The entire discourse on economic freedom and liberalization of the Indian economy has so far remained obsessively focused on the entry of transnational corporations, the concerns of the Indian corporate sector, and the fate of government-run public enterprises, as they prepare to deal with a market open to competition. These are valid issues and concerns. But, we cannot afford to overlook the fact that Indian and foreign corporations and the PSUs together provide employment to no more than three per cent of our population. Another 3 per cent are employed in various government agencies. The vast majority of people in India (nearly 93 per cent) are still self-employed or work in the unorganized sectors of our economy. 70 per cent are still wholly or partly dependent on agriculture and allied occupations. The rest are self-employed as artisans or workers in the unorganized sector of industry, or earn their living by providing services in casual employment. Loosening of bureaucratic controls has indeed opened up a whole world of opportunities for many segments of the corporate sector and easy access to a wide variety of consumer goods for people at large. However, the self-employed poor and micro entrepreneurs remain trapped in a web of illegality even while they are pursuing perfectly legitimate occupations and providing valuable services to society because of lethal kinds of regulations and controls that govern their livelihoods. This makes them vulnerable to extortion, harassment and human rights abuses.
This paper deals with the predatory role of the Indian state and how it artificially depresses incomes and makes it difficult for people to move out of poverty. To illustrate this proposition, the exploitative and crime friendly licensing regimes and “regulations” that control the livelihoods of two of the largest groups of self employed entrepreneurs in urban areas--- namely cycle rickshaw owners and pullers and street vendors have been taken as case studies.
The Case of Cycle Rickshaws
The cycle rickshaw originated in Japan where this man powered vehicle was called ‘jinrikisha.’ This vehicle is widely used in Asian countries in varying forms and called various names such as trishaw, pedicab, cyclo and becak. It has been referred to as the “developing world’s taxicab.” However, today even developed countries have begun discovering its value.
Today, cycle rickshaws are a popular mode of popular transport in most towns and cities of India, especially in Northern, Central and Eastern states of India. They were introduced in Delhi in the 1940’s. At the time they were seen as a major technological advance over the hand pulled rickshaw. But today, this vehicle is treated with barely concealed hostility and treated as a nuisance on city roads despite its numerous advantages.
Even though the main focus of this paper Delhi’s cycle rickshaw policy, it is fairly illustrative of the general hostility of city administrations and policy makers throughout India towards this humble vehicle. The policies adopted in the Capital of India tend to act as a role model for the rest of India. Moreover since the Supreme Court of India has endorsed the cycle rickshaw policy of Delhi, municipal corporations all over India use it as a benchmark even in those towns where there is near total absence of public transport.
Instant Means of Livelihood and Earning Potential of Rickshaws
Cycle rickshaws provide one of the few “instant means of livelihood” for poor rural migrants. Most pullers are seasonal migrants who leave their families in the village so that they can keep their living expenses low and save as much as they can for sending home. Within a few hours of arriving in the city, by renting a rickshaw for the day, a migrant is able to not only earn enough to buy food for the day but also to save something for sending home.
Savings from rickshaw pulling help sustain their families in the village. Farming would be even more crisis ridden and entire families of destitute farmers are likely become completely destitute without these urban remittances.
As per the figures provided by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), to the Delhi High Court there are nearly 600,000 rickshaws in Delhi alone requiring at least as many pullers who earn their living from it. In addition, thousands of people get employment in the small-scale industry that produces rickshaw parts. The rickshaw trade of Delhi also makes use of the services of thousands of repair mechanics and assemblers. At an average of four dependents per person, the survival of 35 lakh people may thus be linked to Delhi’s rickshaw trade.
The cycle rickshaw represents the most efficient use of capital and labour both for the puller as well as for the vehicle owner. An owner invests Rs 4,500 for a new cycle rickshaw and earns an average of Rs 30 per day, by way of rent for the vehicle. He spends on an average Rs 300 per month per vehicle on repairs and maintenance of the vehicle, bribes to the police and municipality, and losses due to fines and confiscation of the vehicle.
Thus at an average of Rs 20 per day per vehicle an owner can get an income of Rs 600 per month with an investment of Rs 4,500, provided the vehicle is plied every day of the month. This is not always the case since there is a short supply of pullers during certain seasons and during festivals. Even with all those gaps in earning, an owner recovers the cost of his vehicle within eight months.
A puller pays Rs 30 per day rent for the vehicle, earns between Rs 75 and 250 per day after paying the rent, depending on the number of hours and distances he pulls the rickshaw as well as the area in which he plies. Thus a rickshaw puller earns at least 4-10 times of what he pays by way of rent. By contrast, a man who hires a three-wheeler auto rickshaw pays Rs 250-300 per day towards the rental for the vehicle and earns on an average Rs 250 per day after paying the rent.
While plying a rickshaw is an important source of income for the illiterate and those with low educational skills as well as the poorly educated unemployed youth from poor families, for hardworking and enterprising young people it provides an avenue of upward mobility. There are numerous examples of men who started their lives as pullers but within a few years they manage to attain middle class status by saving up enough money to acquire additional rickshaws for giving out on hire.
Growing Demand for Cycle Rickshaws
Less than 15 per cent of the citizens in Delhi own private motorized vehicles while 85 per cent have to rely on public transport, of which cycle rickshaws are a very crucial part, because they are versatile and multi-purpose in their uses for short distance commutes. Till about three decades ago rickshaws were found plying mainly in the walled city area, lower middle class neighbourhoods and outlying colonies of Delhi, Today, one sees them plying in virtually all elite colonies, including in the fancy suburbs of Gurgaon, as well as in elite housing colonies in the heart of New Delhi such as Maharani Bagh, Friends Colony, Defence Colony, Greater Kailash and the Civil Lines area. The coming of the Metro has in fact increased their relevance because cycle rickshaws have become the most widely used feeder service for commuting to and from Metro stations. This clearly indicates that there is an increasing public demand for this vehicle due to the following factors:
- Rickshaws are the least expensive and the most convenient form of transport in dense urban areas for short distance travel. They provide doorstep service at all hours of the day and night.
- Since parking has become a major problem, even those with cars prefer taking cycle rickshaws for local marketing because it is both convenient and inexpensive. It will wait, for example, for a housewife as she goes from shop to shop for her purchases, and carry the goods to her doorstep.
- Rickshaws are widely used for sending children to local schools since they offer personalized and safe service at a modest price by picking up and dropping back children at their doorstep.
- Rickshaws are a necessary feeder service for the city’s bus service as well as the Metro rail.
- Trolley rickshaws provide a vital service for transporting goods to and from the wholesale markets, especially in congested areas. They are also widely used for delivering heavy goods (timber, sanitary ware, bales of cloth, construction material, etc) from the market to the doorstep of the user.
- Trolley rickshaws are commonly used by private garbage pickers who recycle the garbage in the city. The municipal agencies are heavily dependent on the free services of these garbage pickers. Using motorized transport for garbage collection will dramatically increase the cost of garbage disposal and also lead to an increase in vehicular pollution, especially since the trucks and tempos that are currently used for garbage collection are diesel-based vehicles with outdated technology.
Cycle rickshaws are the most eco-friendly of all vehicles. Since they do not consume petrol or diesel, they do not cause atmospheric pollution. Each rickshaw covers a minimum distance of 20-25 kilometers a day amounting to a total of 120-150 lakh kilometers per day by Delhi’s 600,000 rickshaws. If cycle rickshaws were removed from the city, it would involve an additional fuel expense of nearly 500,000 litres per day costing more than Rs. 1.25 crores per day. This totals to an expense of Rs. 450 crores per year.
The use of cycles as a safe and non-polluting, environment friendly mode of transport is being actively promoted and encouraged by governments in different parts of the world. The impact of global warming is compelling most First world countries to spend billions of dollars in evolving eco friendly technologies. But in India government agencies are working hard to destroy the existing environment friendly options.
There are cycle tracks in virtually all the First World cities, even in the high Alps, because people are discovering the health value of using non-motorized vehicles. In several European cities, including Paris and Oxford, which are far more conscious than us about their air quality, cycle rickshaws are being introduced on an experimental basis as a measure to control vehicular pollution in city centers. This is happening even though the vast majority in these countries can afford and do own cars. In towns and cities of China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and other Asian countries, rickshaws are a popular mode of transport. In Singapore one finds smartly dressed young men driving cycle rickshaws as a popular tourist attraction. But Indian policy makers are hell bent on destroying this vehicle even though the vast majority of people in India do not own motorcars; Government refuses to provide road space for non-motorized vehicles despite the fact that we are running huge bills for importing petrol and diesel. Most policy makers see rickshaws as a hangover of India’s “backwardness” and thus treat them as an unwanted nuisance and a shameful reminder of our Third World status at a time when the elite sections see India become an emerging global power.
Banned Where Needed Most
Rickshaw plying is altogether forbidden in the areas governed by the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC). In addition, there are a large number of areas under the charge of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), where rickshaw plying is officially banned. In the High Court Order in the case involving Hemraj Vs. C.P. Delhi, (CWP 3419/99) cycle rickshaws have been prohibited on the arterial roads of Delhi. The reason provided by the High Court was that these roads are meant for motorized transport, that the plying of rickshaws would slow down the traffic, resulting in congestion.
The primary cause of road congestion is the increasing number of cars and other motorized vehicles in the City. As per a report in The Times of India of December 26, 2006, by the end of October 2006, there were over 50,36,842 registered motor vehicles in Delhi. And their numbers are growing daily. An additional reason for the congestion is poor observance of traffic rules by motorized vehicles, and non-implementation of lane driving, as well as the lack of separate lanes for slow moving traffic such as cycle rickshaw pullers and cycles. Moreover, shopkeepers and customers park their cars for long hours on the side of the road, blocking nearly half the road with their parked vehicles. As per a study done jointly by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, New Delhi tops the grim pollution charts listing 20 major Asian cities. Traffic jams occur even in areas where there are no cycle rickshaws, including on top of flyovers.
When a car is forced to stand still or go extremely slow due to traffic snarls it emits greater amounts of pollution and also damages the engine. A rickshaw is intrinsically slow moving and therefore moves more easily in areas of congestion. A car takes at least eight times the road space as compared to a rickshaw not only because it is bigger in size but also because road safety demands at least 10- 15 feet space between one motorized vehicle and another. Cycle rickshaws can move bumper to bumper without the risk of accidents.
A car is an object of convenience for just the person or family that uses the vehicle. It provides service to no more than two to four people a day. When a car is parked it blocks road space and makes it unusable for others on the road. By contrast a rickshaw carries at least 50 persons a day and is constantly on the move. Therefore, it represents a much more efficient utilization of road space.
Yet our government policies encourage the proliferation and increase in the number of cars in the country. Not just private banks but even nationalized banks chase customers to avail themselves of their car loans at low interest rates despite the fact that the available road space in our cities cannot possibly accommodate the current rate of increase in private cars.
Government spends crores of rupees on building flyovers as well as four and six lane motorways for the convenience of motor vehicle owners. But there are no separate tracks for rickshaws and other forms of non-motorized vehicles. Thus rickshaw pullers and cyclists have to compete for road space with trucks buses and cars at great risk to their own and their passengers’ lives. In utter disregard of the needs of citizens without cars, our civic agencies provide little or no no earmarked road space for non-motorized vehicles.
The High Court also ordered a total ban on plying of cycle rickshaws in the Chandni Chowk area from Red Fort to Fatehpuri Chowk, ostensibly to avoid traffic congestion and ensure its smooth flow. (Hemraj Vs C.P. Delhi, CWP 3419/99) This is particularly absurd since no other vehicle can reach and move about with comparable ease in the old city with its narrow by lanes. The officials who have imposed the ban argue that rickshaws may continue plying in the inner narrow lanes but they are barred from the main road of Chandni Chowk. However, those living in the narrow lanes need rickshaws to connect with the outside world, not to commute within their own mohalla.
