While the city allows cars to be parked on streets, it rushes to cruelly brand hawkers as encroachers
The hawkers' complex on Pondy Bazaar is a shame. It is a symbol of apathy and an example of bad planning. Instead of finding long term solutions, Chennai Corporation continues to pursue ad hoc and specious measures.
What is wrong with buildings such as the one in Pondy Bazaar? Why won't hawkers accept it, give up their ramshackle sidewalk structure, and leave the street? There are two issues: one is specific to the building in question and the other pertains to the larger plan for street vending and vendors in the city.
Street vending is related to foot falls and pedestrians. It flourishes in streets that connect a railway station and a bus stop; hawkers line up along the busy shopping street, in front of religious structures and other such places where people congregate.
How then could a matchbox-sized building in Pondy Bazaar, removed from the free-flowing pedestrian network, flourish? To cover up its bad decision, the Corporation, quite predictably, would blame the hawkers and resort to forceful eviction at a later stage.
A committee was constituted as early as in November 1988. Its aim was to identify permissible and as well as no-hawking zones in the city. Till 2001, this committee did not submit its report. When it did, there were problems with it and the report was challenged. Another committee was set up in 2002 and another report submitted in 2003. This report still forms the basis for many of Corporation's decision.
The report identified 49 no-hawking zones, which included Usman Road, Pondy Bazaar, Lattice Bridge Road, Purasawalkam Road, and the area opposite Egmore station. These are places where vending needs to be accommodated. Instead, the committee ordered an impractical and insensitive prohibition.
Licensing system and demarcation of vending areas were not properly studied. Sample this: the 2003 report suggested three alternative areas including the site occupied by a police station and a park for constructing building complexes to shift all the hawkers in T. Nagar.
Much has changed since 2003, there have been extensive national debates about planning for street vending; two national policies have been drafted; a central law to protect the livelihood of vendors is on the anvil. Chennai seems to be oblivious to these developments.
While the city allows cars to be parked on streets, thereby reducing the carriageway, it rushes to cruelly brand hawkers as encroachers. As a result, self-employed street vendors often face harassment and the threat of eviction.
The national policy on urban street vendors recommends that local bodies register street vendors, issue identification cards, and amend legislation to mitigate their vulnerability. The key proposal is to formulate Town Vending Committees at the ward level with vendor representation to identify areas for hawking. Chennai has overlooked these recommendations.
In contrast, cities such as Bhuvaneshwar have gone far ahead and created exclusive vending zones near areas frequented by vendors and rehabilitated more than 2,000 hawkers. Chennai Corporation has to first recognize vendors as an integral part of the city. Just as provisions are made for formal retail activities, spaces for vending too must be planned.