Targeting Assets: Street Vending and the State’s Eviction Strategies

By Swajal Samrat

The street vendors are of as much importance as any other formal sellers in the market. However, the mainstream argument has been that they encroach public places and even if they are removed from there, their absence won’t be felt. The local authority is constantly trying to remove them from their business and evictions are carried almost every day, in every city. The targets of the Encroachment Departments of Municipalities are the ‘assets’ that these vendors own. Whenever the evictions take place their assets are taken away. The assets owned by these vendors range from their carts, weighing machines, the plastic tents, mats, electricity bulbs etc. The assets are made targets because it incurs higher losses — the street vendors can’t afford to buy new assets every now and then. This blog focuses on these assets that are often built up little by little by the vendor, through small investments over a long period of time.

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WEIGHING MACHINE: It is one of the most important tools required for vending, particularly for fruit and vegetable sellers. Its confiscation stops the business and leaves them helpless for many days; as it takes two to five days and sometimes 15 to 20 days to Encroachment Department (ED) to return these materials. The Street vending act 2014 says that the confiscated goods and assets should be returned in one to two days but the ED officers do not follow this. This complaint was made by many vendors in Pune during the conversation and this is true for all the ten markets we visited.

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THE TENTS: The tents are widely used by the vendors across the city. The sunny weather and the monsoon create a demand for tents made of various materials such as plastic, bed sheets, bamboo sticks, etc. When confiscation takes place, tents are the first target. The tents are expensive. Many a times these tents get damaged so much that it can’t be used again even if returned after ‘Pauti’ (a fine paid to Municipality).

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THE CARTS AND CHAIRS: The mobile vendors mostly use carts to vend across many places, though all the cart user vendors are not mobile. It costs anything between ten to twenty thousand rupees to buy a cart. The carts to these vendors are like their limbs as stated by one vendor. If it gets confiscated their life comes to a standstill. Though the carts are returned, at times the other materials like chairs and tools are not returned by the municipality.

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THE SPACE: The vending place itself is a big asset to the vendors. It determines which customers will visit them when and where, and hence the income of the vendors. They vend on the places where the customers are more in number. Also there are many places where the value of the space has been created by these vendors over period of time. When the above fruitseller’s shop was relocated (to the location shown the left) by the municipality he left a message scrawled in red on the wall saying ‘The fruit shop has been relocated opposite the municipality’. He also left his mobile number for his loyal customers. However, he returned a few days later to his older spot since found no customers there. The spot provided by the municipality, as seen in the image on the left, remains empty. 

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VIRTUAL ASSET: Demonetization compelled many vendors to go for this virtual payment mode. Though very few of them are literate the promotion drive by e-wallet servicers has helped them operate devices and continue their business during demonetization, though they do not completely rely on this payment mode anymore.

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.html

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