The License Quota Raid Raj Enshrined in the Cycle Rickshaw By Laws
Apart from outright, arbitrary bans on plying the Cycle Rickshaw Bye Laws passed in 1960 the MCD has fixed unrealistic quotas for issuing licenses and developed all manners of restrictions on owning and plying cycle rickshaws. It is noteworthy that there are no quotas on the number of cars, trucks and other motorized vehicles plying in urban centres even though they cause deadly pollution. But cycle rickshaw ownership is subject to draconian controls and stringent quotas. And yet, the number of cycle rickshaws has kept increasing despite draconian laws and regulations aimed at limiting its role in the city and erasing its existence from the supposedly modern and elite areas of Delhi.
The quota for rickshaw licenses was fixed at 600 during the 1960s; it was raised to 20,000 in 1976; and to 50,000 in 1993, when the actual number plying was reported to be 4,50,000. In 1997, it was raised to 99,000 and remains the same at a time when according to MCD’s own admission in the High Court more than 6,00,000 rickshaws are reportedly plying in the City, including trolley rickshaws for carrying goods and garbage. The actual number of licenses issued to rickshaws in the year 2006-07 was 89,429.
However, almost all of these licensed rickshaws also carry the stigma of “illegality.”
The slow and measly increase in the quota did not happen automatically. It was grudgingly sanctioned after rickshaw operators fought long drawn out battles in the High Court of Delhi and the Supreme Court of India. The ceiling has always been adjusted in an ad hoc and post facto manner, but it has never been anywhere near the actual numbers of rickshaws that reflects the growing demand for their services.
The MCD does not actually have an accurate count of rickshaws plying the streets of Delhi, since most of the rickshaws operate illegally and therefore do not show up in the record books. Many rickshaw owners allege that MCD officials deliberately exaggerate the number of rickshaws in order to frighten judges and elite sections of society into believing that, if restrictions were removed, the City would be completely swamped by rickshaws, making it impossible for motorized vehicles to travel on the roads. MCD officials respond to this charge by alleging that the rickshaw owners under-report their numbers so as to cover up their own illegal possession of huge fleets of rickshaws. In the absence of an accurate count, it becomes virtually impossible to assess the actual numbers and the holding capacity of the city for this vehicle.
The arbitrary setting of ceilings violates Article 14 of the Constitution of India which states that “the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” It also goes against, and is in contempt of, earlier Supreme Court Orders both in letter and spirit as given, for example, in All Delhi Cycle.Rickshaw. Operators. Union v. Delhi Municipal Corpn. AIR 1987 SC 648 (Para 4) and Nanhu & Ors. Vs Delhi Administration & Ors. 1981 (1) SCR 373) which give aggrieved parties the right to challenge arbitrary ceilings and quotas, and directs the Delhi Administration to adopt reasonable and relevant criteria in setting ceilings on the number of licenses to be issued for Delhi.
Other Absurd Restrictions
Apart from unrealistic quotas, the following absurd restrictions that govern this trade with regard to owning and plying a cycle rickshaw have ensured that the vast majority of even the licensed rickshaws are rendered illegal:
No person can ply a rickshaw unless he is the owner and holds a license granted by the Commissioner on payment of a certain fee as per the Cycle Rickshaw Bye-Laws (1960). This means a person is not allowed to own more than one cycle rickshaw. Anyone can own a fleet of cars, trucks, or even aeroplanes. However, possessing more than one cycle rickshaw has been treated as an offence, which is punishable with the confiscation and destruction of the vehicle.
The law also stipulates that the owner must also be the puller of the rickshaw. If someone other than the licensed owner is found plying the vehicle, it is liable to confiscation. A person who owns a truck or bus or taxi may hire whoever he/she wants to ply that vehicle but in the case of cycle rickshaws, the MCD’s regulations mandate that a person who lets another, including his own brother or son, ply his rickshaw invites confiscation and destruction of his vehicle.
Although this law was ostensibly meant to protect rickshaw pullers from being fleeced by the supposedly exploitative rickshaw fleet owners and was unfortunately even upheld by the Supreme Court (All Delhi C.R.O. Union v. Delhi Municipal Corporation. AIR 1987 SC 648 and Nanhu & Ors. Vs Delhi Administration & Ors. 1981 (1) SCR 373) as a beneficial piece of social legislation, it has become a tool of exploitation by the police and MCD officials to extort bribes from unlicensed rickshaw owners and pullers using the threat of impounding such rickshaws and destroying and selling them as junk. This is a major reason why most of Delhi’s rickshaws are in a pathetic state in terms of their technology, functioning and visual appearance. Since the vehicle can be impounded any day with or without reason, owners spend no more than is absolutely necessary to keep the vehicle moving on the road.
Since legally, no rickshaw operator is allowed more than one license, all others have to be made as benami licenses in the name of real or hypothetical rickshaw pullers. Thus, even after paying bribes, no one, including the so-called rickshaw mafia, can ply all their rickshaws legally and each one remains vulnerable to his vehicles being confiscated. Also, since most of the city roads have been officially declared as out of bounds for rickshaws, they are all vulnerable to seizure, extortion and harassment by the MCD and Traffic police.
Thus while the job may appear to bring high returns on a small investment, in actual fact, the income is considerably depleted due to losses and extortion inflicted by the government machinery. Owners have to work under very harsh conditions—sitting on the roadside exposed to heat, cold, and rain for more than 12-16 hours a day and seven days a week. At least two members of a family have to be involved in this trade for it to be viable. Moreover, they have to be on constant alert. As soon as one of them spots an MCD vehicle ready to go on a confiscation drive along with the traffic police, they take off on their scooters or motorcycles at breakneck speed. They can then save their rickshaws from seizure by warning their pullers to take their vehicles away from the route taken by the MCD staff out on a confiscating binge. Despite all the bribing, wining and dining of police and MCD, no one escapes confiscation altogether. Add to it the tension and anxiety of losing rickshaws, and of keeping the extortionist demands of the police and MCD placated.
Why Pullers Don’t Want to be Owners
Draconian restrictions on owning more than one rickshaw are justified in the name of preventing the exploitation of poor rickshaw pullers at the hands of “rich contractors”, who the police and corporation employees refer to as the “rickshaw mafia.” These are the very people from whom the corporation and police employees collect hefty bribes, and yet they are made targets of a systematic defamation campaign. Even if one owns 200 rickshaws calculated at the current cost of Rs 4,500 per new rickshaw and Rs 1,500 for a second-hand rickshaw, it represents an investment of no more than four to five lakh rupees for a brand new fleet of vehicles. By enacting a law, which prohibits a person from owning more than one rickshaw, the government has, in fact, legislated that a poor person has no right to upward mobility. This amounts to using the might of the State to crush people’s entrepreneurial spirit and desire for upward mobility. All this when restrictive laws such as the Anti-Monopolies Act for the corporate sector have been scrapped and we are supposed to be liberalising our economy.
The vast majority of cycle rickshaws (almost 99%) are owned by entrepreneurs who own 5 to 500 rickshaws and give them out to others on rent. “Owner Must be Puller” policy is impractical given the nature of the trade and the compulsions of those who come to pull cycle rickshaws.
- Most pullers are seasonal migrants and stay in the city for some months, save money and go home for some days or weeks. Often they have to leave at short notice due to some emergency at home or their own sickness. Many prefer to go and work in the fields during harvest and sowing seasons. During festivals and family occasions also they have to go home. During the periods that they are absent from the city, they have no way to keep their vehicles safe.
- If they rent out or even let a family member drive their vehicle when they go to their village, it is likely to be confiscated. Therefore, even if they have the money they prefer not to buy a rickshaw.
- Even when they are in the city, most pullers sleep on the pavements or share small jhuggis with fellow migrants. They have no place to park their vehicle safely at night. The vehicle is likely to be stolen if they leave it out in the open at night.
- Getting a rickshaw license is almost impossible for a poor man. Unlike registration for motorized vehicles, licenses for cycle rickshaws have been frozen indefinitely by the MCD. Applications are accepted only during one month of the year, even on those rare occasions when the quota is increased and applications are invited, at least on paper. Application forms are given selectively to those who have made prior ‘arrangements’ with MCD officials. This denies opportunity to those pullers who may want to own a rickshaw to legitimize their status.
- Since a rickshaw license is not available on demand as a right, MCD officials take hefty bribes for issuing and renewing these licenses, which are valid for three years and require to be renewed every year. Pullers can neither afford the time and bribes required in getting a license nor take the risks involved in owning a rickshaw that may be confiscated any day.
- Even licensed rickshaws are not spared confiscation and destruction on patently illegal grounds. The MCD routinely rounds up and confiscates a large number of rickshaws under the guise of checking licenses. But an owner can get it released only if he can provide “proof” that he is the real owner and also that he was pulling the rickshaw himself. If he lacks the proof, the vehicle is liable to be destroyed. In case of rickshaw seizure, a puller runs no risk. He just comes and reports to the owner or simply abandons the vehicle and disappears. If it were his own vehicle, he would have to spend days and a considerable sum of money getting the vehicle released. An illiterate and poor puller is far more vulnerable to abuse and fleecing than a fleet owner, who over the years acquires some bargaining power with those they pay bribes to. None of the pullers have the staying power to spend days and large sums of money on bribes to get the vehicle released without earning anything for that number of days. By hiring a rickshaw on a daily basis, they lose nothing if the vehicle is confiscated and they can go and rent another rickshaw.
- Once the vehicle is confiscated, the owner has to pay a minimum fine of Rs 325 to get the vehicle released, plus Rs 25 per day as store charges for each day that the vehicle stays in municipal custody. Therefore, rickshaw owners run after municipal officials and try to strike a bargain so that they can get the vehicle released before it is entered in the record book. They do this by paying Rs. 100-200 in bribes, since in almost all cases, the owner is not the puller and most rickshaws are unlicensed.
Once it enters municipal records, the average expense for getting a rickshaw vehicle released from the MCD yard comes to around Rs 600, including fines, store charges and payoffs. Such expenses can only be incurred by those owning substantial fleets that give them staying power and a good profit margin to pay the bribes. If a genuine owner-puller (a rare species) loses his vehicle in a municipal raid he is not likely have the resources to put together the required bribe money and legal formalities for getting the vehicle released. As per the Rickshaw By Laws, after 15 days the vehicle cannot be released and has to be crushed and sold as junk. Therefore, pullers find it preferable to rent the vehicle from fleet owners. But the very existence of rickshaw fleet owners is illegal. Therefore, even all the 89,429 licensed rickshaws are mostly illegal.
The fleet owners survive by working out elaborate arrangements for monthly bribes through code language. For example, almost all rickshaws have embossed the code or real name of the fleet owner. This indicates to the police and MCD staff the identity of the man responsible for paying the bribe for that particular vehicle. Anyone who tries to ply a rickshaw without entering into such an arrangement will never get his vehicle back once it is impounded. As per the MCD’s own admission, nearly 60,000 rickshaws are destroyed and sold as junk every year; many more times this number are released after the payment of bribes and penalties. (Hemraj Vs C.P. Delhi, CWP 3419/99)
The destruction of 60,000 rickshaws itself results in a staggering loss of Rs. 27,00, 00,000 per year to their owners at Rs 4,500 per vehicle. Thus far from enabling the poor pullers to own their own rickshaws, the MCD makes it virtually impossible for the puller to become an owner, even if he has sufficient funds to try and own a vehicle. As per Manushi’s estimates, the cycle rickshaw trade loses a minimum of Rs 10 crores every month in bribes, fines, confiscation and destruction of vehicles.
