Street vendors protest against Corporation’s demolition of their stalls

Street vendors took out a march and staged a dharna outside the office of the city Corporation here on Friday in protest against the civic body’s demolition of street vending stalls since last week.

The Corporation’s action was a complete violation of Union and State government policies on urban street vending, they said.

Led by the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and the Kerala Street Vendors Forum, the vendors have succeeded in bringing the daily raids of health inspectors to a halt.

There was no warning or notification before the crackdown on the ground that the ‘unauthorised’ constructions posed a hindrance to pedestrians and vehicular traffic. The raids were conducted in several locationsfollowing a Council meeting on July 9 in which several councillors complained to health standing committee chairperson S. Pushpalatha that nothing was being done to control the proliferation of these stalls. Food safety concerns were raised by the councillors.

Ironically, the very same councillors who had questioned the enthusiasm of the health committee in cracking down on such stalls were present at the forefront of the vendors’ protests, condemning the raids.

SEWA Union secretary Sonia George said steamrolling all such establishments threatened the livelihood of over 500 hawkers in the city, not counting their dependants. The Corporation could not take such drastic action, she said, invoking the policies that recognise street vending as a legitimate occupation and a service to the urban population.

The Central policy states, “As the street vendors assist the government in combating unemployment and poverty, it is the duty of the State to protect the right of these micro-entrepreneurs to earn an honest living.” As prescribed by this policy, a town vending committee was constituted at the urban local body level to survey and list all vendors, as a precursor to issuing them licences and identifying hawking zones where they could be rehabilitated. A survey was also conducted, but the Suvidha project aimed at improving the livelihood of the vendors by providing them with modern carts and identity cards has been delayed by almost two years.

Corporation officials said they had called for tenders again, this time only from government accredited agencies as the two private agencies selected the last time withdrew from the agreement following discord over furnishing of a bank guarantee. They are aiming for the carts to finally roll out on a pilot basis in the Museum area by Onam.