Abandoning Slots for the Street: Lessons from the deserted Mahatma Phule Mandai

By Shivam Shourya

The Street Vendors Act (2014) intends to provide vending zones to street hawkers. The hawkers are supposed to be issued licenses for designated places where they can freely run their businesses. The proponents of the Act believe this will clear off the roads for smooth vehicle mobility and also protect the hawkers from multiple vulnerabilities. In short, assigning a place away from streets seems to be the solution for several issues like traffic congestion, informality of markets and harassment of hawkers by local authorities. But will this be effective? In order to find answers to these questions, we need to assess the successes and failures of similar efforts in the past of allocating a dedicated place for vendors. The Mahatma Phule Mandai of Pune was the outcome of such an effort. Our study of Mandai tells us that mere allotment of a vending zone does not serve the purpose and there are many factors which must be considered for the success of such a vending zone.

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Source: Vaishali Gadgil/puneheritage.blogspot.in

Established in 1886, the centrally located Mandai is one of the oldest markets of Pune, built under the aegis of the then Governor of Bombay Presidency, Lord Reay. The eight wings of this mammoth building have in total 536 stalls meant for vending. Also, the Indo-gothic architecture of this Grade 1 heritage stone structure serves as a major tourist attraction.  It is known as Mahatma Phule Mandai, in the honour of Jyotiba Phule, the well known social reformer of pre-independence times. For all the advantages and historical significance Mandai holds, the market now bears a deserted look. Most of the stalls remain vacant. Much area of the wings are now exclusively used to accommodate stacks of potatoes, onions etc. 

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Most of the stalls remain vacant. Much area of the wings are now exclusively used to accommodate stacks of potatoes, onions etc. 
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Once vibrant and busy, today the market sees very few vendors and has a deserted look.

While the Mandai remains deserted, a completely different picture can be seen on the adjacent Amrale Road. The footfall increases with the sunset and in no time, the road becomes difficult to navigate through, both for pedestrians and vehicles. Large number of sellers have relinquished the comfort of trading at dedicated plots of Mahatma Phule Mandai and grabbed a spot on the nearby street. Without the stable slots, they use makeshift infrastructure such as carts, plastic mats, rubber tyres and wooden baskets. The question that arises is: What has pulled the sellers away from the stalls of this historical market to the streets? Why do they choose to face scorching sun and fierce rain when they already have a better place to run their business?

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While the Mandai remains deserted, a completely different picture can be seen on the adjacent Amrale Road. Large number of sellers have relinquished the comfort of trading at dedicated plots of Mahatma Phule Mandai and grabbed a spot on the nearby street.

After several interviews with sellers inside and outside the Mandai, things started getting clearer. The few sellers who have worked in the inside wings of Mandai and Phule market for the last four to five decades spoke about how things have changed over the years. Every stall was occupied by a vendor with permissions to trade. Every seller had to have proper documents to give legal backing to his/her exclusive rights over stalls. Of course, they had to pay monthly rent also to PMC. Customers used to come inside Mandai in large numbers. In other words, it was all very formalised, something which the Street Vendors Act (2014) envisages. The adjacent road was used only for traffic movement, but in-migration into the city from various districts of Maharashtra started taking its toll.

“I can’t (work on the road). I am too old now. I am fine sitting here and patiently waiting for customers. But I miss those good old days. There were so many people around here. It was fun. But now it is scary. I feel lonely.” — A 70-year-old coconut seller. 

The new vendors and migrants who had opted to take up this business were left with no stalls/plots in Mandai so that they could not be accommodated. The wings were already saturated. Moreover, no fresh surveys and registrations were conducted so that the new vendors could be issued any certificate or license to sell at any designated place. With no choice left, these new vendors started using the road as their point of sale. Each of them grabbed a spot as per convenience and gradually attained permanence there. From the customer’s perspective, this was convenient. They were no more required to look for parking, get off their vehicles and roam around the stalls. They could come, buy and depart in a jiffy now. The Amrale road was slowly but steadily growing into a ‘natural market’.

