Bringing out the best of BEST: A Campaign to Save Mumbai’s BEST bus service

By Gitanjali Sharma

 

August 7, 2018 was the 71st anniversary of the BEST services in Mumbai. To mark the occasion, on August 6, 2018, the Centre for Urban Policy and Governance and Amchi Mumbai, Amchi BEST, organised a panel discussion at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. The panel discussion, titled ‘Better than BEST? The Future of Public Transport in Mumbai’ addressed  the systematic attempts by the BMC and BEST management to undermine the services of the BEST. The panel featured academics, transport experts, citizen activists, union leaders who debated and discussed what is ailing the BEST, and what are some of the strategies to convince the BEST management and the BMC that BEST needs to be subsidized, that the unregulated growth of private vehicles needs to be discouraged, and that BEST needs to regain its position as an urban affordable, sustainable and universally accessible mode of public transport. The panel speakers included feminist activist Sandhya Gokhale; Amita Bhide, Dean, School of Habitat Studies, TISS Mumbai; Jagnarayan M. Gupta, Union Leader and Head of BEST Kamgar Sangathana, and Ashok Datar, Economist and Transport Analyst, Chairperson of Mumbai Environmental Social Network. The session was moderated by Dr. Ratoola Kundu, Assistant Professor, Centre for Urban Policy and Governance, TISS Mumbai

For the last seven decades, the BEST buses have been a lifeline of Mumbai. However, in recent years, bad planning, poor management, lack of investment and woeful maintenance of the bus fleet has led to reduction in the number of buses. As mentioned by Jagnarayan M Gupta in his presentation, 112 routes that were considered not profitable have been suspended and close to 95 trips have been cancelled on the pretext of lack of ridership by the Municipal Corporation of the city. The BEST problems are a result of (a) government policy that is single minded in the encouragement of private automobiles creating unbearable congestion on roads, (b) lack of investment in upgrading and improving BEST fleet and operations, and (c) repeated fare hikes since April 2012 that have led to a drop in ridership. The real crisis of BEST is the decline of public bus ridership, and the ruinous expansion of private transport, which has led to the growth of traffic congestion, pollution and deterioration of public welfare (People Plan, 2018). Ridership of BEST buses has fallen by a third, from 42 lakh to 28 lakh or even less, in a span of a few years. There have also been a series of protests over the issues of chronic delays of the salary of the BEST employees, the scrapping of bus routes and buses that aren’t put to use.

In order to contain the problems, the BMC and the Municipal Corporation wants to further reduce bus routes, increase ticket prices and privatise of bus operations. However, before  deciding whether privatisation is the right way to go, we need to first understand how ‘public’ are our public transport modes”.’  During the panel discussion Dr. Amita Bhide argued that in order for BEST to be seen or function as a public service and not a public enterprise, it needs to be operated by a public entity. She said, “In order to serve the public of the region it needs to be funded by public money. A public service is amenable to public scrutiny, it needs to be transparent in its operations and finances. Moreover, a public service is not concerned about bottom lines or profit but its focus remains on making the city more accessible to all citizens. The BEST must be viewed as an integrated system that is linked to other modes of public transport, and not as a service that functions in isolation. Most importantly, the public who are the users of the service, should be involved in the decision making with regard to the future of BEST. The absence of this understanding is evident throughout the cities in India leading to fragmentation of public transportation. We need to stop viewing the riders as customers and alienating them from the decision making process.”

Sandhya Gokhale, a feminist activist, added that while a public service must focus on factors like cost, time, reliability, service frequency, physical comfort, security, etc, safety, especially women should be their primary concern. “Women feel safer in public transportation, and the working women of Mumbai rely more on BEST buses than on trains. This should be incentive to push harder to save the BEST,” she said.

Union leader Jagnarayan M. Gupta argued for the case of the BEST workers, who in recent years haven’t received increments and in some cases their wages have been held. He also spoke in detail about how mismanagement of buses and bus routes has led to severe losses.  “In recent years, buses have been detained due to lack of staff leading to disruptions in the frequency and schedules of buses. The ticket hikes have driven away customers. The routes have been arbitrarily scrapped by claiming that they are ‘non profitable’. On the other hand, new buses have been added in the Bandra Kurla Complex, while BEST’s own 230 buses have been sitting at depot unused, left to rust,” he said.

Continuing Gupta’s argument, Ashok Datar, economist and transport analyst added that the mismanagement of roads and the priority given to motorised vehicles was the main enemy of the BEST. “The biggest occupier of space and the cause of all the mayhem is parking,” he said. “Rather than managing the roads more efficiently, BMC has been putting the blame on the BEST services for running inefficiently.”

