A View From The Top: What Government Officials Think of Street Vending

By Sanika Godse

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Paud Phata Fish Market, Photograph by Martin Pheiga

The livelihood of street vendors is influenced by an intricate grid of customs, laws and regulations, and an array of state and non-state actors that interact with them daily. While the existing perspectives pit the state against street vendors, or else, points to the active collusion between state functionaries and vendors; this piece seeks to nuance the characterisation of the state actors vis-a-vis the vendors by highlighting how state actors perceive and empathize with street vendors. Thus it shifts the lens away from street vendors and captures the perspective of three state actors that influence the livelihoods of the fish vendors at Paud Phata Fish Market. How do they understand and imagine the role of street vendors in a city?

Zonal Encroachment Department Officer: The ‘Encroachment Department’ evokes images of ruthless, violent eviction drives. But while interviewing the Zonal Encroachment Department officer, I got a different perspective. As he explained the procedure of eviction drives, and the procedure of reclaiming the confiscated goods, he talked about how deeply it pained him to carry on with the drives. He spoke about feeling sympathetic towards poor vendors, migrants, elderly vendors etc. While these sentiments did not prevent him from carrying out his duties, interestingly, this was not just a mere feeling. Even though he believed in protection of the vendors’ rights, he said there was a gap left by the absence of clear-cut guidelines which would govern and restate the duties to be carried out by the Encroachment Department. The duty (occupation) of the officer is inherently in conflict with his social conscience.

Food and Drug Administration Officer: The FDA is one of the key stakeholders to the profession of vending, since they supply licences to all vendors selling edible items. Since food standards have to be followed strictly, it has an important task of keeping constant vigilance over the kind of food, hygienic practices etc. followed by the vendors. Since they are also involved in proceedings of court cases, they have to be very careful about the identity of a person before issuing a vending certificate for food items.

However, the officer I spoke to said that while photo-IDs, proof of residence, other identity documents are required to issue a food vending licence,  the FDA relaxes the norms and is flexible enough to allow people who do not possess any such documents to obtain a licence with a simple affidavit saying that they would not indulge in malpractices. The officer earnestly talked about conducting workshops to create awareness about hygiene, raising the standard of quality of services provided by the vendors and general awareness regarding safe food practices among vendors as a part of their already overburdened job profiles.

Here, we can see the opportunity of convergence between the officer’s occupation and his socio-economic consciousness. His duty, which allows him to enable vendors to carry out their occupation, becomes an enabling factor for the larger question of livelihood as he seeks to improve their knowledge base, implications of their actions, and an improvement in their standard of living.

Town Vending Committee member — Vendor Union Leader: One of the TVC members who was a Union Leader of Street Vendors, spoke about how the Union is not simply designated for grievance redressal, but also to codify professional ethics for the members. According to him, the members of his union were very cooperative with other stakeholders like pedestrians, residents of localities, and especially women in their surrounding areas, unlike non-union member vendors who harass them (allegedly in Mumbai).

He spoke of creating workplace ethics of mutualism, where hawkers would save the residents fuel, time and money by vending goods at specific times in their societies. The society in turn would provide the hawkers with amenities like fresh water, shade, storage space etc., provided they shared fraction of the bills for the same.

Some might argue that this is a very utopian idea of the functioning of a Vendor’s Union, but the sentiment behind these ideas is addressing the question of livelihood of all stakeholders, rather than just addressing the professional issues faced by Vendors.

However, the most significant statement made by him was that the progress of a Union is indicated not by its consolidation, but by its disintegration. After completing its function as a negotiator on behalf of individual vendors, the larger objective is to empower all vendors to live a steady life. The process of protection of livelihood, will be complete after the Unions are dissolved simply because they will have outlived their purpose.

Conclusion: It is perhaps wrong to assume that the state is an agent of violence and is blind to the poverty and vulnerability of street vendors. The perspectives of the state actors also reveal that they are also human and recognize street vendors as people and not simply an official category that is to be regulated and controlled as per law. Unfortunately this recognition does not always translate into more humane actions and thus reveals the internal contradictions that state officials face while acting according to the diktats of law.

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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