Municipal officials in fact have a strong vested interest in denying licenses to actual pullers. As seasonal migrants, pullers come and go as their situation demands. Even while in the city they are constantly on the move. Therefore, it is very difficult for municipal staff and the police to collect daily or monthly bribes from lakhs of a floating population of pullers in the city. It is far easier for them to collect bribes from rickshaw fleet owners who have set places and workshops where their vehicles are parked and repaired. It is also easy for them to keep a count of the vehicles owned by each fleet operator and accordingly collect monthly payments from them because the number of illegal rickshaws they own can be easily gauged when the rented rickshaws come back to the yard at night. In addition, the fleet owners can be persuaded to feast them with free liquor and food every now and then.
Rickshaw pullers actually need the services of fleet owners as much as the owners need them to keep their vehicles moving. Rickshaw operators rent pullers the vehicle without any surety or security. Since most pullers cannot afford proper shelter, they find greater safety in sleeping with other pullers in the rickshaw yards managed by the owners. Fleet owners also act as informal banks for pullers. Owners help them in emergencies, especially if their mutual relations are good and long standing. Some basic services like water and rest points and social life are provided in the yard. In their own interest, owners also offer to their pullers some protection from harassment and arbitrary arrests by the police.
For example, whenever the police is expected to round up “anti-social elements” to maintain law and order before an election or during certain sensitive festivals, they invariably pick up rickshaw pullers to show in their records that they are taking action against “bad characters” and “vagrants”. At such times, many of the owners come to the rescue of at least their regular pullers.
Contrary to the myth propagated by the officialdom that rickshaw fleet owners represent a totally exploitative class of people, with irreconcilable conflict of interests between them and the pullers, a vast majority of contractors have emerged out of the ranks of rickshaw mechanics and pullers and operate under conditions of great insecurity. No more than a dozen would qualify to be called the so-called rickshaw mafia. Even this group has come to acquire a stronghold over the trade only because they act as middlemen between the police, the licensing authorities, and the ordinary rickshaw operator. We even found cases of policemen or their close relatives owning large benami rickshaw fleets. Of the 36 contractors we interviewed in 2001, 24 began their earning life as pullers or roadside rickshaw mechanics. Another seven began as petty vendors or unskilled labourers. Most of them belong to families of marginal farmers who migrated to Delhi in search of daily wages. They entered this trade by purchasing a couple of second-hand rickshaws with their modest savings and over the years, built small or big fleets. Only four out of the 36 whom we interviewed are from lower middle class families who entered this profession because they failed to get any jobs after they completed their intermediate or graduation. Instead of joining the ranks of the educated unemployed, they got modest amounts of money from their families to invest in a few rickshaws and slowly added more over the years. However, despite all the payoffs, almost all have lost at least as many rickshaws in municipal raids as they own today.
The contractors manage their big or small rickshaw fleets from their makeshift stands, which they have made by occupying a piece of public land and pavements, with very little protection from the elements. These spots are used for servicing and repairing rickshaws as well as parking the vehicles at night. A large proportion of rickshaw pullers sleep at these stands because as seasonal migrants they cannot afford to pay the prevalent high rents for living space even in Delhi’s slums. This use of public space makes the fleet owners additionally vulnerable to extortion. The amount of monthly payments that they have to cough up to the police and municipality depends on the number of rickshaws they own and the amount of public space they occupy. Given the exorbitant land prices in Delhi, it is impractical to expect them to operate their trade from a personally owned piece of land as this would make their trade altogether unviable.
Even after paying bribes, they do not have any security. The threat of eviction from these roadside spaces forever hangs like a sword on their heads. In 1993, the Rajdhani Cycle Rickshaw Operators Union felt compelled to file a petition in the Delhi High Court to demand that the MCD should be directed to allocate rickshaw stands or halting points. The Court directed that 234 stands be allocated for the then sanctioned quota of 20,000 rickshaws in Delhi. But these orders were never implemented. In 1998, the Rickshaw Operators Union filed yet another petition demanding implementation of the Court orders as well as increase in the number of stands to at least 900, since the sanctioned quota for rickshaws was enhanced to 99,000 that year. The Court sanctioned 406 stands. On February 27, 2001, Justice Sareen appointed a Committee with the Police Commissioner Traffic as its member, ordering that within four months, these stands should become operational. Only 25 stands were earmarked by the MCD, that too after years of constant pleas by the rickshaw operators. Even out of these 25, some cannot be used because they fall in zones declared “No Entry” for rickshaws. Since there are hardly any authorized stands for rickshaws the traffic policemen routinely inflict the danda treatment on the pullers on the ground that they have no right to park their vehicles on the roadside. Again, the main purpose of these beatings is to keep them in a state of terror so that they do not resist paying bribes.
This is not to overlook the fact that many of these contractors have acquired a deep vested interest in the licence-quota system. Some have benefited by becoming conduit channels for bribes. Over time those who have worked out effective deals have acquired a vested interest in the restrictive licensing regime because they feel if rickshaw ownership is made easy and open, many more small players will enter the trade. The licence -quota system limits competition, makes it difficult for new and small investors to enter the trade and keeps the hire charges artificially high. Since the investment for starting this trade is low, they fear that a whole army of unemployed youth will buy five to six rickshaws, thus increasing competition in the trade, which is bound to bring down the daily hire charges. If the police and Corporation stop seizing and junking rickshaws, many more actual pullers might think of investing in their own rickshaw, especially if they could share its use with other family members. This would further cut down the incomes of rickshaw fleet owners and contractors. Thus, the ostensibly pro-poor policy of limiting one license per person and making it mandatory for that person to ply the rickshaw actually strengthens the role and stranglehold of middlemen rather than weakens it.
Tyranny of the Police
Apart from the municipal raids and confiscation drives, the traffic police also routinely seize rickshaws on patently illegal grounds. For example, under the guise of decongesting roads, the police routinely snatch the rickshaws in a totally arbitrary manner. These are then handed over to the MCD, which releases them only after extracting hefty bribes or fines. They also seize them for real or imagined traffic violations and impose a minimum fine of Rs. 100 plus store charges at Rs 25 per day. In order to keep them terrorized and pliable, traffic policemen beat up the pullers at random with their batons as a daily ritual, no matter where they ply and no matter where they park the vehicle.
Large parts of the city have been declared as “No Entry Zones” for rickshaws. The zoning rules formulated by the Delhi Traffic Police are arbitrary and impractical, since the forbidden zones cannot be avoided while ferrying passengers and goods. “No Entry Zone” regulations do not mean that the police disallow rickshaws from plying on those roads. All it means is that rickshaw pullers are terrorized into paying extra bribes for plying there. In most instances there is no road sign to warn a puller that he is getting into a “No Entry Zone”.
Policy Reforms Sabotaged
A rational policy framework for the cycle rickshaw trade was provided in the New Policy for Cycle Rickshaw Pullers and Street Vendors announced by Prime Minister Vajpayee in August 2001 in response to Manushi’s campaign on behalf of these two sectors. Key features of this policy are as follows:
- Let the laws of market demand and supply determine the number of rickshaws in the city rather than bureaucratic quotas.
- The metropolis should be divided into “green”, “amber” and “red” zones designating “free access”, “fee based access” and “prohibited access” areas for rickshaws, respectively.
- There must be an absolute prohibition on municipal and police authorities from impounding, or destruction, or seizure of rickshaws, including the goods and equipment they haul, for violating licensing or traffic laws, except when they commit some other offence which merits penal action.
- Any person who wishes to be a rickshaw puller may do so by a simple act of registration involving two steps: (a) reliable identification by any means and (b) payment of a nominal fee to cover costs for issue of a photo identification card.
- Purpose of the registration is to provide reliable identification for the purposes noted above. It is not a permit to ply the trade. No such permit should be required.
- A registered rickshaw puller who wishes to operate in an”amber” zone may do so by paying a fee, upon which a sticker to the effect may be affixed on his registration card.
- Numbers of cycle rickshaws in the “amber” zones may be regulated by adjustment of the amount of fee periodically. Penalties for plying in an “amber” zone without payment of the fee may involve a moderate financial penalty in addition to the fee but in any case there must be an absolute prohibition on municipal and police authorities from impounding, or destruction, or seizure of the vehicle or the goods it is carrying.
- The number of cycle rickshaws be regulated by increasing the license fee rather than putting an unrealistic artificial ceiling on the numbers that can operate in the city.
- Non-government organisations with a record of working for the welfare of these groups may be authorized to interface between them and the concerned authorities.
- In addition, our city governments will have to design roads in a manner that allows special tracks for slow moving non motorized traffic. It will also have to provide safe parking lots for rickshaws at night as well as for repair work. It is only when confiscation drives are put an end to that rickshaw pullers will have the incentive to own the vehicles they ply.
However, far from implementing this new policy, the municipal authorities as well as traffic police have launched a vigorous offensive against cycle rickshaws by declaring more and more areas as out of bounds for this vehicle and confiscating an increasing number of rickshaws every month. As per a recent announcement by the MCD, licensed cycle rickshaws will be installed with a sensory device that will help the legal ones to be distinguished from the unlicensed rickshaws and make the task of confiscating easier. They also see this as a measure to ensure that pullers alone have licenses and those with more than one rickshaw cannot get away with cheating the corporation. However, these measures are not likely to either reduce the number of unlicensed rickshaws or encourage ownership by pullers because it goes against the market laws of supply and demand as well as the actual requirements and peculiar circumstances of rickshaw pullers which make it unviable for them to become owners of these vehicles. In any case, since the illegal ones ply by paying bribes, all that the microchip will do is to provide the inspectors a technological device for keeping an accurate count on the payoffs due to them from unlicensed rickshaws.
This will inhibit investments for technological improvements in the cycle rickshaw thus making it appear an outdated, outmoded vehicle with no place in “modern” cities.
Case of Street Vendors
Street vendors in India provide a vital link between the producer and consumer, connecting the two in highly innovative, cost efficient keeping in view regional specificities as well as varied requirements of people during different seasons, festivals as well as time of the day or night. As per the National Policy for Street Vendors, nearly 2.5% of urban population is involved in street vending and hawking. This means this occupation provides livelihood to nearly one crore persons in India. With an average of four dependents per vendor, the survival of five crore people is dependent on street trading. Calculated at an average daily turnover of Rs 1100 per day per vendor, the total turnover of one crore street vendors in India would be a whopping Rs 1100 crores per day. Instead of encouraging and facilitating this vital urban occupation, government rules and regulations act to choke off its benefits to the poor so that corrupt officials can profit from illegal extortions.
Vending and hawking activity in India takes many forms. This includes:
- Door to door visits by pheriwalas who carry goods on their heads or backs or on mobile carts.
- Setting up mobile or stationary vending stalls near or within regular established markets.
- Roadside stalls on highways and near bus stops
- Stalls in weekly haats in villages and town
- Stalls in full-fledged hawker markets and clusters.
- Vending activity in buses and trains.
- Itinerant trading communities who move around the city or carry things from towns to villages on bicycles, cycle trolleys or on their backs.
- Vendors who make special appearances at melas; some specialize in selling goods that are not available in villages as a routine.
- Seasonal vendors like those from Kashmir who come down to the plains in winter months and go from house to house selling shawls, silks and carpets brought either directly from the producer including their own family members.
- Impoverished craft families, including khanabadosh communities who migrate to cities and towns where they produce small art objects in their own roadside huts and display them for sale right outside their jhuggies.
- A host of service providers on the roadside such as cobblers, barbers and those who repair cycles, scooters, fix punctured tyres, make duplicate keys, or sharpen old knives, scissors etcetra.