At the end of the panel, the audience asked about the future strategies that Amchi Mumbai Amchi BEST was looking to employ and how were they planning to build a broader support system. It also asked how inclusive and participatory was the nature of the campaign, since the city has multiple ‘publics’ with varied needs and agendas.

With all these problems, there is an urgent need to redefine the problem and seek a solution that is collectively drawn up. However, simply giving in to privatisation will not end the problem, there needs to be a holistic solution. A step towards finding a solution has been articulated by Amchi Mumbai, Amchi BEST in their Charter of Demands. https://amchibest.wordpress.com/2018/07/03/aamchi-mumbai-aamchi-best-campaign-demands/

The campaign Amchi Mumbai Amchi BEST has also recently released “People’s Plan for BEST” that contains alternatives from the people of the city. You can read the plan at https://amchibest.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/a-peoples-plan-for-best_2018-august.pdf

 

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Commoning of Governance: Students Suggest How to Make Streets more Inclusive

Over the last six months, we have published articles written by our Master’s students that sought to examine the existing processes of governing the street. What kind of a social space is the street? Is it an urban commons? Who does it belong to? What kind of negotiations and everyday contestations define the nature of the street as a social space? The stories we heard were varied, and rich in information and detail. They spoke of how the street can be a space to practise religion and spirituality, but also a space for entrepreneurship, for earning a livelihood, for relaxing, and for celebrating. Other articles critiqued the idea of the Smart Street that turns an open, multi-use street into a homogeneous, structured space that displaces the marginalised, increases and legitimises surveillance and allows fewer negotiations. We wrap up the series with a recap of the methods used and sites visited during the institute, and suggestions from the students on ways to make the process of governing street more inclusive and participatory in nature.

What is the Winter Institute?

The stories were written as a part of the Winter Institute,  a full-fledged three credit course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program at the School of Habitat Studies, TISS Mumbai. The institute is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. This year, the Winter Institute was held in collaboration with Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Pune, an organisation that is actively involved in urban issues in Pune. Through immersive and intense fieldwork, this exercise was designed to develop a critical understanding of how urban streets are perceived and used by multiple stakeholders through formal and informal mechanisms of governance (codes, rules, regulations and practices) and to indicate spaces and mechanisms that support “commoning of governance” of the street – i.e., spaces/ mechanisms/ institutions that enable collaboration, facilitate sharing and cooperation for collective action to co-manage and co-create the street as urban commons. The exercise was seen as particularly significant in light of the radical socio-spatial transformations that certain streets were undergoing in Pune as a result of the Smart City projects.

How did we go about it?

The exercise took place in the residential cum commercial Aundh-Baner-Balewadi area in Pune where the idea of a world class city is being pushed through a slew of physical infrastructure projects that seek to reconfigure the space of the streets and uses of streets as part of the area-based proposal of the Smart City Mission in the city. The fieldwork was done over a period of ten days by 20 students, divided into 6 groups analyzing 9 streets which were to be developed under the Smart City pilot project. The students conducted detailed transects of the streets in the Aundh-Baner-Balewadi area. They also interviewed a variety of stakeholders from residents, shopkeepers, vendors, cyclists, motorists, etc and interacted with the street design consultants, engineers from PMC, vendor’s union etc. Interviews with city officials and consultants were facilitated by CEE. as part of the exercise. Finally, CEE also organised a mini public, bringing multiple-stakeholders onto a participatory discussion table with the help of the students and their work in the area. With the overarching theme, ‘commoning of governance’, the idea was to identify uses of the street and its users, identify the stakeholders and conduct a stakeholder analysis of the area and understand the role and needs of various groups of the society.

What did the students study?

The Smart City Mission was launched in June 2015 by the Government of India under Ministry of Urban Development as an urban renewal and retrofitting programme with the stated aim of making the cities sustainable, inclusive and citizen friendly. Pune was selected as a part of the Smart City Project in the country to receive funds from the Central Government in the first round itself after performing well in the 2-stage selection process (Smart Cities Mission, MoUD). In consonance with the guidelines of the Mission, the PSCDCL has come with its mission proposals. The first point in the proposal document states: “A smart city constantly adapts its strategies incorporating views of its citizens to bring maximum benefit for all”. The Mission therefore intended to plan and implement the projects through participatory processes.  However, in 2016, a Special Purpose Vehicle – the Pune Smart City Development Corporation Limited (PSCDCL) was formed to implement the Mission in Pune bypassing the urban local body.

