Street Vendors' Rights sign now

Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh

Hon'ble Lt. Governor of Delhi, Tejinder Khanna

Hon'ble Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit

Subject: Urgent Need for Action to Secure Street Vendors' Rights

Vendors all over the country, including in Delhi, are facing increasing assaults and clearance operations under the dubious guise of beautification drives. Vendors in Gwalior, Patiala, Lucknow have immolated themselves outside their municipal offices in protest against clearance operations. On July 31st, 2007, eleven handicapped vendors of Varanasi consumed poison in protest against removal of their kiosks. Many more in towns and cities across India have died silent deaths due to malnutrition, hunger and disease since their livelihoods were destroyed by municipal agencies pretending to spruce up their cities by removing encroachments.

The Importance of Street Vendors

Over 90\% of India's workforce earns its livelihood in the informal sector, which accounts for 63\% of the country's GDP. Street vendors and hawkers are among the most visible and active parts of this large informal sector. For a wide array of products - from fruits and vegetables, to garments, toys, and magazines - street vendors provide an effective distribution channel, on which both producers and consumers rely. Street vendors not only create employment for themselves through their own entrepreneurial skills, but also help generate employment in agriculture as well as small-scale industry. Street vendors are a vital and vibrant part of the Indian economy.

Street Vendors Suffocated by Corruption and the License Raj

Denied vending licenses by government agencies, street vendors remain trapped in a web of illegality and vulnerability. Repeated clearance operations heighten their vulnerability, keeping vendors forever insecure, terrorized, and subject to continuously higher bribes for carrying on with their trade. Today, in Delhi, vendors pay sums ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 20,000 to rent illegally occupied vending spots whose sale value runs into lakhs. Street vendors in Delhi alone are robbed of at least Rs.500 crores every year by the extortionist mafias.

Manushi, a well known citizen's organization, has been working with street vendors in Delhi for many years. Manushi has welcomed the Municipal Corporation of Delhi's (MCD) announcement that 300,000 vending licenses are to be issued by the MCD by way of implementing the promises made in the National Policy for Street Vendors. However, Manushi is very concerned that the MCD has not built in any safeguards to ensure that genuine vendors get these licenses.

The scheme devised for identifying beneficiaries has all the makings of a mammoth scam. Without a reliable system of identifying genuine vendors, simply inviting applications will mean lakhs of bogus applications. The politically connected extortionist mafias who at present control the access to illegal vending sites and thereby extort at least Rs 500 crores every year in Delhi will ensure that their own relatives and associates are the ones who flood the Municipal Corporation with benami applications. The mafia that controls illegal street vending is all set to grab hold of tehbazari licenses to legalize their control over vending sites through force and fraud. Genuine vendors are likely to be left high and dry.

That is why Manushi has been advocating a comprehensive photo census of actual vendors and their locations by an independent and credible agency, as a first step towards identifying those who are actually working on the streets, so that extortionist mafias do not end up cornering the bulk of the vending licenses. Without this ground level information regarding the persons who are actually braving the elements to earn their livelihood from street trading, there is no reliable mechanism for eliminating bogus and benami claimants. The Supreme Court appointed committees headed by Justice Chopra and Justice Thareja had passed severe indictments on how mafia elements had made a total mockery of the Gainda Ram scheme of the Supreme Court under which applications had likewise been invited in the 1990's.

Click here for a more detailed list of some of the inherent flaws in the MCD scheme.

The Sewa Nagar Project

It is worth recalling the fate of a small pilot project executed by Manushi at Sewa Nagar. The aim of this project was to demonstrate by concrete example how rejuvenation and beautification of our cities could go hand in hand with livelihood security for the urban self-employed poor, how street vendors can be accommodated in the city in a disciplined manner while enhancing municipal revenues. With Manushi's intervention, Sewa Nagar did indeed became a disciplined, clean and aesthetic street market with each vendor contributing monthly rent of Rs 390 to the MCD instead of paying bribes. However, its very success caused the commercial value of the vendor stalls to shoot up, and the mafia used sheer goonda power to grab hold of the stalls.

Sewa Nagar Threatened and Terrorized

Sadly, the Sewa Nagar market has now been taken over by criminal mafia elements. Vendors involved in the Sewa Nagar project, as well as Manushi staff including Ms. Madhu Kishwar, have been subjected to murderous assaults by mafia elements. Core members of the Manushi team were brutally beaten up and kept out of the market for six months. They were attacked every time they tried to come back. Now, after the Prime Minister's intervention, they are able to maintain a presence in the market, but are living under terror and serious threats to their lives.

