s jurisdiction. The MCD made a commitment to the Supreme Court that if this pilot project is a success, it would be used as a role model for the rest of the City. The Projects have lived up to their promise but vested interests within the MCD and DDA are trying their best to destroy them.
7) 2006: Made a documentary film “A Tale of Four Cities” on incidents of vendor suicides through self immolation to protest against loss of livelihood following street vendor clearance operations in Gwalior, Patiala, Hyderabad and Lukhnow.
8) 2006: Organized the first all India Public Hearing of street vendors in collaboration with Nasvi presided over by Urban Development Minister, Mr Jaipal Reddy among others. In this Hearing over 235 vendors’ organizations from different towns and cities of India participated and described their plight.
9) 2006: Filed a PIL in the Delhi high Court challenging the blatantly unconstitutional and illegal restrictions being added to the existing perverse regulations on the cycle rickshaw sector.
10) 2007: Submitted a detailed Action Plan to the MCD and Ministry of Poverty Alleviation for the honest implementation of the National Policy for Street Vendors. This involves a city wide comprehensive census of street vendors and a major exercise in urban planning to create well designed spaces in each locality for positioning hawkers in an orderly manner as well as an efficient system for monitoring civic discipline.
11) 2008: Carried out sample survey along with video-graphed evidence of the patently dishonest and unviable delineation of hawking zones by the MCD and presented this as evidence to the Supreme Court of their malafide implementation of Supreme Court directions and the mandate of the National Policy for Street Vendors.
12) 2008: Carried out photo census of street vendors in select areas of Delhi to demonstrate to MCD how the actual location, the nature of trade they undertake and the space they occupy can be digitally documented. Manushi also provided evidence to the Supreme Court that the methodology adopted by the MCD for issuing vending licenses was inherently corruption prone. The Court ordered the MCD to undertake corrections through a photo census.
13) 2008: Helped the Secretary, Ministry of Poverty Alleviation in drafting a model all India legislation for street vendors.
14) 2009: The MCD Commissioner set up a Special Committee for reforming the cycle rickshaw policy at the behest of a full constitutional bench of Delhi High Court which heard Manushi’s petition regarding the lawlessness of MCD’s rickshaw policy which violates basic constitutional rights of rickshaw pullers.
15) 2009: Presented a detailed draft of a citizen-friendly, eco-friendly rickshaw policy to the MCD Committee for rickshaw policy reform. This was accepted by the MCD committee but vetoed by Traffic Police. It was then presented to the High Court.
16) 2009: A Special committee for the review of street vendor policy was also instituted by the Commissioner, MCD. Manushi’s draft for creating a new institutional structure and methodology for licensing all existing genuine vendors is under consideration of this Committee. Manushi’s proposals include helping MCD devise practical mechanisms for ensuring civic discipline in all model hawking zones through the use of appropriate technologies such as CCTV cameras and transparent and efficient means of tehbazari collection.
17) 2009: At Manushi’s behest Commissioner MCD has commissioned three large pilot projects for creating model hawking zones and clusters on the Sewa Nagar model as well as road redesigns to make space for separate tracks for cycle rickshaws and other non-motorized vehicles.
18) 2010 January onwards: Manushi began conducting a city wide photo census of street vendors through its own team because the MCD is not getting its photo census carried out by a credible and independent agency. They are up to the old corruption friendly means of identifying their own beneficiaries for vending licenses. In order to pre-empt such frauds. Manushi is collecting street wise data from all the 12 zones of MCD as well as the NDMC areas
19) 2010, February 10: The Delhi High Court gave a historic verdict in favor of dismantling needless regulations on cycle rickshaw owners and pullers.
In addition to taking the work of policy reform for cycle rickshaw pullers and street vendors to its logical conclusion, we intend to do more rigorous work for other self-employed poor and all those working in the unorganized sector to evolve and advocate a far reaching and comprehensive pro-poor agenda that will free the economic initiative of the self employed poor - that defends them from needless bureaucratic controls which keep them trapped in poverty or prevent their efforts from reaching their full potential.
One such ongoing project is a research based documentary film being shot in 5 northern states of India entitled: "The Genius of Jugad.” This focuses on the urgent need to review the existing licensing procedures and motorized transport policy of the Government which crushes the initiative and entrepreneurial spirit of rural technologists who have devised low cost vehicles to serve the needs of farmers in villages poorly connected by “modern” means of transport.
Similar studies will be undertaken for other activities that enable the self employed poor, including those in the farm sector to earn a livelihood.