Important Role of Vendors
Street vending is an important source of self-employment for the poor in India. Both the government and the organized sectors of our economy are unable to provide employment to more than 6-7% of our working population. The vast majority of our citizens have therefore no choice but to generate their own employment.
Most vendors are migrants from impoverished rural families. Large part of the incomes they make in urban areas goes to support their village based families, which could not sustain themselves in farming without these cash inflows. Rural destitution would increase manifold without these regular remittances.
Street vending is one of the few entrepreneurial activities that poor people can undertake by investing small amounts of capital combined with hard work and long working hours to eke out a living with the possibility of upward mobility. It is due to their astute grasp of customer demand that they manage to survive in competition with bigger stores. Many like Gulshan Kumar of T Series have grown from being street traders to builders of business empires. Lakhs of Punjabis who came to India as penniless refugees after Partition began their new life in India as footpath sellers in places like Delhi’s Chandni Chowk and Karol Bagh are today multi millionaires. If such sources of livelihood and upward mobility are denied to the poor, large sections of our population will remain forever mired in poverty.
Apart from generating their own employment, vendors help generate employment in the farm sector by distributing fruits, vegetables and spices from wholesale mandis to every nook and corner of the city with remarkable speed and efficiency. In India we do not have alternative sources of distribution for these products. Air-conditioned retail outlets set up by the corporate sector to sell vegetables and fruits cannot substitute for the convenience and price advantage of neighbourhood hawkers and vendors who bring these daily necessities to the customers’ doorstep. The crisis in the farm sector would exacerbate dramatically if street vendors were eliminated from urban areas.
They support many small-scale industries by acting as the most efficient, low cost distribution channel for their low priced goods in every part of the country. Unlike the corporate sector, which works with high profit margins, small-scale industry cannot afford expensive distribution outlets. It is only street vendors who can provide sales outlets for a 50 Rs shirt, denim jeans for Rs 80 a piece, a leather shoe for Rs 100 and plastic slippers for Rs 20 a pair.
By distributing items of daily consumption at relatively low prices for all classes of consumers at convenient locations, hawkers save urban citizens a great deal of time, energy and money in procuring daily requirements. If there are no vendors, road congestion and pollution due to vehicular traffic will increase manifold since people will have to drive or travel long distances to far away markets and mandis or malls to buy daily necessities. That will mean enormous waste of time, money and petrol and cause even more vehicular chaos on our streets.
Vendors consume very little electricity in comparison to department stores and cold chains that guzzle a lot of power to prevent food items from rotting.
The presence of street vendors brings greater security and safety in urban areas. Places where streets are alive and busy till late hours, such as Delhi’s Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk are far safer than deserted colonies like Vasant Kunj or Nizamuddin East. In the latter type of colonies residents have to organize elaborate private security arrangements to keep criminals at bay whereas people in areas where shops and vending stalls stay open till late have no such requirement or fear.
Street traders have proliferated in numbers and command a large proportion of retail trade in India despite the development of shopping malls and giant retail outlets set up by corporate houses because they are extremely astute in sensing market demand through their direct and personalized relationship with customers. They make up for their lack of big capital through long hours of work, innovative ways of displaying and stocking their goods and use of family labour to provide back up support. They do not need to use big budgets for advertising their goods because they manage to position themselves where there is a natural flow of customers for their goods and services. They can be extremely flexible in their pricing and profit margins and are often astute enough to up or lower the prices at a moment’s calculation. For example, the moment it rains, fruit and vegetable vendors often instantly lower prices to ensure a quick turn over.
The following account describes the distortions introduced by the imposition of needless and harmful bureaucratic restrictions imposed on street traders thus actively thwarting their enterprise and urge for upward mobility at a time when the mantra of “liberalization” is being chanted as a key to economic progress.
Total Mismatch with Ground Reality
Despite Supreme Court judgments declaring that street vending is covered under the fundamental right to livelihood clause of the Constitution, municipal agencies all over India have managed to keep the vast majority of vendors illegal and insecure by ensuring a gross mismatch between the number of vendors on the streets and those who managed to secure licenses. For example, as per the affidavit to the Supreme Court the MCD claims that there are at least 300,000 vendors in Delhi alone. Unofficial estimates put the figure at 500,000. But licenses have been issued to less than 3,000. This in effect means less than one out of every hundred vendors has a legal status while 99 percent are treated as legal offenders and face daily punishments, harassment and penalties. In Ahmedabad, despite long drawn out battles by SEWA, the Municipal Corporation issued a circular in 1993 saying that henceforth no new licenses would be issued and all old licenses stood cancelled. In Mumbai, after several High Court and Supreme Court orders, in 2005 licenses were issued to about 15,000 out of an estimated 2,50,000 vendors. In Patna 2,000 vendors out of 80,000 have received licenses after a long struggle both in and out of courts. All these are cities where some vendors are unionized. However, touts who attach themselves to influential local politicians run most unions. Therefore, more often than not they too become instruments of exploitation. The bribe collecting mafia cracks down heavily on those trying to run independent or honest unions.
Restrictions and Absurd Quotas
Absurd restriction and quotas on street vending are a by-product of municipal laws imposed on India by the British in 19th century that make it illegal to vend without a license, which is issued at the sole discretion of the municipal officers. While there are set procedures for those who wish to apply for a license to set up a corporate enterprise, for decades there has been no set procedure for applying for a tehbazari license. Municipalities all over India stopped issuing licenses to street vendors since the 1960’s and those who got licenses represent only a minuscule proportion of vendors operating in any urban area. Thus the government has willfully trapped nearly 10 million street traders of India in a web of illegality that make them easy targets of human rights abuses.
Draconian laws against vending and brutal police action have never succeeded in making the vendors disappear. All it does is to strengthen the hold of extortionist mafias and anti social elements that prey on these self-employed urban poor. By making it impossible for people to get a legal entry point in this occupation municipal agencies have transformed a perfectly legitimate and socially useful occupation into an illegal, high-risk venture with criminal mafias controlling the entire sector of street vending. When an impoverished migrant comes to the city in search of work and decides to adopt street hawking as an occupation, since he cannot just walk into a municipal office and get a license and permission to set up a stall or a mobile rehdi he has no choice but to strike a “deal” with a local tout euphemistically referred to as the local “pradhan” to let him/her occupy a bit of space on a footpath or some public space to set up a stall.
Apart from ‘pradhans’ many of the municipal councilors also capture prime vending spots since they are the power wielders. They too then rent these out to individual vendors who not only provide them regular monthly income but also act as their agents and informers in the market. In addition, these vendors have to service them in various ways during elections as well as at the time of political rallies and other forms of show of strength vis a vis rivals. Politicians are constantly on the look out for strong-armed men who can be their henchmen in their constituency and use these touts to bring people for rallies and party functions as a show of strength.
Individual vendors as well some of their unions have had to fight long drawn out battles in the High Courts of various states as well as in the Supreme Court of India demanding the right to pursue their occupation legally. The judgment of 30th August 1989 delivered in the Saudhan Singh and Others Vs NDMC case ( 1989) became a historic landmark because it ruled that “…the fundamental right of livelihood under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution cannot be denied to street/pavement hawkers…” and that “street trading should be seen as a “legitimate trade, business or occupation”. The Supreme Court also ruled that proper hawking zones should be created in cities and towns so that hawkers could operate without inconveniencing other citizens. Vide orders dated 12.5.1993 in the case of Gainda Ram and Others Vs MCD and Others filed in 1986, the Supreme Court approved the following guidelines for issuing of tehbazari licenses to the following four categories of hawkers and the mode of issuing licenses to them:
Regular Tehbazari: Persons who could “prove” that they had been squatting continuously at a particular spot between 1970 and 1982 and whose names were contained in the survey report prepared by the MCD in 1982 were to receive first priority for grant of tehbazari in a fixed spot subject to the scrutiny of their claims and proof of nationality. They were entitled to have covered stalls in semi permanent structures.
Open Tehbazari: Squatters who had started hawking from 1983 onwards and who were not found on the date of the 1982 survey were to be considered for grant of tehbazari space of 6 ft by 4 ft (meaning they were not to put permanent or semi permanent roofs or coverings over their stalls) subject to the production of continuous squatting and proof of residence and nationality.
Casual Tehbazari: This involved licensing people who sell goods in weekly haats, or in bazaars organized on holidays, festivals and melas. At that time the MCD identified 67 weekly markets in Delhi. They have increased to more than 400 today, indicating the rate at which this sector is growing.
Pheri or Mobile Hawking: Persons who did not fall within any of the above three categories were permitted to apply for hawking licenses under section 420 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act of 1957. Their applications were to be considered on merit for permission to hawk -- not squat -- by moving in specified areas with their goods on their heads or on cycles or pushcarts.
Even though the Gainda Ram and Sodhan Singh judgments pertained to two cases filed by Delhi vendors, they provided a measure of legitimacy for vendors in other towns and cities as well to challenge clearance operations in various High Courts and demand and stake their claims to vending licenses.
Qualifying Criteria and Scrutiny of Claims
However, the criteria set for eligibility to apply for tehbazari were absurd and inherently prone to misuse. This was amply proved by subsequent events. According to the scheme formulated by the MCD vendors had to produce challans or fine receipts or receipts of “removal charges” of goods confiscated by the MCD during Clearance Operations from that particular spot for each year starting in 1970 or 1983, depending on whether the vendor was applying for covered or open tehbazari. These receipts of fines and penalties were required as documentary evidence to establish that the person was a bonafide vendor of that area. In addition the vendor had to prove present physical possession of the site through a “reliable” document. In order to ensure that a squatter/ hawker was a bonafide resident of National Capital Territory of Delhi, he/she had to submit a copy of Ration Card or proof of name included in the Voter Registration List. The squatter / hawkers whose Court cases were pending in any Court on 13.3.1992 were allowed to move applications up to 12.7.1993. In addition, site inspections by competent authority at various levels were required to establish the fact of actual squatting at the site. The allotments of squatting sites were to be made according to the seniority of each squatter as per the proof of his continuous squatting with priority given to those who could prove that they were among the earliest vendors in that area.
The New Delhi Municipal Council formulated a scheme through which those with proof of vending from 1977 onwards would be given kiosks or covered stalls, while those who could prove their vending status from 1978 to 1980 would get these depending on availability of space. Alternatively, they would get a tehbazari licence without space for a kiosk. The third category was defined as those who had “proof” of squatting at a particular site from 1981 to 1987. They too would get tehbazari licences subject to space availability. Like in the MCD scheme, applicants for the NDMC tehbazari were considered eligible only if they could present documentary proof such as receipts issued to them for confiscation of goods by the NDMC, challans by the police and so on.
The absurdity of these criteria becomes evident if one considers the following: A person who began hawking in 1970 was not informed and had no way of knowing that the challan papers would acquire such high value a couple of decades later and that the document showing economic assaults and violence inflicted on him/her by state agencies would be treated as the only qualifying criteria of his existence as a vendor and his right to continue in that occupation.
Challans by the municipal authorities or police are proof that the person broke a law and therefore has to pay a penalty. Instead of providing sensible legal entry points to street vendors, to privilege those for allotment of tehbazari who have the longest history of “law breaking” is to make a mockery of government’s legal and moral foundation. This encourages people to believe that all they have to do is to squat wherever they can, take beatings and pay fines to qualify for land allotment. This mindset has already caused havoc with urban planning with the urban poor forced to seek protection of mafias to squat on public land in the knowledge that this will entitle them to rights over a piece of land for housing or business.
More often than not, municipal inspectors confiscate goods without issuing official receipts. At other times, they make an on-the-spot settlement and let the vendor save his/her goods in return for a bribe. Therefore, every incident of confiscation of goods cannot be proved.
