Smart Cities and Street Vending: How New Plans and Policies impact Hawkers

By Prachi Mahajan

Aundh stock picture
A stock image of a neighborhood in Aundh. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the month of October 2017, as a part of our Urban Policy and Governance course work at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, we conducted a study in the streets of Aundh. Nine streets of Aundh were proposed to be redesigned as a part of Pune city’s Smart City Mission, including a stretch of road from Parihar Chowk to Breman Chowk and a part of Dhole Patil road (popularly known as DP Road).

Aundh is an affluent suburb in the north-west of Pune in Maharashtra, India. Since the mid-1990s it has developed significantly as a residential area with proximity to the University of Pune and the Software Technology Parks of India Complex at Hinjewadi. The suburb can be divided into the old Aundhgaon and the newly constructed suburban areas.

The road from Parihar Chowk to Breman Chowk is currently being redesigned as a part of Smart City Pune project. The layout of the road plans to address traffic problems during peak hours and parking problems. Moreover the layout has a well designed space for pedestrians, a cycling track and sitting arrangements around trees, Wi-Fi, vertical garden, etc. However, this road has been declared as a No-Vending Zone.

This article outlines that though there are policies for the street vendors in place, the vendors are not well informed about them. Following a protracted struggle, resistance movements and national mobilisation of hawkers by hawkers and activists for almost two decades, the Government of India brought out a progressive piece of legislation – the The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014, that does not frame street vendors as offenders but instead promises legal recognition of hawkers and protection from forced evictions. Although the laws are written on paper, the vendors are not well-versed with those laws. The article argues that the ambitious Smart Cities Mission has failed to strike a chord with the economically impoverished strata of the society, who could face displacement once the projects are implemented. Not only were the vendors clueless about the smart city plan, but those who had attended a presentation held by us on the matter could hardly comprehend the salient features since it was too technical.

We decided to conduct a quick study in nine major stretches in Aundh to understand the plight of street vendors. The first street vendor we spoke to was a juice shop owner and he has been working in the area since 2001. He said that the Municipal Corporation team comes regularly for inspection and takes away the items for sale in his shop. In order to get the items back, he has to bribe the police by paying them Rs 500. This puts the vendor at a loss because instead of earning profit, he has to pay fine to the police so he can continue to earn his livelihood in order to sustain his family. He has also applied for a licence over five to six years ago. He has also paid Rs 5000 to an official in order to get the licence but still has not received his licence. He still has receipts of his application. He said that most of the residents also complain that he should not be allowed to sell goods but some residents are very cooperative as they try to understand the needs of the street vendors. He also has an alliance with the house across the street where he could keep his goods at night free of cost with the permission of the owner.

The second vendor we spoke to was a shoe polish vendor and he also had the same problem. He did not get a licence but he wanted it. He has been there since five to six years. Another vendor whom we talked to had a seasonal shop. He sets up things for Diwali, Holi, etc. He also had the same problem that he had applied for the licence but did not get it. When Municipal Corporation people come they take his goods from the shop which means that he is displaced from a particular place. He has been there since ten years. When there was no development as such and the streets were not developed and there were no people roaming around, it was considered unsafe to walk in that area at night and stealing was common at that time. He also had the same problem that the residents complained  about his shop despite the fact that they have an opportunity and are comfortably able to purchase goods of daily use from his shop. The only thing he wanted from the smart city mission was a space for vending.

The vendors just knew that there was a policy for street vendors but they were not at all aware about it. In other words, they were not aware of the basic rights and facilities which they could avail by registering themselves with the trade unions. The senior police are very hostile towards street vendors. They keep on moving them away. Despite the law on paper, that is, the Street Vendors Act (2014), the conditions of the vendors have become even worse as they earlier just had to pay to the police and now they also have to pay a bribe for the licence but still do not get their licence. We need to understand the fact that there have been so many movements for the street vendors yet their conditions have not improved. Despite the act being implemented they are not informed about their dues.

The module formulated by the government is not at all inclusive and has clearly not been thought through. The street vendors were told that once the smart city plan comes into place, they will be allotted systematic shops to function from but they have no idea where they will be shifted when construction starts on that stretch. The vendors and hawkers were earlier given a presentation on the matter but it was so technical that they could not understand what was being discussed.

In almost all states, a major problem with the smart city plan is that the common people barely get a chance to put forth their demands and requirements. The presentations given to the people are often so technical that they fail to understand what exactly is being communicated. There is a huge confusion as to whether the street vendors will be displaced or what arrangements will be made for them while the work is on.

In summary we have tried to analyze and define the informal sector. However, we are still a very long way from really understanding this phenomena which is of such major economic, political and social importance in all countries, developed as well as underdeveloped.

Street vending is spreading dramatically. As a result, to compete with others in the local market, vendors increase their hours of work. What we further observed in our study is that the vendors are less aware of the government policies which are available to them. What we found interesting was that they easily disclose the sum of amount which they give to the local police. Hence, we think that the government should provide the vendors with legal space for their activities.

The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit Course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.

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