New guidelines for street re-design for the city were drawn up by experts and consultants, building upon a certain conception of “Complete Streets”. These interventions were spatially concentrated in the Aundh-Baner-Balewadi area – the designated location for the Area Based Development aimed at reclaiming streets as vibrant public spaces accommodating multiple uses and users and prioritising people over cars. The effort to redesign streets was underlined by a process of multi-stakeholder consultations and citizen engagement which unfortunately did not fully specify whether stakeholders such as the street vendors were included in this vision and if so, how. At the same time, Pune created a space to foster mechanisms and dialogues amongst various stakeholders of the urban street, including the vendors themselves by proactively forming a Town Vending Committee to protect the livelihoods of street vendors and secure their right to the use of the city’s footpaths and road sides. The Winter Institute was designed to explore the existing governance structures on the street, including conflicts, alliances and negotiations between various stakeholders – both formal and informal, and to look for further perspectives on how these structures would function in the context of the interventions and transformations brought about by the Smart City.

Recommendations and Suggestions

Based on two weeks of research the students reached the following conclusion and suggestions:

It is clear that the participatory process claimed in the Smart Cities vision document, as well as the spirit of the 74th Constitutional Amendment are missing on the ground. If the commoning of governance is to be the metric of judging the 9 streets project, there is precious little to celebrate. While the design established the “Streets for All” concept in consonance with central policy, it failed at the implementation stage due to the conflicts between the residents and the street vendors. The inability of the institutions that surround them to bring them onto the same platform meant that only the voice of the powerful was heard. As the report demonstrates, in the absence of formal, open fora for the voicing of issues and necessities by the people, alternative methodologies of applying the change one wants to see has resulted. The stakeholders, as analysed, have precipitated into pressure groups – each with its own agenda and more importantly, no equal platform to communicate with the other pressure groups. Thus the alliances made are tenuous at best, and the conflicts remain unresolved.

Citizen’s meaningful engagement in the envisioning process of their city is important not only in terms of the law and policy documentations, but also for the proper functioning of the city. It is an important step towards instilling a sense of ownership amongst the citizens, effectively resulting in better maintenance and design. This will reduce sunk costs as well.

The major challenges that face the project and city are largely behavioural and will require immense political will to surmount. The citizens’ participation is immensely important for the same, and therefore civil society organisations that negotiate the space of educating the public and laying down various opinions in front of them become immensely important.

As the process of the mini-public shows, this is not the only way. The stakeholders, if brought onto an equal platform, are well aware of each other’s stands and if given the opportunity do not let go of the possibility of a consensus. Therefore, to build such platforms within the institutional framework of local governance is key to solving the conflicts of interest within the various stakeholders in the city.

Four Socio-Political Initiatives that can augment the commoning of physical space:

  1. Encouraging inclusive citizen forums that promote the culture of interaction between citizen groups.
  1. Fixing accountability on a single point and spread awareness about the same. 
  1. Identifying of possible alliances between citizen groups and formation of forums for mediation over conflicts.
  1. Developing a localised street vendors’ policy and working towards its implementation in the city in an inclusive manner.

The above article is an edited excerpt from the Winter Institute report produced by the students. To know more about the Winter Institute click on the link below:

http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute.html

 

How the Street Environment Influences the Experience of the City

By Nehal Thorwade

“The streets are rivers of lives in cities” – William H. Whyte

The street is an important factor in the urban ecology. The street helps us effectively move around the city. It is also a shared space between pedestrians, residents, vendors, vehicles and nature. It is where the public life of a city is played out. This photo essay focuses on how the newly designed Smart Street that has been developed on one section of DP Road in Aundh, Pune, tries to maintain a balance between the pedestrians and vehicular traffic. The design also embraces nature and trees. On the other side, existing, older streets designs as seen from Season Road and the rest of the section of the DP road, creates various complications for pedestrians walking on the street. These older designs eliminate the environment and see nature as an obstacle in the design process. The newly designed street, in my opinion, is breaking the hegemony of vehicles on the street and treats the pedestrians as the king of road by acknowledging their need for space. The new design is a melange of nature and street which gives justice to all its users, pedestrians as well as vehicles without disturbing the existing flora.

I argue that Smart Streets give more value to pedestrians and trees. Through new designs, the size of the footpath is increased for pedestrians to walk on. The trees on sides of the road are included as a part of the street furniture by making sitting arrangement so people can sit under the shadow of a tree. 

