One of the biggest lies perpetuated about streets is that walking and hawking are mutually exclusive. It is an excuse city managers spin to cover their footpath failures. To have vending in a smooth walkway is not an impossible task, and it is a need to be met.

More than 10 million poor, self–employed hawkers in this country depend on streets for their livelihood. They provide services, enrich street life and are supported by a large number of users. With a bit of good design and a lot of will, streets can include vending. Chennai may not have found a way to do it, but cities such as Bhuvaneshwar, a model city for street vending, have shown how hawkers and walkers can coexist.

What does it take a city to plan for hawkers?

Part of the answer lies in the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors. The key recommendation is the creation of ward-level committees to identify vending zones. This committee, with adequate representation of vendors, would prepare a co-ordination plan, demarcate spaces, and manage them. It would also help hawkers register, secure better protection, and help implement the agreed plan.

Chennai strangely has not implemented these recommendations. Instead, it continues with ad hoc approaches. There is neither a ward-level committee nor hawker participation to ensure implementation of plans. Even the basic system of registration is not in place. As a result, the Corporation does not have an idea about the total number of vendors to accommodate nor can it effectively negotiate its plans. This has led to vested interests taking over streets leaving the needy at the mercy of the pavement police.

Second, the Corporation has to design footpaths keeping potential vending in mind. In Chennai, there have been no efforts to widen footpaths even in pedestrian-intense areas, such as roads leading to the railway station, bus stops and commercial areas, which are natural gravitating points for vendors. Without creating sufficient space, it is impossible to regulate vending.

Bhubaneswar is a good example to study. It has about 54 vending zones accommodating more than 2,300 vendors. The Corporation, with active participation of the street vendor association, has licensed vendors, and rehabilitated them in the same site where they were earning their livelihood (see accompanying story).

On the contrary, Chennai either evicts them or builds a multi-storeyed building like the one in Pondy Bazaar in T.Nagar for hawkers to move. Both do not work. Vendors may take the shops in a shopping complex for its real estate value, but would return to street because that is where the footfalls are.

At the heart of the problem is the unfair importance given to motorists. Though they constitute a small percentage, vehicles occupy maximum road space. Unlike vendors, car owners can park on streets and the Corporation would not mind them. On the other hand, the majority users of road — bus commuters, walkers, and vendors — get a raw deal. It is time to change and recover the streets. Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota and a champion of a better city living remarked that ‘When you construct a good sidewalk [footpaths], you are constructing democracy.’

Talk Back

We invite readers to participate in this campaign. You can email pictures of bad pavements (size not more than 1.5 MB) to myright@thehindu.co.in

In the email, please give your name, contact information, location of the pavement, description of the issue and action required.

Your pictures will be posted on www.facebook.com/chennaicentral and will also be considered for publication in the newspaper.

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