The harassment has not been limited to physical assaults and threats. Those involved in the Sewa Nagar project have been put through soul destroying harassment by being implicated in patently bogus court cases, including absurd charges like attempt to murder, impersonation and fraud. The mafia has filed numerous cases challenging the very legality of a project that has been sanctioned by the Supreme Court itself. On the one hand, the police acknowledge the danger to Ms. Kishwar's life by providing her round the clock police security. On the other hand, the very same police connive with the mafia elements to trap Manushi staff in series of bogus criminal cases.

The criminals operate freely in the area, aided and abeted by the local police. This is despite repeated interventions by the Prime Minsiter and the Lt. Governor of Delhi requiring the permanent removal of the mafia hub from Sewa Nagar and the installation of CCTV cameras to protect project members from violence. The local police have failed to bring the mafia elements under check.

Unless we build effective safeguards to keep the tehbazari mafia at bay and ensure that genuine vendors are identified and given licenses through an efficient and transparent system of the kind proposed by Manushi, it is very likely that the same story of mafia control of street vendors' markets will be repeated all over Delhi and across India.

Click here for more details of the endangered Sewa Nagar Project.

Contrast with Special Economic Zones (SEZs)

In recent years, a lot of government effort has been directed towards creating Special Economic Zones (SEZs). One of the main arguments used in favour of SEZs is that industrial units established in the SEZs will create many jobs. Unfortunately, no similar commitment is being made to create adequate hawking zones, where street vendors can operate freely, honestly and legally. If a serious effort in made in this direction, it is likely to create employment opportunities for even more people than SEZs.

Our Demands

We are pressing for a more transparent, honest and efficient system for street vendors, and demanding that:

1. An independent and autonomous commission headed by the Lt. Governor of Delhi, and including reputed town planners and people with a proven track record of working for the rights of urban poor, should be set up to institutionalize a rational, honest and accountable system for legalizing the status of street vendors and to prevent extortionist mafias and vested interests from capturing vending spots in hawking zones.

2. A citywide photo census should be carried out as a first essential step to identify those who are actually operating on the streets, their exact location as well as the total number of street vendors actually operating in Delhi as a first step towards determining who qualifies to get tehbazari.

3. All necessary steps should be taken to save the Sewa Nagar Pilot Project for street vendors from forcible takeover by criminal elements by appropriate punitive action against them.

The manner in which the National Policy for Street Vendors is implemented has implications that go far beyond even the right to livelihood of the many lakhs of street vendors in India. When vulnerable citizens see the police join hands with extortionist mafias, they lose respect for laws and law enforcers leading to greater crime in society. Today all our markets are in control of criminals with political links. They don't stop at preying on the poor. The growing political clout and money power at the disposal of criminals renders every one unsafe, no matter how many security guards they position outside their homes. Safety is indivisible. If criminal mafias control and dominate every bazaar and every market, none of us can remain safe.

We sincerely hope you will respond with concrete positive measures to our demands and proposals for reform.

[For more information and regular updates on this struggle for street vendors' rights, please see the Manushi web-site.]

[For a pictorial history of Manushi's struggle for street vendors' rights, click here.]

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  • 10 November 2015100. Surabhi P
    I support this petition
  • 10 October 201599. Dr Harshm
    Place of Residence New York Country of Residence USA Street vendors are small businesses which will gain prominence in future as a counterforce against the blind and hasty forces of globalization monopolized by big corporations. Street vendors also repre
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  • 28 June 201595. Karine Epenao
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  • 27 June 201594. Kiran V
    Place of Residence san jose Country of Residence USA help the poort street vendors make a respectable living Organization AID
  • 24 June 201593. Bill B
    Place of Residence Ottawa Country of Residence Canada such brutal behavior by local goons in Indian capital threatening activist investigators is appaling
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  • 14 December 201380. Flavia A
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  • 04 December 201379. Dr Bpm
    Place of Residence Noida, Country of Residence India I support the efforts of Manushi for dignifed living pf street vendors. Organization Hon Treasurer Indian Institute of Public Administration and former Dy CAG
  • 19 November 201378. Madhu Purnimak
    Place of Residence Delhi Country of Residence India This is a do or die time to reform the policy for street vendors because under the guise of beautification and modernization of our cities the poor are being driven out through sheer brute force. Organi
  • 08 October 201377. Mona M
    Place of Residence Delhi Country of Residence India We have to make sure voices of traders on the margins are not systematically destroyed.
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  • 14 August 201375. Asha Purnak
    Place of Residence kohir village, medak district, A.P. 502210 Country of Residence india we wont let this happen Organization strainata
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Ilene FloydBy:
Petition target:
The Prime Minister of India


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