 

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An older street design on Season Road, Pune

In the above picture we can clearly see how older streets were designed. There is no standard size of footpaths — each street has different sizes and patterns of footpaths. On some streets there is hardly space for one pedestrian to walk on. This forces them to walk on the side of roads and this could be dangerous. In comparison the Smart Street (in the two photos seen below) is equipped with spacious footpaths so pedestrians can walk comfortably. These footpaths provide ease to the visually challenged and are pedestrian and nature friendly.  

 

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The Smart Street stretch of DP Road
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The Smart Street stretch of DP Road

The second observation I want to make is about how trees are included in the design of the street. In the picture below, the tree in the middle of the road is conserved but there is a lack of proper vision of including nature in design. The position of this tree on the road could lead to vehicular traffic and any lay man can view this as an obstacle on the road. This gives rise to conflict between nature and the existing street design. The Smart Street (as seen in the picture above) to some extent is designed according to the trees on the street. The designer has kept the trees in mind while planning the street. The trees are used as street furniture or street furniture is created around trees. A seating arrangement is made up of stones (as seen in the third picture below) that gives the feeling of nostalgia and being more close to nature rather than sitting on iron benches. On the current street design trees exist but their role on street is obscure. This component in the Smart Street design is a kind of a revolution according to me.

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A tree is seen as an obstacle and adds to the vehicular traffic
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Street designs are not planned around or to include trees.
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The Smart Street to some extent is designed according to the trees on street, the designer has kept the trees in mind while planning the street. The trees are used as street furniture or street furniture is created around trees.

 

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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.

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

Solid Waste Management Systems a must for Smart Cities

By Vidhy Shethna

“Maza Swapna, Smart Pune” (My Pune, Smart Pune), an effort to be in touch with what Pune’s citizens feel about development priorities and standard of living, initially began as a multidimensional approach to overcome the problems of urbanization. However, while focusing on infrastructure and other recreational activities, the Smart City Mission overlooked a very basic issue like solid waste management. On the one hand it claims to have alliance with the Pune Municipal Corporation, on the other it fails to exercise efficient management between the Swachh mission and the PMC. The smart street in Pune, namely, D.P. road is the only street which has adequate number of public dustbins. On rest of the streets, there are hardly any or in certain cases like the stretch of street from Medi-point hospital to D.A. School, there are no dustbins. This leads to disposal of waste and garbage by the surrounding residents on the street. This poses a severe threat to the health and hygiene of the people.

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The area under construction which is now used for garbage dumping. The broken signage is symbolic of dilapidated condition of the street.

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Two different garbage collecting trunks: The one on thetop is a ‘Swachh’ cart and the one on the bottom is the PMC garbage trunk.

On paper, Swachh Bharat authorities are supposed to collect garbage door-to-door ensuring that residential waste is separate and collected duly on time, while PMC collects waste only from commercial estates like institutions or hospitals. But the ground reality is different. The Swachh Mission charges 50 rupees per family per month for providing the service, which is unethical in the eyes of the civil society who are already taxpayers. While PMC does not indulge in the conflict of the civil society and the Swachh authority, it does its duty of collecting waste only from concentrated places. The lack of efficient collection of garbage has led to ‘on the street dumping’. Residents staying on that stretch of the street, on a daily basis, dump the garbage on the side of the road as shown in the picture. There is no segregation of dry and wet waste. The waste collection is done twice-a-day from these spots. The accumulating garbage adds to the already existing problem of street and traffic congestion. The garbage collecting vans along with the trucks, are parked right next to itm blocking the entire street for as long as 15-20 minutes leading to a major traffic jam. By now, people in this vicinity are acclimatized to such an impoverish state of living.

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The condition of the street before and after garbage collection.

While I was surveying on the street, I also found that there were signages reading ,’no parking’ and ‘no garbage dumping’ which were in a very dilapidated condition.  I also managed to meet the health inspector of the area who himself felt helpless about the state. He claimed that there wasn’t any conflict between the PMC and Swachh mission but they were aware of the conflict between the residents and the Swachh Mission. Moreover, surveying the informal vendors brought to our notice that most of them either burnt the waste including plastic or carried it back home because of lack of clear instructions or infrastructure. Lack of awareness and biased attitude of the PMC towards collecting their waste led to such this inefficient measure.

Growing urbanization has led to the launch of the Smart City Mission. However, this “independent functional body” while progressing to a great extent has left behind a trail of unresolved issues. Moreover, this approach is exclusive and has by now developed fear in the minds of the informal sector that they can be thrown out anytime.

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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.