Many vendors run away as soon as they see municipal or police authorities swoop down on a market. The fact of a person being present as a hawker on the day there was a raid is impossible to prove, if the person happens to save his/her goods by running away.
Most vendors are either illiterate or people with minimal education. They either live on pavements or in crowded jhuggis where it is difficult to safely store documents, especially since even their jhuggis are often targeted for removal. Considering that even educated people with proper offices and filing systems do not keep documentary proof of every occasion when they are challaned for committing a civic offence, it is unrealistic to expect illiterate or barely literate street vendors to have each such proof of the municipal or police assault on them.
After the announcement of these inherently flawed criteria the municipal officials themselves created a whole new industry of manufacturing bogus challans for a price. Many legitimate vendors were forced to buy forged documents just as many who did not really qualify but had the money to pay up ended up getting tehbazari files prepared through MCD and NDMC touts.
Nearly 85,000 people managed to apply in the MCD area and 10,000 applied for the NDMC area despite the above-described absurd and stringent criteria. A large number could not even apply because they either failed to get the required information in time or failed to put together the required resources for procuring forged documents. Bribes were extracted at various stages apart from the hefty amounts (Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000) charged for getting bogus challans and other proofs of squatting. They had to pay additional amounts when inspection teams went to carry out on the spot checks. Those who passed that test and were cleared by the judicial investigation were asked to pay up when allotment letters had to be issued. Those who refused found that their allotment was handed over to some others who had not qualified. Only those who managed to pull strings in their favour in addition to pay offs succeeded in getting tehbazari. The claims of most of the bonafide hawkers were by-passed in favour of those with large bribes and political clout.
The Court had directed the Municipal authorities to take special measures to inform the people concerned of the criteria and the schemes under which they could apply. No such information campaign was launched. Even to procure application forms, vendors had to pay bribes. So acute was the dissatisfaction with the process followed by municipal authorities that several complaints were filed in Court. While the applicants did not object to the flawed guidelines set by the municipal agencies since most of those who managed to apply had money or political clout, they filed numerous objections in the Supreme against the manner in which the MCD tried implementing the scheme. For example, far flung areas where no business activity was possible were notified as hawking zones whereas those which had substantial flow of people and, therefore, offered a good business possibility were declared out of bound for hawkers. As a result the Supreme Court vide orders dated 13.5.1994 directed that a judicial officer of the rank of Additional District and Sessions Judge be appointed to look into the question as to whether the implementation of the scheme by the MCD and NDMC had been made consistent with the norms and procedure approved by the Court. Consequently two committees were appointed to examine the implementation process—Additional Sessions Judge Mr. Thareja was made in-charge of reviewing the N.D.M.C allotment of tehbazari claims and Additional District and Sessions Judge Sh R.C. Chopra performed a similar job for MCD areas. The reports prepared by both of them are scathing in their criticism of the functioning of the two municipal bodies with respect to tehbazari licenses and the corruption and mismanagement built into the system. To quote Justice Thaneja from his introductory remarks to his report:
“I thank Almighty who gave me the strength, coverage and patience to complete the sensitive and arduous task…against all internal and external forces of dishonesty, threats, temptation, attempts to change the course of justice, lack of punctuality of staff which resulted in consuming five and a half years in completing the task. I had concept in mind that in a democratic set up the Government is honest and fair and does not litigate with its citizens. The experience of working for local self government has changed my perception” (p.II).
Justice Chopra also indicted the functioning of MCD in the following words:
- In quite a large number of cases the applicants who should have been held eligible in terms of the scheme approved by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India have been held ineligible and denied allotment of squatting sites in violation of the norms and the scheme approved by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.
- There is substantial percentage of applications that have been held eligible wrongly in spite of absence of proof of continuous squatting. Some of them have been held eligible on the basis of manipulated or fabricated documents and many of them have not filed either proof of residence in Delhi or affidavit to swear that they have no shop, kiosk, stall or tehbazari allotted to them by any authority in their names or in the names of their spouse or children. Most of these persons were held eligible in violation of the norms laid down by the Supreme Court of India and in many cases there was a designed and deliberate departure from the scheme.
- In many cases the seniority of the eligible squatters has not been fixed correctly which has prejudiced their claims regarding allotment of sites.
- The importance of filing preference applications for the allotment of squatting sites does not appear to have been properly understood by most of the eligible squatters. It could have happened either on account illiteracy or lack of proper information. ……..
- In a large number of cases the allotments of squatting sites has been arbitrary and not consistent with the norms and procedure laid down in the scheme…The selection of approved squatting zones was unrealistic…where quite useless spots were declared as approved squatting zones where the squatters do not see any purpose whatsoever in squatting. This has resulted in reluctance of the squatters in shifting to the newly allotted sites. The approach could be more pragmatic in this regard.
- The MCD area has 12 zones; 84624 applications were considered out of which only 4128 were cleared. About 72,000 applications for squatting sites were rejected by different zones mainly on the ground that the squatters had not furnished satisfactory proof of continuous squatting. About 8,000 applications were accepted But only 2300 got clear tehbazari while the cases of 1700 of those approved are still stuck in disputes of one kind or another. Most of the licenses awarded however, were the tehbazari without specific sites being earmarked leaving enough scope for bungling, delays and confusion.
Despite the hard work done by Thareja Committee, less than 1000 licenses were actually issued by the NDMC. Even in these cases, it deliberately issued only tehbazari licences, knowing well that without a kiosk or site allotment, tehbazari does not amount to a licence to vend at a particular spot. It merely signifies a fee paid for using space.
Section 34 of the Police Act empowers the police to remove any obstructions on the streets that obstruct traffic or cause obstruction for pedestrians.. Hence, even if the municipal authorities give someone a tehbazari or demarcate areas as hawking zones, the police use this legal provision to evict street vendors at will and use that threat to extort bribes. Sodhan Singh, whose petition to the Court led to the historic judgment was himself removed from one place after another despite getting a tehbazari sometimes on grounds of security and at other times citing traffic obstructions. Further, names of trading places were mischievously abbreviated in a manner as to leave scope for bungling. For example, vendors were given to believe that the letters SB stamped on a vendor’s receipt gave on entitlement to trade in Sadar Bazar. But the municipal officials would evict the person saying SB only referred to Sunday Bazar. The municipal authorities also retained the right to cancel tehbazari if the vendor changed the nature of his/her trade. This too had to be challenged in the Supreme Court in 1998 because it is not uncommon for vendors to change the items they sell according to season and economic viability. The Court ordered that a hawker could change her trade if she wanted to, as long as it was a permissible trade. Yet another Committee headed by BC Chaturvedi was appointed to determine the final allotment of vendors’ trading licenses.
Till 1992, tehbazari receipts used to indicate the name of the trading zone in which a vendor could operate. However, after themselves declaring that removal fines and challans are valid documents to claim tehbazari licenses, from 1992 onwards, municipal agencies stopped mentioning the place from which a vendor was removed or had her goods confiscated, so that an evicted vendor has no “evidence” of the place in which he/she had been trading.
The process of inviting applications for mobile hawking was initiated in the May 2001, long years after the Supreme Court directions in this regard. Thousands of hawkers submitted a fresh round of applications after being given the false impression by touts that they would be allotted fixed tehbazari sites. They too paid hefty amounts for procuring forged documents. Those applications have yet to be processed. In the meantime, the MCD has announced yet another half-baked and corruption friendly scheme inviting fresh round of applications for allotment of tehbazari under the pretense of implementing the National Policy for Street Vendors.
The Farce of Clearance Operations
Municipal corporations all over India carry out routine “Clearance Operations” under the guise of removing unauthorized occupation of public land. However, they are not really meant to control or bring down the number of vendors, which keeps increasing despite the daily assaults and removals. Clearance operations are only meant to keep the terror alive and keep pushing up bribe rates.
The “Clearance” is either total or partial. Partial clearance means, the municipal truck comes and targets a few vendors at random for confiscation of goods and rehdis or whatever materials they have used to create a vending stall. There is not even a semblance of “due process” in all of this. The municipal employees swoop down and pick up what they can from whoever fails to run away fast enough to save his/her goods.
They often let their favoured ones, the touts and their henchmen, know in advance that there will be a municipal raid on such and such date so that their accomplices manage to save their goods. It suits the touts to have these raids because they too cannot retain their influence and control without the sword of removal hanging over the heads of vendors. But even these henchmen are not always spared, lest they get out of control and stop paying their dues to municipal employees, police and the municipal councilors.
By law the municipal employees are expected to give proper challans and receipts for goods confiscated. But they rarely do so. By law they are supposed to take each and every confiscated item to the municipal yard and make detailed entries in the register. They rarely do this because employees siphon off a good part of confiscated goods. The same holds true for confiscated carts. Some are entered in the municipal records but a large percentage of carts are sold back to vendors through the back door.
Often the fines imposed or the bribes demanded for returning confiscated goods are so outrageous that in most cases the vendors cannot afford to pay the sums demanded so that their goods are either stolen by municipal employees or rot in municipal godowns. This is illustrated by the following examples:
During a raid conducted on December 3, 2004, in which the local police participated, the following goods were confiscated under 20 different challans, one for every confiscated item, from two vendors one who runs a roadside food stall near Kotla Mubarakpur and another who runs a cycle repair shop. The list of confiscated goods reads as follows:
One rehdi • - one gas cylinder, 18 broken bamboos, one broken tin sheet • four saucepans, • one small kadahi, one pan • one wooden counter, one iron stool, • one board, • one broken bench one torn plastic sheeting • one plastic sheeting • one plastic sheeting • one wooden box • two bamboos • one box • one gas stove • one rehdi • one rehdi • one broken bench, one gas light,one wooden stool, some tools in a bag
Fine demanded for return of goods: Rs. 19,000
Cost of starting business again: Rs. 8 to 10,000
Loss of income for 25 days of enforced idleness for the two vendors: Rs. 10,000
The fines escalate fast because for each of the seized item the vendor has to pay Rs. 100 per day as store charges. It takes days or weeks for a vendor whose wares have been confiscated to arrange for loans and start all over again. The minimum fine for getting a confiscated rehdi released is Rs. 1850 plus Rs. 100 for storage charges for each day that the rehdi stays in MCD godown.
What this means for the poor is illustrated by Rajkol’s story. She is a 45-year-old vendor who is among the two-dozen women who sell seasonal fruits – mainly oranges or bananas – in small cane baskets in the inner circle of Connaught Place. She has been carrying on with this trade since 1984 when she and her husband migrated to Delhi since they could not find any work in their village near Jhansi. She and her husband, who works as a casual labourer, support five children (including two of their dead brother-in-law). She starts her day at 6 a.m. from her home near Ghaziabad and reaches Azadpur mandi by 8 a.m. After purchasing a basket load of bananas, she reaches Connaught Place by 10-11 am along with other fruit sellers from that area who share a tempo to bring fruit from the mandi. She is in Connaught Place till 7 pm and reaches home at 9 pm after a two-hour bus ride. Her daily transport expense is Rs. 40 (including Rs. 20 for carting the fruit). After fourteen hours of work (including commute time), she earns around Rs. 75 on better days. She and others like her are beaten out of the Connaught Place shopping area as and when the NDMC inspectors decide to crack their whip. On an average, the NDMC inspectors confiscate her tokri of fruit away once in a week – mostly without an official receipt. Not only does she lose that day’s earnings but also the capital investment. On the day she has to appear before the magistrate, she loses yet another day of earning and to add insult to injury she is made to pay a minimum fine of Rs 200.
The language of the challans issued to these vendors is in itself significant and revealing.
