As per the Ministry of Urban Development, nearly 10 million persons earn their livelihood in India from street vending. It is estimated that 2.5% of the urban population is engaged in street vending. Accordingly, Delhi alone uses the services of at least 4,50,000 street vendors. But less than 3000 persons (less than 1%) have managed to secure vending licenses from the MCD and that too after prolonged legal battles in the High Court and the Supreme Court of Delhi. The situation is no different in other urban centres of India. The illegal status of vendors makes them easy targets of extortionist mafias. In Delhi alone, vendors end up suffering an income loss of at least Rs 500 crores per year by way of bribes and confiscation of goods while being routinely subjected to systematic blackmail, terror and human rights abuses.
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 Vendors can be accommodated in the city in an aesthetic and orderly manner; 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; 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:
a) Pay a monthly rent of Rs.390/ to the MCD through Manushi;
b) Contribute towards the salary of the Cleaning Brigade specially hired to maintain cleanliness in the project area;
c) 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. Repeated offenders were made to pay higher penalties.
d) Promise not to build any extra structures above or outside the stall area;
e) Promise not to sell or rent out the allotted stall.
Those who violate these disciplines agreed to have their membership cancelled and the stall sealed. Manushi also took the responsibility for redesigning the 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 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. 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, similar orderly hawking zones would be created all over Delhi. These would create a role 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.
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 charge of the Central Public Works Department. They were hostile to the project and kept postponing transferring that area of land to the MCD.
For a pictorial history of Manushi’s battles for the rights of street vendors and the Sewa Nagar project click here.
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:
1). 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.
2). Manushi refused to give in to threats, violent attacks and blackmail tactics of the local mafia including the local municipal councillor, MLA and Member of Parliament, 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 goons indulging in these attacks belongs to the nearby village, Kotla Mubarakpur. Apart from the direct henchmen of the local MLA, the leading figures of this gang are 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 named Bhagat Singh, a notorious character and history sheeter 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. They began their careers as a tempo drivers. 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:
1) 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.
2) 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. For Yogesh’s account providing a graphic account of how the poor are held hostage by money lending mafias in the absence of regular credit facilities for the urban poor click here.
3) Making and selling duplicate copies of pornographic and other CDs. They hold shows of blue films at night at their adda.
4) Peddling drugs through indebted, vulnerable vendors and running a small scale prostitution racket.
5) 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.
6) 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 to paid them Rs 20 per day for stolen electricity.
7) Extorting money from local vendors by running a “protection” racket charging Rs 100 to Rs 200 per day from each vendor who operates under their protection.
8) In addition they own farm land and two multi storey buildings in Kotla Mubarakpur from which they get a rental income of over 1.50 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 goons 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. 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. 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 is how the amount kept escalating.
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.
They were warned that if they dared enter the market again, they would not be allowed to go out alive.
Theirs were not empty threats. 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 led to an all out war against Manushi making it impossible for us to operate in that area.
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, each vending spot used to sell for a price ranging from Rs 100,000 to 150,000. These illegal transactions are executed by entering into an “agreement to sell” on a Rs 100 stamp paper. 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 Volunteers Beaten Out
April 30th, 2007, the Basoya gang beat up and robbed project leaders Mehboob and Rajkumar as well as a woman volunteer of Manushi Rita Sharma. The idea was to hound out the group leaders and terrorize the others into quiet submission. Needless to say, the local police refused to take action against the culprits. None of us can enter that area without risking our lives. I myself have narrowly escaped being killed by them on three different occasions, in addition several minor physical attacks. I have been threatened with gang rape and worse if I dare pursue the matter further. For an account of these attacks click here. The most active among project members (Mehboob, Ishwar Lal, and Raj Kumar and three others) who had played a vital role in organizing project members and bringing about civic discipline in the area were brutally beaten 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, looted, robbed, fleeced and forced to sign all kinds of bogus documents and petitions against the project without even being shown the text. (For statements of vendors alleging blackmail and violent attacks click here. )
What is worse, 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:
a) “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.
b) 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 local police have been actively supporting the gangsters, their attacks and threats continued unabated. Therefore, we had to seek the intervention of the Lt Governor of Delhi. 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 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 till date. Therefore, the gangsters operate freely in the area, continuing with their terror tactics. They have beaten up police not only protect the gangsters but also assist them in filing false counter cases against the victims.
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 police security and a police picket have been posted in the Sewa Nagar market. That enabled our core team members – Mehboob and Ishwar Lal to return to Sewa Nagar after a period of 8-9 months to resume their business but their lives are still under threat. Mehboob has also been implicated in false cases. For details click here.
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. 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. This policy mandates that vending licenses and sites be given to all those presently hawking on streets in various urban centres. (For the text of the National Policy for Street Vendors click here.) Instead what we are witnessing is more aggressive clearance operations being carried out by municipal agencies all over India and increasing mafia control over public spaces and vending activity. 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. This strengthens their stranglehold over politics and administration.
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.
The Silver Lining: Gains Made so Far
Despite the setbacks to the Sewa Nagar project, Manushi has achieved major victories at the level of policy reform.
1) In response to Manushi Public Hearings and advocacy campaign, in the year 2001, former Prime Minister Shri Vajpayee announced new policy guidelines for street vendors and cycle rickshaw pullers of Delhi clearly endorsing Manushi’s critique of the existing policy and recommending a more rational framework for issuing of licenses on the lines demanded by Manushi. (For the text of PM’s new policy click here.
2) In 2001 the Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation constituted a National Task Force for Street Vendors to draft a new national policy for street vendors. Manushi was an active member of the Task Force and participated in drafting the new policy.
3) In 2004, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh constituted a National Commission for Micro enterprises in response to Manushi’s advocacy for an agenda of economic reforms for the self-employed poor. Manushi was on the advisory Board of this Commission.
4) UNDP’s International Commission for the Legal Empowerment of the Poor has selected the Sewa Nagar project as an emulation worthy role model.
5) Manushi played a leading role in assisting the Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation to draft model legislation for providing security of livelihood to street vendors, which is likely to be introduced in parliament soon.
6) In December 2007, Mr Rakesh Mehta, (Chief Secretary of Delhi Government) was appointed by the Lt Governor of Delhi at the behest of Prime Minister of India to suggest ways of saving the Sewa Nagar project and reforming the corruption prone licensing procedures for all of Delhi’s street vendors. Mr Mehta has fully endorsed the long standing emands of Manushi for the formation of an independent and empowered Task Force for this purpose in order to keep political mafias away from the licensing procedures for street vendors and to conduct an independent photo census in order to identify genuine vendors. (For Mr Mehta’s report click here.
7) The present MCD Commissioner, Mr V K Mehra has constituted at Manushi’s behest, a Special Committee to work out a concrete scheme for grant of vending licenses and creation of hawking zones in Delhi. For a copy of the detailed Plan of Action I submitted to this Committee click here.
8) At Manushi’s behest, the MCD Commissioner has also commissioned architect and urban planner Pradeep Sachdeva to design three major pilot projects in Delhi where roads are being redesigned in a manner that there will be proper spaces for hawkers, pedestrians and separate tracks for cycles and rickshaws. For these designs clicks here.
Appeal for Help
We seek your help and support in carrying forward the work of policy reform for street vendors to its logical conclusion. Contributions by cheque payable to Manushi Sangathan may be sent to the following address: C1/3 Sangam Estate, 1 Underhill Road, Civil Lines, Delhi 110054.
For donations from overseas, click here.
All contributions will be acknowledged via our web site, and a duly audited statement of accounts also made public on the website.