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

 

 

The Sacred and the Street: The Unseen Relations of Temples with the Streets of Aundh

By Natalia Chakma

Aundh is a suburb in the city of Pune. It is under the area where the Smart City Pune Project is being constructed. The Smart Street in Aundh was one of the first projects to be completed in the city. The Smart Street is constructed on DP road that stretches from Parihar Chowk to Bremen Chowk. It was inaugurated on October 17, 2017. The other end of the Smart Street extending from Parihar Chowk to DAV school is still under construction. We noticed that the Smart Street which was entirely developed had no temples, whereas the street that was still under construction has a few temples that have been documented below.  

In September, 2009 the Supreme Court announced that there shall be no construction of religious structures on public space, public parks or public streets, and for the existing unauthorized religious structures, the court said that the State Administration shall review those case by case and take necessary actions. Emphasizing the order passed on 2009, the Supreme Court in 2011 restrained the state governments from granting permission to build religious structures or statues on public lands.  

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This is Shiv Dhatt Ganesh Temple. It is built by Gokul Gaikwad, whose ancestors owned large amounts of land Aundh, and remain one of the most influential families of the city. Gokul Gaikwad is also the third brother of Dattatray Gaikwad who was the ex-mayor of Pune Municipal Corporation. The priest of the temple takes care of the cleanliness and basic amenities of the temple. People come to visit the temple from the neighbourhood as well as from distant areas like Pimpri-Chinchwad, Baner, etc. When one views this temple from the other side of the road, it looks like it is on the footpath but when one sees it closely the shrine is actually beyond the property line. The compound wall of the temple seems to extend a little onto the footpath though. No notice has been given by the authority about the condition of the wall and what is going to happen after the Smart City road is completed.

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This temple is built by a local of Aundh. He is the land owner of the particular area where the shrine stands. Hence, like the previous temple, it looks as if its standing on a public space but the temple is actually on private land. The local people around, especially the tailor besides the temple looks after it. Mostly the people living nearby come to worship in the temple. After the Smart City road is constructed the temple will be renovated and glass-fitted.

Both these temples looks like they are on a public space but in the owners claim that they are on a private property. They are in a confused space.                              

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This temple is built by the auto drivers of the area and they take care of the temple. Earlier the temple was a little ahead of the footpath but was a source of hindrance to the vendors who sit there because the size of the temple was much bigger. So these drivers negotiated with PMC (Pune Municipal Corporation) and shifted the temple and reduced its size so it doesn’t cause any problem to anyone. Though the construction of these religious structures are illegal on public spaces, they are allowed to exist.

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This temple is on Sarjaa Road. The temple is looked after by the auto drivers. As the picture shows the temple is on the footpath i.e a public space which is against the laws.

The above two examples have a similar story of construction on a public space. They are an outcome of the collective feeling of brotherhood and belonging to the place. It can also be seen as an informal exercise in claim making. Both the temples are built beside the auto stands, so there is always someone to protect and take care of the temple.

What is legal? What is illegal? Both, ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ are contested concepts and often tend to exist in the same space, together. When one talks about legal streets it means streets with definite spaces for parking, visible property lines, footpath uses, etc which exists only on paper. For example, there are designated places for parking, but people park their vehicles wherever they want to, and very often they are allowed to do so. Street vendors very commonly vend in no-hawking zones since vending is their only means of livelihood. Though all these are seen as “illegal” on paper, in practice they are either allowed or tolerated for various reasons, or they continue to resist and exist despite the backlash from state authorities or the police. Similarly, building of temples on public spaces are considered “illegal” but are allowed.

It is the local people who make decisions about building temples. These decisions are made on the basis of a feeling of belonging to the neighbourhood. Though India is a secular country, its population has immense faith in religion. So anything that is related to religion becomes sensitive and no one questions the construction of religious structures on public spaces. Once a temple is built it becomes very hard to demolish. However, there are a few cases of temple demolitions. Some of these demolitions have taken place with high security personnel guarding the state officials and wokers to avoid violence against the demolition squads.

Lastly it is interesting to see that there are no temples on the Smart City road which has been completed and hence, the upcoming Smart City roads will look different from the older, already existing streets that have been organically developed through multiple incursions, negotiations and informal acts of claim making.  


 

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.

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

 

Informal Local Power Structures in Everyday Governance

By Kunal Chaturvedi

“Bhaji walon ka nazariya chahiye to unhi se poocho, mujhe kya pata hoga” (If you want to know about the perspective of vegetable vendors, ask them. Why are you asking me?), was the response to our question about the views of Pune city’s vegetable vendors on the Smart City Project. The blunt reply shocked us, and we began to wonder why exactly were we interviewing this big-time builder/businessman and local strongman on an issue that does not concern him. However, interviewing him was not our decision. We were taken to his office by the leader of the vendors himself, who quite explicitly told us that the de facto authority in the area lies to a large extent with the strongman’s family. In fact, many of the vendors in the market refused to directly answer our questions, stating that any untoward statement that they might make will invite the disapproval of him.