The burgeoning number of hawkers sitting on the roadside were taking away the loyal customers from vendors sitting inside the wings. They were losing visibility. Left with no incentives, the vendors quit their allotted plots and started moving towards roads. Cut-throat competition began to grab a lucrative spot. Only few of the vendors could survive the race. Those who were/are old, or sellers with disabilities could not cope with the vulnerabilities of sitting on the road, and continued with their trade inside Mandai, half-heartedly. A 70-year-old woman engaged in selling coconuts inside the old building of Mandai, said, “I can’t (work on the road). I am too old now. I am fine sitting here and patiently waiting for customers. But I miss those good old days. There were so many people around here. It was fun. But now it is scary. I feel lonely.” Such vendors depend only on those customers who have familial relations with them and purchase goods from them solely because of outside relationships and acquaintance.

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The Amrale Road has now developed as a ‘natural market’.

The political affiliations and connections also mattered. Vendors who had the backing of political parties and local leaders managed to get place on street, while they also retained their stalls inside Mandai. They continue paying the nominal rent of Rs 60 per month. For instance, a 70-year-old garlic seller remarks, “I know them. They know me, Why would they evict me?! My mother used this road for business. Now me. They just request me to pull back the goods if they happen to encroach on the carriageway. They also know about our Ganpati union. They attend our functions and events. So I don’t have any problem sitting on the street.”

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On Amrale Road, without stable slots, the vendors use makeshift infrastructure such as carts, plastic mats, rubber tyres to set up stalls. 

And then there are few vendors who neither have political affiliations nor proper documents that authorize their activity on the street. Needless to say, they are the most vulnerable. One of them is a 40-year-old native of Latur, who sells fruits of various kinds on a handcart. He claims, “I have been evicted many a times. Two months back, I was evicted. It is now a part of my livelihood. They do not just confiscate my cart but also throw away the fruits. They also charge a fine of Rs 500.”

“It is not the location of hawking but the quality of goods and services produced that pulls customers. So the pretext given by vendors to take refuge of roads is completely baseless and ridiculous.” — Member of Pune Town Vending Committee

What do these stories tell us? Informality can promote a conducive environment for hawkers and customers to trade conveniently that, to some extent, the formal setup does not allow. Mahatma Phule Mandai buildings, both new and old, stand testimony to the historic triumph of informality over efforts to regulate markets. Furthermore, unless we formulate a plan which can deal with rehabilitating new vendors in sync with the already existing vending practices, there will not going to be any successful vending zone. But it seems the authorities have not yet got the message. One of the members of Pune Town Vending Committee, claimed, “It is not the location of hawking but the quality of goods and services produced that pulls customers. So the pretext given by vendors to take refuge of roads is completely baseless and ridiculous”.

The Street Vendors Act 2014 puts a cap of 2.5 percent of the city population to be the total number of registered vendors. Such a ceiling limits not just the market size but also gives space for the blooming of informality. Even when all the vendors constituting the 2.5 percent would get registered and relocated to different vending zones, the Act won’t recognise the new vendors, their challenges and their contribution in city economy. Further, they will again distort the market equilibrium, defeating the entire purpose of the Act. The lesson from Mandai should be studied in depth so that several proposed vending zones do not meet the same fate.

The Summer institute is a full-fledged 3 credits course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. It is conducted as a continuous module of approximately 2 weeks  duration, involving immersion in a community and location. This year’s institute studied the socio-political dynamics of street vending, especially in relation to the recent Street Vending Act (2014) that cited key constitutional provisions in support of street vendors and established guidelines for state governments so that the state can safeguard the vendors’ right to livelihood. In the following month, we will be posting some of the students’ research in the form of blogs, photo essays, narratives, life stories and analytical pieces that describe in great detail the everyday lives of vendors and local street markets. Watch this space for more.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website: http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute

 

 

 

 

 

 

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