“Summon Banaam Apradhi - Dhara 68 of Penal Code 330 (9/264) 225 of NDMC Act of 1994, come before Special Metropolitan Magistrate.”
Thus, a woman who puts in fourteen long hours a day selling fresh fruit at reasonable prices as a means of earning a livelihood is treated literally as a criminal by our law makers and enforcers. This when ordinary consumers would be affected very adversely without the presence of such hawkers. Not every one of those who come to Connaught Place on business can afford to eat in the regular restaurants where a snack would cost anything from Rs. 20 to Rs. 150. Many find it more affordable, convenient and healthy to buy a couple of bananas and oranges as a cheap, quick and nutritious meal.
The drama of total “Clearance Operations” is even more sinister. For such operations, bulldozers often accompany the municipality trucks so that the entire segment of hawker market targeted for removed is razed to the ground and all the temporary structures put up by vendors broken and damaged beyond repair. Thereafter, the police is instructed and expected not to let vendors stage a come back as quickly, as they do in case of raids for partial clearance.
The vendors who are thus uprooted run from pillar to post to get “permission” to restart their business. They plead with their municipal councilor; they go and prostrate themselves before their area MLA and MP. They beg the police for “help” and “protection.” Each one keeps them dangling for days on end. Since vendors earn barely enough to keep going and many are already in debt, the period of enforced idleness means that whatever reserves they have are exhausted and many have to start borrowing money for sheer subsistence or for essentials like paying for their children’s school fee or medical treatment. Such loans invariably come at exorbitant rates of interest ranging from 60 to 20% per annum. As days turn into weeks and weeks into months, their desperation level rises with each passing hour. In the meantime, the touts and the police begin to allow a couple of select vendors to put up their stalls to signal that those who are ready for a new deal may be accommodated. The touts or pradhans then spell out the offer. For example, if the vendors of an area were paying X amount per month by way of bribes, they will be told that the monthly payment has to be upped Y amount. In addition, they are told to put together a lump sum to seal the new deal.
The following example illustrates the amounts that are thus gathered from the vendors: On May 14, 2002, Municipal Corporation Central Zone carried out a Clearance Operation in Babu Market removing nearly 100 vendors stationed near the railway crossing of Lodhi Colony. By June 14, 2002, the uprooted vendors were back to business at the same spot. How did this happen? Each vendor paid Rs. 2000 lump sum to the police and MCD. Vendors carts and stalls in India are among the most miserable and dilapidated structures seen anywhere in the world. Vendors dare not invest in technological or functional improvement of their rehdis and stalls because these vehicles and structures are liable to confiscation and destruction by the municipal agencies. In addition, the monthly bribe rate was upped by several hundred rupees. Today, each vendor pays Rs. 2000-2500 per month as “protection money” in this market and yet remains insecure.
Thus the main consequence of raids and Clearance Operations is erosion of savings and loss of assets and income and long periods of enforced idleness, which leads to indebtedness, which exacerbates their poverty.
On the basis of citywide interviews, Manushi calculated that in Delhi alone the terror unleashed by the threat of Clearance Operations targeted at vendors leads to loss of income due to bribes and confiscation of goods worth Rs 500 crores per year, plus enforced idleness for long periods and heavy indebtedness. As per estimates provided by SEWA in Bombay vendors pay close to 400 crores a year by way of bribes to the municipal inspectors and police.
Despite High Powered Policy Interventions
In addition to mostly ineffectual interventions by the Supreme Court and various cases in the High courts of India, there have been two national level policy reform measures by the Central Government. In August 2001, the Prime Minister’s Office announced a new policy for street vendors and cycle riskshaw pullers in response to Manushi’s campaign on behalf of these two sectors.
Key Features of PM’s New Policy are the same as listed in the reform measures proposed for the cycle rickshaw sector:
The most notable aspect of this policy document is that it acknowledges that the number of vendors in any area is determined by the customer traffic in the area and the best way to keep numbers under check is through the market mechanism rather than fixed quotas. It also endorsed the need to dismantle the existing License Quota Raj for vendors rather than merely announce a higher quota for licenses. However, the entire administration went overboard to defy and sabotage the policy ordering more frequent clearance operations. Instead of declaring vending zones, the city administration started declaring large parts of the city as non-hawking zones – including prime shopping areas like Connaught Place.
In the same year a Task Force for Street Vendors was appointed by the Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation for drafting a National Policy for Street Vendors, which was duly adopted by the Central Cabinet in January 2004.
Key features of this policy are as follows:
- Lays down rules for ‘regulation’ instead of ‘prohibition’ of street vending. Licensing to be replaced by a simple registration process.
- Recommends adoption of a system of registration of hawkers and non-discretionary regulation of access to public spaces. Requires setting up of Ward, Zonal and Town Vending Committees with representation of street vendor organizations and other stakeholders.
- Advocates that the number of licenses issued be proportional to the population size of the city indicating that approximately 2.5% of urban population is usually found in street vending.
- Mandates that street vendors cannot be evicted in the name of beautification or cleaning drives. They can be evicted only if the land is needed for an explicit and legitimate public purpose. It also states that if vendors are evicted, they should be simultaneously rehabilitated to restore their livelihood to previous level.
- Stresses the need for easy access to credit and insurance as also water and sanitation.
- Emphasizes self-governance and by vendors of hawker zones.
- Calls for amendments in police and other laws that are archaic and are being misused by officials to harass and collect hafta.
- But despite repeated interventions by the courts and adoption of the National Policy for Street Vendors, municipal authorities all over India have failed to implement orders requiring them to rationalize the licensing system for vendors. If anything Clearance Operations have become more frequent and more violent, even in smaller cities. While Special Economic Zones are being created with speed and determination by acquiring farmlands, often in the teeth of stiff opposition, very few towns and city governments have made provision for Hawking Zones. In a few cities, a token amount of space has been earmarked for hawking zones. The disregard for the livelihood concerns of the urban poor is evident in the fact that the ambitious Jawahar Lal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission does not even mention the need to provide space for micro enterprises in City Development Plans. All over India, including in Delhi, vendors are being daily uprooted and evicted in the guise of beautification and under pressure from Traders Associations as well as Mall owners who want to eliminate the competition offered by vendors because they sell goods at relatively lower prices. The battle is becoming more and more unequal as the elite sections and town planners develop ambitions for western style gentrification. In such an environment vendors are portrayed as causes of chaos and disorder and become easy targets. The battle is becoming so grim that there have been several cases of self-immolation by street vendors to protest clearance operations without alternative sites being provided to them in their respective cities. (See article: Manushi issue 153 of 2006)
Even though the Supreme Court has ruled that street vending is covered under Article 19 1 (g) which guarantees the right to livelihood as a fundamental right, in recent years it has passed several hostile orders against vendors. For example, in response to a petition filed by the Chandni Chowk Vyapar Mandal, the Supreme Court passed an order on March 8, 2006, that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi should remove all unauthorized street vendors from Delhi since it had failed to produce a workable plan for creating authorized Hawker Zones in Delhi. The MCD was given eight weeks within which to present a realistic plan to implement the National Policy for Street Vendors (NPSV). But in the meantime the Court ordered the MCD to submit a compliance report within four weeks on the action taken to evict all unlicensed street hawkers.
The Court failed to pay heed to pleas that if the hawker zones are created after the hawkers are driven away through police action, who will be given the vending sites in the still to be created Hawking Zones? This would only increase the likelihood of powerful local politicians in collaboration with lower level municipal officials to corner most of the prime vending spots for their henchmen or exercise benami ownership over them. In addition, the Court conceded to the demand of the Chandni Chowk Vyapar Mandal that this prime business area be declared as a non-hawking zone. This is in clear violation of the National Policy for Street Vendors, which recognizes that vendors have to have places in busy commercial areas rather than be banned from them. The Court has also endorsed the proposal of Delhi Municipal Corporation to invite applications for 300,000 licenses using similar procedure for verification of claims as laid down in the Gainda Ram scheme which had to massive frauds. While no realistic plan for creating adequate hawking zones or granting tehbazaris has been put in place, extortionist mafias are already minting money from vendors by “helping” vendors fill application forms and get the required “documentary proofs” for determining their eligibility.
In the meantime, Clearance Operations are in full swing.
Even more absurd was the Order that street foods should be altogether banned on the specious grounds that they are a health hazard. This despite the fact that studies have shown that bacterial contamination levels in street foods cooked on the spot are often much lower than in restaurant cooked foods in India because the vendors cook in full public view whereas cooking in restaurant kitchens is hidden from public view. With very poor enforcement by health authorities food in low-grade restaurants is far more likely to be contaminated (see Street Foods by Irene Tinker, Oxford University Press). Moreover, only street vendors can provide affordable food to the urban poor, most of who depend entirely on street foods for their survival, especially those who have no housing. The Order did not succeed in banishing street food vendors. All it did was to jack up the bribe rates for street food vendors still further.
Given this scenario of heightened assaults on street vendors, it is not surprising that street vendors are joining both genuine and spurious protest movements against the entry of corporate sector players in the retail trade in India. The entry of international retail chains such as Walmart and Marks & Spencer is likely to provoke even greater hostility if the Government continues to create the impression that it is willfully destroying the vibrant Swadeshi Retail Sector (SRS) represented by vendors to make way for Videshi Retail Sector. The least they deserve is a level playing field.
It is a testimony to their unique entrepreneurial genius that in spite of routine use of state violence against them, street vendors and hawkers continue to be a vibrant and vital part of our economy offering stiff competition to the “modern” retail sector, including luxurious shopping malls, fancy department stores and retail outlets set up by the corporate sector which spends millions of rupees every day for adverting and promotion campaigns. However, they do so under extremely dangerous conditions with extortionist mafias that include police, local politicians and their touts as well as municipal officials fleece vendors of a large proportion of their meager incomes leading to higher price for consumer goods.
Trade plays the same role for an economy that blood circulation does for the human body. Just as the human body gets diseased and may even die if unnatural obstructions are placed in its arteries and veins, the health of an economy is seriously jeopardized if needless bureaucratic obstructions are placed in the way of trade and flow of goods from the producers to the consumers. Without an active and vigorous flow of goods and easy access to markets, no society can sustain vibrant economic activity for long because criminal mafias inhibit and thwart healthy entrepreneurship and depress incomes by keeping people’s livelihoods under their grip.
The Government is soon planning to introduce model legislation for street vendors. However, without an effective and honest implementation machinery in place, the new law will suffer the same fate as the National Policy for Street Vendors, as is evident from the fate of a small pilot project Manushi executed for the MCD to create a model hawking zone for street vendors.
History of the Model Market at Sewa Nagar
A key argument offered by municipal agencies and the police for not legalising the status of street vendors is that street hawkers cause obstructions for other road users and also spread chaos and squalor. To combat this official prejudice against vendors Manushi offered to take responsibility to show by example how:
A) Vendors can be accommodated in the city in an aesthetic and orderly manner.
B) Security of livelihood and avenues for upward mobility can be provided for the self-employed poor by giving them access to space for developing their entrepreneurial skills;
a) The existing system of payoffs and protection rackets run by politically connected mafias who indulge in routine human rights abuses to extract bribes can be replaced with fee based access to market space which enhances municipal revenues and curbs the growth of criminal mafias who parasite on the poor in urban areas.
We raised funds through personal donations from Manushi supporters, hired a team of architects and submitted a detailed plan of action to MCD. Each project member voluntarily signed an oath (Shapath Patra) on Rs. 10 stamp paper agreeing to abide by the following disciplines:
- Pay a monthly rent of Rs.390/ to the MCD through Manushi;
- Contribute towards the salary of the Cleaning Brigade specially hired to maintain cleanliness in the project area;
- Stay within the agreed-upon Sanyam Rekha, (Line of Discipline) Hawkers who do not observe this discipline agreed to be fined Rs. 100 per violation of Sanyam Rekha.
