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.
“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.
“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?
‘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…
“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?
‘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.
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/
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