This, and other such experiences faced by our team on the very first day in the streets, combined with the large hoardings and the signboards on various buildings, roads and colonies made it very clear to us who the dominant landlords in the area were. We later came to know that the patriarch of the powerful family was in fact an ex-mayor of the Pune Municipal Corporation, whereas his close family members also served as former corporators. On the other hand, the business and building interests of the family are looked after by another family member who we spoke to. The family fielded a woman candidate from within the family in the year the ward was reserved for women leaders raising suspicions about the real decision makers behind the candidate. There has also been an allegation of misrule during one of the family member’s leadership while serving as the elected representative from the area.

The key to understanding the family’s hold over the area lies in the history of the pattern of landholdings in the area. As one of the family members claimed in an interview with members of our team, the clan is an offshoot of an erstwhile dynasty from Gujarat, and was given the land in the area as part of their jagirs. Upon inclusion of the Aundh region into the Pune city limits in 1950, the area was “handed-over” to the PMC by his father, who was the sarpanch of the area at that time. However, despite the loss of formal authority over the area, the informal hold of the family continued, particularly due to them maintaining ownership over significant amount of land. This informal authority is perhaps best reflected in the views of a large number of residents about the developmental trajectory of the area. These residents point out to the fact that as late as the 1990’s, the area was dominantly agricultural. Over the last two decades, as one elderly resident claimed, the area was developed as a residential-cum-semi-commercial zone by the on of the sons of the ruling patriarch in response to the expansion of the effective city limits due to continuous migrations. The fact that many residents still give the credit for the infrastructural development of the region to the them is an important insight to the extent of the family’s hold over the minds of the people in the area. In fact, even today, the family owns several IT parks and corporate hubs, along with a petrol pump and several vacant plots planned for further construction in a local neighborhood named after one of the earlier scions of the family. The claim has been taken one step further in the family’s website used to promote party propaganda, which states that the developmental works done by them in Aundh were the reason for the selection of the area for the Smart City Project.  Moreover, the family also hold significant interests in public facilities such as the private school and a hospital located in the area, with the principal of the school herself referring to it as the brainchild of the patriarch in an interview.

The developmental trajectory of the area, and more importantly the perceptions of the people about the driving forces behind it reveal that the power that the family holds in the area despite holding no constitutional posts at present is built upon the continuance of the feudal mindset and the deep imbibing of the informal relations of power that have historically existed. As a result, several client-patron relationships have sprang up between members of the family and various local stakeholder groups, the most glaring example of which is perhaps the mandai mentioned earlier. The vendors in the market were given formal recognition as well as a semi-permanent place to sell their wares by one of the family members during his tenure as the mayor. Today, an unusual alliance has developed between the vendors and the ex-mayor, with the family providing security of tenure and business to the vendors, and the vendors providing ground level political ‘feelers’ for the family. The political connections, though covert, are visible in the perceptions of the people, who firmly believe the area to be a Congress stronghold under the family, and claim that the recent BJP victory in the municipality elections is owed exclusively to electoral malpractices.

Apart from the historic sociopolitical factors that have shaped the hold of the family over the area, considerable credit is also owed to the personal charisma and accessibility of these power figures themselves. As we found out, while every vendor in the mandai was unwilling to speak independently to us, almost all of them had access to one of the son’s contact details, and one of them served as our guide to his office. Similarly, the patriarch himself walked down till his petrol pump to meet the team which went to interview him, and took them to a café owned by him nearby. Several residents in the area claimed that it was this accessibility that makes the family the rallying point for the community in the area. However, regarding the question of the limits of this accessibility during the period of his incumbency as the mayor, no definite answer could be found, since people of the area either completely support or are totally against them. Similarly, the overt willingness displayed by one the businessmen in the family towards establishing a forum for cooperation between various stakeholder groups in the area points out to the fact that this family serves as a merger of interests between different sections of the society. While themselves belonging to the rich, upper class of big builders and businessmen, they also patronize local small vendors and hawkers, leading to an effective, informal and local level dispute resolution mechanism. Moreover, the family sometimes serves as an effective link between the stakeholders in the area and the bureaucratic and political decision makers, using their considerable political and money influence to alter and reshape decisions.  Obviously, this cooperation only holds true as long as there is no direct conflict of interest between the family and the stakeholder group.