- Promise not to build any extra structures above or outside the stall area;
- Promise not to sell or rent out the allotted stall.
Those who violate these disciplines are liable to have their membership cancelled and the stall sealed. Manushi also took the responsibility for redesigning the rehdis and vending platforms to improve their functionality, cleanliness and aesthetic appeal. We also arranged ICICI loans for vendors to pay for the cost of new stalls. Manushi also bore the cost of ensuring rent compliance from all those street vendors who opted to become part of the model market project.
Seeking Legal Sanction for Model Market Project
A major breakthrough in getting sanction for the pilot project occurred after the MCD got a pro citizen Commissioner, Mr. Rakesh Mehta, who strongly backed this project. The MCD Commissioner approached the Supreme Court to allow the M.C.D. to undertake two pilot projects, one at Sewa Nagar and the second near CGO complex in collaboration with Manushi to try to demonstrate by concrete example how vendors could be accommodated in the city landscape in an orderly and aesthetic manner. It would also create a model for rejuvenating our cities without throwing out the poor who would in fact become tax payers and contribute to city’s maintenance and infrastructure development rather than be seen as a nuisance. The petition filed in the Supreme Court argued forcefully that the existing tehbazari system had facilitated massive extortion rackets and widespread human rights abuses. It admitted that the restrictive licensing policy had proved a dismal failure in controlling the number of vendors in the city, which keep increasing with the overall rise in population of Delhi. Therefore, there was need to evolve a more realistic system of licensing. The petition also informed the Court that if the pilot projects proved successful, they would provide a model for creating hawking zones all over Delhi
On April 10, 2003, Supreme Court gave a go ahead to MCD to execute two pilot projects with the following words of caution:
“…The implementation of any policy or project, howsoever well motivated it may be, depends on the bona fides and whole-hearted faithful implementation by the agencies involved in the execution. We only hope and trust that such projects and policies shall not be shadowed by corruption and red-tapism which, unfortunately, has become the order of the day…”
An Agreement was signed and registered between MCD and Manushi for the Sewa Nagar and CGO Complex Pilot Projects on April 7, 2004. Mrs. Ambika Soni supported the Sewa Nagar project with Rs 25 lakhs from her MPLAD fund to build the required civic infrastructure in Sewa Nagar, including new pavements, stall platforms, park plazas, drains etc. Dr. Karan Singh sanctioned Rs 10 lakh from his M.P.LAD fund for the CGO complex project but the local police made it impossible for us to execute the project, despite clearance from the Security Wing of CGO Complex. MCD Commissioner could not do much about it because the land was temporarily under CPWD charge. They were hostile to the project and kept postponing transferring that area of land to the MCD.Reasons for Repeated Attacks.
The Sewa Nagar project started in October 2004 amidst violence and repeated assaults from the police and local extortionist mafia for the following reasons:
- Since membership of the project gave them legal protection vendors who are members of the Manushi pilot project stopped paying monthly bribes. The local mafia was outraged at this.
- Manushi refused to give in to threats, violent attacks and blackmail tactics of the local mafia including intervention by well known political leaders, who wanted a certain number of stalls to be handed over to the “ their men” who act as local touts for bribe collection and play a “helpful” role in elections.
As a result, the new civic infrastructure was repeatedly damaged and the new pavements, drains and stalls were time and again vandalized during and even after construction. Project members were repeatedly subjected to violence, intimidation and life-threats to make them abandon the project. When the terror tactics failed, the mafia approached the High Court for a stay order on the basis of bogus and flimsy allegations. The High Court refused to grant a stay. But the mafia dons keep filing more and more bogus objections to harass and tire us out.
The local mafia indulging in these attacks belongs to the nearby village, Kotla Mubarakpur. The main figures are the Basoya brothers (Babli, Mahipal, Pinky and Ajay) who run several legal and illegal businesses from the area, a Class IV employee of LNJP Hospital in Delhi, a notorious character named Chavanni, and a mysterious man named Sanjay who refuses to reveal his reveal his real identity and calls himself “Hindustani”. They are able to mobilize other anti social elements of the area with ease since they are bound together through ties of kinship, crime and corruption. At the local level, both Congress and BJP leaders offer them support and patronage. Twenty years ago Basoyas were among the lower rungs of Kotla Mubarakpur. The eldest son Mahipal began his life as a tempo driver. But over the last two decades through a mix of crime, extortion, robbery and illegal occupation of government land they have today amassed assets worth crores. Their new found wealth provides valuable insights into how those rising from the ranks of the poor fleece the poor with far greater ferocity and how those making money through illegal means inevitably gravitate towards politics and manage to find patrons cutting across party lines.
Apart from owning a flourishing transport business including a fleet of tempos and taxis, the illegal businesses run by Basoyas include the following:
- Extortionist money-lending, at 120% per year interest from local street vendors and other needy people. They use terror tactics to extract their loan repayment and have used this tactic to illegally take over stalls of several vendors. ( Most of these were sealed on January 4, 2007)
- An unregistered Kameti (Chit Fund) business that acts as a supplement to their money lending business. Those in need of loans are induced to join the Kameti and lift money at a loss and thereafter made to pay hefty instalments of Rs 7000 to 10,000 per month. Those unable to pay are charged 120% interest on defaulted instalments. Many have fallen into the debt trap because of this Kameti racket. Most of the vendors are unable to make sense of their complex calculations since the whole business is conducted without any written receipts. Yogesh’s account given below provides a graphic account of how their money lending and Kameti business go hand in hand.
- Making and selling duplicate copies of pornographic and other CDs. They hold shows of blue films at night at their adda.
- Buying and selling stolen petrol and diesel. People have witnessed government and private company cars come and deliver petrol and diesel to them during odd hours of day and night. They sell this at slightly discounted price to local people.
- Selling illegally tapped power supply and ground water at exorbitant prices to shopkeepers and residents of the area. For example, they charge Rs.300/- per month per fish vendor and those selling cooked food for the supply of water from a bore pump they drilled illegally in the public park. Similarly, each vendor has to pay Rs 10-20 per day for stolen electricity.
- Extorting money from local vendors by running a “protection” racket charging Rs 50 to Rs 100 per day from each vendor who operates under their protection.
- In addition they own farm land and two multi storey buildings in Kotla Mubarakpur from which they get a rental income of over 1.25 lakh per month from working class tenants who are given little cubby-holes at high rents.
- The Tempo Stand acts as their base and adda where anti social elements of the area gather daily for drinking liquor and creating terror by routine assaults and attacks on vulnerable individuals.
Mafia’s Modus Operandi for Grabbing Stalls
Unable to grab stalls through violence or blackmail, the local mafia developed a new strategy. Due to the absence of credit facilities many vendors are in their debt. Even when they pay hefty instalments, the debt keeps mounting because the interest rate is astronomical. The money lending mafia began to surreptitiously take over the stalls of some of the indebted vendors by making them sign off their rights on Rs 100 denomination stamp paper.
A sample of their criminal ways of money making is provided by the account of Yogesh Kumar as to how they tried to grab hold of the allotted stall to him. In April 2003, Shiv Kumar-- one of the members of the local mafia led by Basoya brothers and Bhagat Singh, persuaded Yogesh into taking a loan of Rs 35000 at an interest rate of Rs 120% per annum to invest in his business much against the wishes of Yogesh’s mother. From May 2003 to December 2005 Yogesh paid Rs 3500 per month by way of interest for the loan of Rs 35,000. However, from January 2006 to March 2006 Yogesh was unable to pay the monthly interest because he was not left with enough money for running the household expenses. Yogesh was threatened that he should either pay a lump sum of Rs 50,000 or transfer his stall in Shiv Kumar’s name. When he resisted, the leader of this gang Mahipal Basoya insisted that Yogesh should join their Kameti (Chit Fund) group for 200,000 rupees, lift the money and pay off his debt to Shiv Kumar. Since joining the Kameti meant paying a hefty monthly instalment ranging from Rs 7,000 to Rs 9,000 per month which Yogesh could ill afford, he was very reluctant to do so but was threatened into accepting the deal.
In September 2006, they forced Yogesh to lift the Kameti at a loss of Rs 60,000. Shiv Kumar took away Rs 70,000 as his dues on the loan of Rs 35,000 he had originally given Yogesh who was handed over merely Rs 30,000 in hand for a Kameti of Rs 200,000. Mahipal claimed the rest of the amount as penalty for joining six months late.
After that for one whole year Yogesh paid to Mahipal Basoya a monthly instalment ranging from Rs 7,000 per month to Rs 9,000 for the Rs 200,000 Kameti totalling to over Rs. 80, 000. But this hefty instalment meant that he was left with no money whatsoever for his household expenditure. His wife had to work as a domestic help in order to supplement the household expenditure. This created a lot of tension in his family. Therefore, he stopped paying Kameti instalments. At this point Bhagat Singh and Basoya brothers forcibly took away his new scooter, which had been purchased on instalments by his father. In addition, they forced him to open a bank account and issue several blank cheques to them in order to black mail him further since bounced cheques can lead to a jail sentence.
Thus on a loan of Rs 35,000 Yogesh has already paid them more than Rs 3,63,000 by way of interest, including loss of his scooter. Yet by September 2007 they began claiming nearly 120, 000 rupees more in order to clear his dues or else transfer his stall to their names. He was told that if he refused their demand he would be beaten out of the market. This was not an empty threat. They had used exactly the same tactic for “purchasing” the stalls of several other members of the pilot project. Whoever dared resist was beaten up and driven out of the market. The pressure to sign away his stall in the name of Basoyas got so intimidating that in sheer panic Yogesh simply fled from the market and took shelter in a nearby town with some distant relatives without informing his mother or wife regarding his whereabouts. After weeks of searching his mother Saroj Devi finally traced him down and brought him to Manushi for help. We helped him file a police complaint as well as a court case but despite our best efforts we have failed to get a simple F.I.R registered so far.
When these illegal transfers of stalls came to the knowledge of Manushi, we requested the Deputy Commissioner of Central Zone to seal the stalls, which had been ‘purchased’ illegally from vulnerable project members. Therefore, on January 4, 2007 eleven stalls were sealed by the MCD. This firm action aimed at the mafia unleashed a new and more deadly wave of violence and terror against Manushi.
The reason for the violence is understandable. Due to the transformation of Sewa Nagar from a slum-like hawker market to a neat and well-developed area, the market value of each stall and the combined value of the entire pilot project area is today worth several crores. Each stall already commands a black-market price of Rs.5 to 15 lakhs depending on its location. Before Manushi beautified the area, the vending spots used to sell for prices ranging from Rs 1 lakh to 1.5 lakhs. The local politicians and their mafia associates are not willing to allow an ordinary vendor to have usufruct rights over a property whose market value is rising fast given the short supply of commercial space in Delhi. They are being ousted one by one through force and fraud. These criminal elements join the bandwagon of whichever party comes to power. Therefore, they are able to get the patronage of political leaders of all hues who are all united by common interest – to ensure that the livelihood of vendors stays captive in their grip so that they do not dare resist paying bribes and do their bidding at election times.
Manushi Workers Beaten Out
Since April 30th, none of us can enter that area without risking our lives. I myself have thrice narrowly escaped being lynched to death by them. I have been threatened with gang rape and worse if I dare pursue the matter further. The most active among project members (Mehboob, Ishwar Lal, Shahid, Yaseen and Raj Kumar) who had played a vital role in organizing project members and bringing about civic discipline in the area were brutally beaten up in a series of violent incidents starting April 19, 2007 and driven out of the market. They were warned not to dare enter the market or else they would face death. Other members are also threatened daily, roughed up, terrorized, fleeced and forced to sign all kinds of bogus documents and petitions against the project without even being shown the text. What is worst, after each incident of assault, I and other members of Manushi have patently bogus criminal cases filed against us subjecting us to soul-destroying harassment.