This nexus of political as well as capital power within the family becomes obvious upon meeting the two brothers. While one of the brothers fits perfectly into the image of a politician, dressed immaculately in white Kurta-Pajama, and speaking in the diplomatic, political lingo, the other is the image of a modern-day capitalist, dressed in western formals, and speaking a language replete with legal and business terminologies.

In such a scenario where multiple formal and informal power structures including elected representatives, dominant political families and individuals and bureaucrats exist together, it becomes interesting to note that the poorer sections of the society are often dependent on their relationship with a particular power figure, and this loyalty is maintained irrespective of whether he/she is in formal power or not. Moreover, as evidences from the interviews of the mandai vendors point out, the negotiations between various power figures is such that a group loyal to a particular power figure is often left alone by the opposition even when its patron is not in power. Thus, while the system of multiple power structures appears incomprehensibly complex, the whole system manages to work out through a web of negotiations and adjustments between various groups and stakeholders.

* All names have been deliberately removed to protect identity.

 


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.

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

Smart Streets Vs Street Vendors: Can Visions of Development be Inclusive?

 

By Divya Bharti

The use of a street is not just limited to movement from one end to the other. A street is a spectrum of different uses ranging from economical to social to physical — a kaleidoscope, if you will. Streets are spaces for earning livelihoods, they are a recreational space, a playground, an interacting space, a socialising space, a celebratory space, a stage, or put simply, streets are a space of multiple claims and contestations, which vary from one street to another and also from rural to urban. This photo essay looks at an urban street in Aundh, a suburb in Pune City, which is set to become “smart” under the Smart Cities Mission. Ever since the Smart Streets project has been announced, the street vendors have started receiving notices of eviction. Only a few have been promised rehabilitation to another location.  

What is an urban street? Some say it is a ‘public space’, others call it a ‘public good’, and yet a ‘common pool resource’. In all the contested definitions of a street, one thing that is conspicuous is that “a street is a limited and valuable, non-excludable but rivalrous resource” (Jain & Moraglio, 2014) which should be accessible to each and every member of the society. But is it the reality? Each claimed and contested space of a street tells a story of its own — of how that place was acquired.

The courage of the vendors amidst all the uncertainty is laudable. They set themselves up for the same struggles every year, and yet persist. The national economic figures show that the informal and unorganised economy accounts for more than 90% of India’s economy — the vendors and hawkers form a big part of it. They essentially cater to the basic needs of people, are accessible and available at short distances saving time and cost of travelling, yet they remain unappreciated. Everyone wants them, but not at their doorstep. So where should they go? This essay looks at whether new visions of development safeguard the interests of street vendors.

1

“None of us have permanent jobs here — we deal with uncertainty every day.”

Image 1: Sharda Ashok Rakshe, the lady in the brown sari, has been selling her wares in the Aundh area for 30 years. Every year during Diwali, she temporarily claims this section of the street to earn an extra income. This unauthorised claim over space means that she has to fight to keep it, and pay a fine to get her things back every time the officials take away her wares during a raid. She and others like her are not allowed to erect any kind of structure that hints at permanency such as an overhead structure made up of aluminium sheets. There is no formal governing arrangement for these kinds of temporary livelihoods to exist, so they are forced to exist in precarious, informal spaces.  

Image 2: The ‘Shri Siddhivinayak Sweet Shop’ on the opposite side of the road belongs to her husband, who has been living in the area for over half a century. There’s an ironing shop besides it which also belongs to them, and they have rented it out. So why does she need to resort to the above-mentioned temporary means of livelihood? She says, “Permanent job to nahi hai yahan kisi ke paas, to ye sab karna padta hai”. (No one has a permanent job here, so we have to do these things). Currently, they are worried because they’ve been told that they will be rehabilitated to another place. They, along with the other residents, in the adjacent basti (locality) are resisting. They say that they are getting a small space in the new place and no rights to a shop. They don’t want to leave the space they’ve created in exchange for a smaller one far away.

 

2

“Smart City means good footpaths, roads, dustbins — but we don’t come under ‘Smart Cities’, do we?”

Suryakant Kamle, owner of the street side stall in an auto, has been in Aundh since 2008 and has had a license since 2011. However, he is still not allowed to claim this space. He has not faced the threat of eviction yet, only orders to move his shop because his license is a travelling license and not a permanent one. Though he has a license, he has no idea about the Street Vendors Act, 2014. The Street Vendors Act 2014 accords street vendors with rights to livelihood and protection against eviction. He doesn’t have a problem with being shifted elsewhere if it meets his needs of vending. He says “Smart City to hona chahiye, par idhar se utha ke udhar chod do aisa nahi hona chahiye, kidhar to jagah milni chahiye” (Smart city should be there but moving us from one place to another should not be the trend, we should get a designated space). On being asked what does he mean by ‘Smart City’, he says, “Smart city matlab standard area, lighting, footpath, acchhi road, dustbins…to hum to nahi aa sakte na smart ke andar.” (Smart City means a standard area with lighting, footpath, good roads, dustbins…so we can’t come under smart, can we?). When asked what if everything is made ‘smarter’, his reply was, “sab smart nahi ho sakta….bas humein ek area de do ‘smart sa’ khada rehne ko”. (Everything can’t be smart, just give us a somewhat smart area to stand and vend).

How and why does such a perception develop in their minds that they don’t belong in the ‘smart’ or the ‘urban’? One factor could be the state’s and public’s apathy (and sometimes antipathy) to their plight and the constant displacement in the name of “development”. What is “smart” about a city if it can’t cater to every citizen’s need?

3

‘Why should the street vendors leave? We were here before this village turned into a city.’

The above pictures show the same area with a slight difference. The picture on the left shows the space has been claimed till the parking lane, but the picture on the right shows the space claimed is just till the footpath. This change was observed within a period of a week. The vendors have been here for over 25 years, since the time it was a rural-agricultural area. One of the vendors claims to have a license for five years, yet he and others like him face the threat of eviction. The shops in the background of the second picture have come up after the development of the area. These shopkeepers frequently lodge complaints against the vendors to get them evicted because they apparently reduce the visibility of their shops and create problems of parking. They claim that the occupation of the footpath forces the senior citizens to walk on the road which results in accidents. The vendors in response ask: “Hum kyun jayein? Hum yahan pehle se hain…” (Why should we go? We were here first.)

Whose claim in the above contestation for space holds more weight? Let’s look at another claim over a similar space…

4

“We are a government authorised dairy, we won’t answer any questions.”

This dairy in the picture above has been there for almost 20 years. It’s a brand supported by the central government and hence, is an authorised stall. It has a license for vending here, meaning it doesn’t have to face any trouble with the authorities. The dairy owner refused to answer any questions; instead he had just one line to say “Hum sarkari dairy hain, hum koi jawab nahi denge…” (We’re a government authorised dairy, we won’t give any answers).

The above examples show the unequal (and unfair?) behaviour of the state towards one kind of vending over another. Why this distinction? Why does one vendor have to constantly haggle and struggle for survival, while the other is secure?

5

‘Some residents help us out, others complain.’

The above picture is a curious case of an informal and unexpected form of negotiation between a vendor and a resident. This juice vending stall run by two brothers has been on this footpath since 2001. Their problem is that “municipality wale utha ke le jate hain” (Municipality people take our things away). The fine to get their things back is Rs 500. It has been almost 5 to 6 years since they had applied for a license. They have also paid Rs 5000 to some official as bribe. When asked about the problems with residents, he says, “kuch achchhe hain, jinhe fark nahi padta, par kuch complain karte hain” (some are good who don’t mind our presence, but some complain). The good ones include people from a house just across the street, where he gets to park his wares at night, free of cost. What the brothers want, like the other vendors, is a license to vend.

Streets are like a coin with two sides, a visible realm and an invisible one. The intricacies of these two realms come with their own contradictions conspicuous in the various contestations one might see walking down a street (in a reflective mood). The claims on streets are decided by a number of things including one’s class and caste to one’s position in the socio-political hierarchy. The legality and permanency of these claims and contestations depend on the money and power one has or can wield to influence the decision-making process. A vada-pav stall owner becomes inferior to a restaurant owner; vehicles become more important than livelihoods. What/who decides which claim should stay and the other done away with? The Indian streets appear to be a restricted and a limited-use resource. Should they be that way? I would say no. The state is responsible for all its citizens but where should one go, when the state does not deliver justice? The need of the hour is to give a serious thought to these claims/contestations and develop a mechanism where the voices of the ‘unheard’ and the ‘unaccounted’ are taken into consideration and their demands are met. There is a dire need for reforming the existing processes of public engagement, participation and the overall governance structure to make the service delivery system more inclusive, equitable and just. It is imperative to take action if India wants to achieve the esteemed Sustainable Development Goals and become a developed nation, which won’t reach fruition if there exists a Bharat that is impoverished in an India that abounds.

References:

Jain, A., & Moraglio, M. (2014, August 31). Struggling for the use of urban streets: preliminary (historical) comparison between European and Indian cities. Retrieved from International Journal of the Commons: https://www.thecommonsjournal.org/articles/10.18352/ijc.461/


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.

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