Since this group of anti social elements posed a serious threat to the survival of the pilot project, following numerous complaints by project members regarding the criminal acts of the local mafia, the Deputy Commissioner ordered the removal of the Tempo Stand in very categorical terms as recorded in the Minutes of the MCD meeting held on June 6, 2007:
“It was decided that since the Tempo Stand has become the hub for anti social elements out to forcibly takeover the project property and stalls, determined action should be taken to get the unauthorized Tempo parking and the illegally constructed office of the Basoya Tempo Stand removed from the project area. After getting it removed with police protection, the local police should be informed that the Basoya Tempo Stand should not be allowed to reoccupy space in the Sewa Nagar area.”
Following this decision two clearance operations were carried out with police support. But within the same hour the tempos would come back to the same spot near the park plaza. The Deputy Commissioner then wrote a long letter to the Police Commissioner detailing why it was important to ensure permanent removal of the Tempo Stand from Sewa Nagar. He requested the Police Commissioner to:
- “Book and charge sheet cases against those who have indulged in violence against law-abiding vendors and office bearers and staff of Manushi Sangathan for performing legitimate functions under the MCD project. The charge sheets should include attempts to illegally take over MCD property, threats, blackmail, extortion and coercion against vendors and Manushi Sangathan (for which ample evidence has been provided to Kotla police station) and for booking false cases against Manushi Sangathan with a view to harassing and coercing the organization into abandoning the project.
- Enforce the permanent removal of the unauthorized tempo and private taxi stand operated by Basoya brothers whose removal has been twice executed by the MCD.”
However, since the police was extremely reluctant to take determined action against the gangsters, their attacks and threats continued unabated. Therefore, we had to seek the intervention of the Lt Governor of Delhi who took a very positive view of the pilot project. He supported Manushi’s demand for police protection for the pilot project, including installation of CCTV cameras in the area to keep the local anti-social elements under check and prevent them from attacking Manushi members and as a counter blast strategy falsely implicate several Manushi members as well as me personally in false criminal cases. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has taken an active interest in policy reform for street vendors, intervened personally and asked for determined action to save the project from mafia elements. In a letter dated December 18th, 2007 the LG’s office issued written instructions to the Police Commissioner that CCTV cameras should be installed at the earliest possible. To quote from this letter:
“The LG is of the view that installing CCTV cameras in the areas pointed by Madhu Kishwar cannot brook any delay. This facility will help in giving a boost to setting up the projects contemplated to locate vendors meaningfully not only in Sewa Nagar but in other areas of Delhi. On this issue specific directions have been received from PMO(Prime Minister Office). …The LG is of the view that the criminal activities of the Bhagat-Basoya group must be curbed with a firm hand so as to ensure that their activities are not an obstacle to the functioning of the Pilot Project for setting up Street vendors in Sewa Nagar.”
Unfortunately, the cameras have not been installed so far. Therefore, the gangsters operate freely in the area, continuing with their terror tactics.
Attacks Continue Despite Prime Minister’s Lt Governor’s Interventions
To give the latest example of the kind of murderous attacks we have had to face, I reproduce extracts from my police complaint of December 31, 2007,
“I reached Sewa Nagar around 12.30 p.m. [on December 31] after duly informing the SHO of the area that I was visiting the area to take some photographs along with Manushi staff memebr Sheeshpal. He parked the car in front of the park. I got out of the car and began taking some photographs. Ajay Basoya, Babli Basoya, Pinki Basoya, Kuku, Mahipal Basoya, Mohan Yadav along with some of their associates were sitting on chairs laid out in the park plaza. When I started taking pictures, Mahipal’s mother repeatedly stood in front of the camera. I felt that it would be a waste of time to get into an argument with her since she had attacked me on earlier occasions as well. Hence, I proceeded towards my car.
As I turned back, Mahipal’s mother caught me unaware, pulled my hair and hit me repeatedly. She then kicked me and pushed me into the drain in front of the park. As she was punching and kicking me Ajay Basoya, Pinki Basoya, Mahipal, Babli and Kuku also began kicking and punching me. The Basoyas all joined the chorus saying “ We will not let this randi go out alive from here.
When Sheeshpal saw me getting beaten up, he rushed to rescue me, but Babli Basoya, Pinki Basoya, Kukku, Mohan Yadav and Ajay Basoya pounced on him and started hitting him with a danda. As they gave him repeated blows I heard them say, “we will not let this harami go back alive today.” They hit Sheeshpal on his legs, arms and back with a danda. Pinki Basoya caught hold of Sheeshpal’s neck in a bid to strangle him and I saw Sheeshpal almost choke to death.
Mahipal’s mother pulled my hair and repeatedly banged my head my head against the sidewalk. With the help of my arm and my shawl, I managed to save my head from concussions but in the process injured my right arm. Then Mahipal called out to his men saying: ‘Snatch away the camera of this randi and thrash her up so much that she dares not enter this area again.’ Ajay was saying: ‘Today we will tear up her clothes, strip her naked and beat her up in the open.’ When Mohan Yadav came to snatch my camera, I hid it in my lap and bent double over it to save it from being robbed. [They had earlier snatched two other cameras of Manushi in similar violent incidents.] Ajay Basoya, Mahipal Basoya’s mother and Mohan Yadav punched and kicked me further…. During this mayhem, Mahipal Basoya’s mother and Ajay Basoya said, ‘Let us shove them into her car and set fire to the vehicle. They will not learn their lesson till their dead bodies are taken out from this market.’ Saying this they attempted to force open my car door thus damaging my car. Mahipal Basoya’s mother also said, ‘Before I kill her I will strip this randi naked and get her gang raped in front of everyone in the market.’ While they were beating me Basoya brothers and their mother kept saying: ‘Let us catch hold of Mehboob and Ishwar and thrash them up as well.’ Fortunately, Ishwar and Mehboob had gone to the Electricity Board office, otherwise they would have ended up with broken bones.
Even after the police arrived they continued beating and hurling abuses at us, and were not letting us get out of the mob they had collected. When the police took us to the police station, they along with their entire gang, including their drivers and cleaners, reached the police station and created a riotous situation there as well and kept threatening us openly. With great difficulty, the police were able to take us out of the thana to All India Institute for a medical check up. These people literally shadow me around wherever I go. One of their own associates—Roshan told me that the Basoyas and Bhagat gang have arranged for a supari [contract] of Rs 50,000 to get me eliminated. I have been pelted with huge stones on previous occasions with an attempt to kill me.”
As a result of this attack, my entire body was covered with bruises and my right arm suffered injuries with several torn ligaments. Even after 6 weeks of the attack, my right hand is still in severe pain and cannot be used for simple tasks, including writing. On the same evening this gang went and looted the stalls of three vendors (Ram Singh, Manoj Yadav and Angoori Devi) and threatened them with dire consequences if they continued associating with Manushi on dared give testimonies against any of the gang members. This was meant as an object lesson for all others. All three of them risked their very lives to go and file police complaints against them. Similarly, Yogesh Kumar who had been blackmailed to surrender his stall despite having paid Rs 363000 interest on a loan of Rs 35000 also sought the intervention of the Magistrate’s Court for getting an FIR registered on his complaint. Despite orders from the Magistrate’s court, the police have resisted registering appropriate cases against gang members admitting to political pressure as the reason for non-action.
Fraudulent Counter Cases and Defamation
The police did register an FIR on the basis of my complaint of December 31st and some earlier attacks on me, but they also allowed the attackers to lodge several false complains against Manushi including “attempt to murder” charge against me alleging that I had tried to kill one of their aunts by ordering my driver to ram my car into her. They also alleged that when they protested, my “henchmen beat them up.” This has been their standard strategy. After every single attack on Manushi members, they lodge all manners of fraudulent counter cases against us. They are even able to buy newspaper space for spreading these lies by influencing reporters through money or political influence. Two such fabricated reports appeared in Midday and another one in Tehleka. While Tehelka offered an unconditional apology in their issue of February 11, 2008, for their reporter having been misled by mafia elements, Midday continued with the falsehoods despite repeated warnings thus forcing Manushi to sue the paper and the reporter for criminal defamation.
The message of the mafia is clear: they want Manushi to withdraw from the market so that the mafia can take over the project stalls and other assets unhindered. Manushi has filed a Criminal Writ in the High Court on May 22, 2007 to seek protection for the lives of our members and against the forcible takeover of project property through force and fraud. After the December 31st attacks on me, I have been provided round the clock police security and a police picket have been posted in the Sewa Nagar market. That has enabled our core team members – Mehboob, Ishwar Lal and Raj Kumar to return to Sewa Nagar to resume their business but their lives are still under threat.
The Lt Governor had ordered that leading members of the Bhagat-Basoya gang be externed from Delhi since even after registering of some cases against them, they continue to run amok. The police did serve an externment notice to them but no follow up action has been taken due to political pressure from local leaders of both the Congress and the BJP. Leave alone externing them from the city, the Bhagat-Basoya gang are seen openly socialising with the police picket on duty. Most worrisome of all the police has resisted filing FIRs against this gang despite solid complaints by several affected vendors and despite clear written instructions from the LG’s office.
Larger Significance of the Sewa Nagar Project
We bring the plight of Sewa Nagar project to public attention because the fate of the National Policy for Street Vendors is linked with the fate of this pilot project. For example, as per the mandate of the National Policy for Street Vendors, the MCD has announced that it will be allotting 3,00,000 tehbazari licenses and vending sites in Delhi. Given the severe shortage of commercial space in Delhi, these vending kiosks are seen as prized assets. At a modest average of Rs 10 lakh per vending kiosk/stall, 300,000 tehbazari sites represent assets worth Rs 30,000 crores. The Ward vending Committees in each municipal zone have been filled with local mafias with political patronage. Each corporator has been unofficially assured a minimum allotment of 100 kiosks each as part of sharing of booty between municipal employees and the political leaders. If the Government appears too weak to resist the takeover of a small pilot project from criminal mafias, it cannot possibly save hawking zones and kiosks in the rest of the Delhi and other cities from being similarly grabbed by political mafias. The process of applications and selections so far adopted by the MCD for grant of tehbazaris has the making of a humungous scam. We have demanded the following:
- An empowered independent Commission headed by the Lt. Governor of Delhi should be set up to institutionalize a rational, honest and accountable system for legalizing the status of street vendors and to prevent extortionist mafias and vested interests from capturing vending kiosks and stalls in hawking zones.
- A citywide computerised database should be created by a credible and independent agency to identify those who are actually operating on the streets, their exact location as well as the total number of street vendors actually operating in Delhi as a first step towards determining who qualifies to get tehbazari.
- Appropriate punitive action against criminal mafias who are out to destroy and grab the pilot project.
- Installation of CCTV cameras in the project area to keep local criminals at bay and provide safety of life to project members as well as prevent the project stalls and other assets being taken over by mafia elements.
The manner in which the National Policy for Street Vendors is implemented has implications that go far beyond the right to livelihood of street vendors. When vulnerable citizens see the police join hands with extortionist mafias, they lose respect for laws and law enforcers leading to greater crime in society. Today all our markets are in control of criminals with political links. They don’t stop at preying on the poor. The growing political clout and money power at the disposal of criminals renders every one unsafe, no matter how many security guards they position outside their homes. Safety is indivisible and we all have a stake in ensuring the security of livelihood of all citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable.