Pedestrian safety drive running roughshod over street vendors’ rights?

A recent drive by the Bengaluru police and civic body to rid pavements of encroachments by street vendors has sparked a larger debate on their rights under the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014

Updated - August 04, 2023 10:56 am IST

Published - August 04, 2023 08:00 am IST - Bengaluru

Traffic officials asking a street vendor to move, on Avenue Road, in Bengaluru on Tuesday.

Traffic officials asking a street vendor to move, on Avenue Road, in Bengaluru on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

“I had been selling vegetables by the roadside for years. But recently, civic officials and police evicted me, saying I can no longer sell on the footpath. I don’t know where to go. How do I make a living? I don’t know any other trade apart from this,” said Shantamma, a street vendor in K.R. Puram in her fifties. She has found a new spot on another street but remains constantly afraid of being evicted from there too.

Like her, hundreds of street vendors have been evicted across the city over the past few weeks as part of a special drive taken up by Bengaluru’s civic body and traffic police to clear footpaths of all “encroachments” to make way for pedestrians and prevent them from jaywalking. The drive was triggered by an increasing number of pedestrian deaths in accidents on the city’s streets. 

Deaths of pedestrians

Street vendors from Mahadevapura zone, who marched from K.R. Puram government hospital to Freedom Park in protest against BBMP’s ongoing footpath encroachment clearance drive in Bengaluru on July 31.

Street vendors from Mahadevapura zone, who marched from K.R. Puram government hospital to Freedom Park in protest against BBMP’s ongoing footpath encroachment clearance drive in Bengaluru on July 31. | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

While 164 and 161 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in the city in 2020 and 2021, respectively, the death toll of pedestrians shot up to 247 in 2022. Alok Kumar, Commissioner, Traffic and Road Safety, devised a holistic plan to not only reduce pedestrian deaths but also free footpaths and improve them. Lack of walkable footpaths forced pedestrians to use the roadway, increasing pedestrian deaths, police said. A study of the cause of pedestrian fatalities indicates that of the 247, as many as 62 people were killed while walking by the side of the road, suggesting this may be because of a lack of walkable footpaths on these streets.

M.N. Anucheth, Joint Commissioner (Traffic), said the “Reclaim Footpaths” drive was taken up by all traffic police stations in their respective jurisdictions in collaboration with the civic body. “While we are focusing on removing parked vehicles, encroachments by shops and eateries on footpaths, apart from other encroachments, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has taken up a drive to remove street vendors from main roads,” he explained.

BBMP launched the drive from the Yelahanka zone, and now all zonal joint commissioners are leading the special drive to clear footpaths on main roads, including street vendors. “We are focusing more on permanent and semi-permanent structures that many street vendors have put up on footpaths,” a senior civic official said.

An ‘elitist’ idea?

While pedestrian safety may have triggered the special drive, it is now also part of the more extensive “Brand Bengaluru” campaign spearheaded by Deputy Chief Minister and Bengaluru Development Minister D.K. Shivakumar.

“Slowly, the campaign is taking on elitist underpinnings and acquiring a tone of “beautification” of the city without solving the basic problems first. But the government should not lose its way and start catering to the middle-class view of a city. Then the poor, like street vendors, will likely face the brunt of it. We have seen this happen in Gandhi Bazaar in South Bengaluru, where street vendors are part of its identity and charm,” said N.S. Mukunda, of Bengaluru Praja Vedike, a forum of citizens.

Traffic police asking a street vendor to move, on Avenue Road, in Bengaluru on Tuesday.

Traffic police asking a street vendor to move, on Avenue Road, in Bengaluru on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

As several street vendor organisations upset over the eviction drive, made representations to Mr. Shivakumar, including taking out a protest march on Tuesday, he has said that the government would soon come out with guidelines that would be a “win-win” situation for pedestrians and street vendors. Sources in the civic body said they were mulling over not only demarcating spots for street vendors but also levying a nominal ground rent so that they “develop a sense of ownership and stick to these spots”. 

However, street vendor organisations are livid over what they call “scant regard” authorities have for the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014, a United Progressive Alliance (UPA) era Central law that regulates street vending while protecting their rights.

New guidelines vs. old Act

The Act provides the constitution of town vending committees with representatives of street vendors, resident welfare associations (RWAs), and officials from all relevant agencies, which will regulate vending in the zone and demarcate town vending zones.

“How the civic body can issue new guidelines overruling the Union government Act is something we all are at a loss to understand. Moreover, how can the civic body decide that street vendors are encroachers?” asked S. Babu, President, Bengaluru Jilla Beedi Vyapari Sanghatanegala Okkuta, a street vendors’ collective. Several street vendor organisations wrote to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah last month appealing to him to stop the eviction drive, terming it “illegal”, but to no avail. 

C.E. Rangaswamy, president, Street Vendors’ Cell, Karnataka Pradesh Congress, and also the president of Karnataka Beedi Badi Vyapari Sanghatanegala Okkuta, said they had appealed to all concerned Ministers. Soon a grievance redressal meeting will be held for street vendors, in which DCM Mr. Shivakumar, Urban Development Minister Byrathi Suresh, Skill Development Minister Sharan Prakash Patil and Municipal Administration Department Rahim Khan will participate.

“In many areas, civic officials are demanding ID cards, and if there is none, they term such vendors illegal and evict them. 

Recently, in Tilak Nagar, police refused to acknowledge BBMP-issued ID cards as well and evicted vendors. There is a complete lack of awareness and disregard among even civic and police officials, MLAs and ministers about the Street Vendors Act, 2014. Not one street vendor has been served a notice before eviction during the ongoing drive,” said Vinay Sreenivasa, an All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) activist, to which Okkuta is affiliated. 

Street vendors selling vegetables, fruits and flowers in Bengaluru.

Street vendors selling vegetables, fruits and flowers in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

Demand for ID cards

Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) conducted a survey of street vendors in 2017 under National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM), during which it identified 25,000 street vendors and issued ID cards to 20,000 of them. This was even as the city has an estimated 1.5 lakh street vendors, which seems to have only shot up after the pandemic-induced job losses.

“After issuing ID cards to less than a quarter of the estimated number of street vendors, how can the civic body deem every vendor without an ID card illegal?” questioned Mr. Babu. 

The same civic body had initiated the procedure to resurvey street vendors in the city in 2022 because of a strange problem it found itself in. The Union Government had, in 2022, fixed a target of 85,000 beneficiaries of the city under the Pradhan Mantri Street Vendor’s AtmaNirbhar Nidhi (PMSVANidhi) scheme, which provides small loans up to ₹20,000 to street vendors. But only registered street vendors could avail this loan and Bengaluru has only around 25,000 registered vendors.

“The tenders were finalised earlier this year. But we did not do it as elections intervened, and the survey had the potential to be misused during elections; we did not go ahead with it. Now we are thinking about whether we should go ahead with the on-ground survey or not. We think we can provide an opportunity for street vendors to come and register,” said Chief Civic Commissioner Tushar Giri Nath. 

Lax implementation

While street vendor organisations’ immediate demand is for a pan-city survey of street vendors, which would provide them immediate recognition, they point to the overall lax implementation of the Street Vendors Act in the city, which, if implemented to the letter and spirit, would protect their livelihoods and rights, they argue. 

“It’s a statutory requirement for the civic body to carry out an on-ground survey of street vendors at the place of vending. Asking them to register will not do. When we objected to the survey being outsourced and not carried out in-house by the civic body, the civic body said they would do geo-tagging of the place of vending during the survey, which civic officials were not well versed in. Now the civic body seems to be abandoning the survey altogether,” Mr. Sreenivasa said. 

Street vendors at Gandhinagar in Bengaluru.

Street vendors at Gandhinagar in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

Mr. Rangaswamy demanded that the survey must not only include geo-tagging the place of vending but also biometrics of the vendor to bust what he called the street-vending “mafia” that had taken root in the city. “Many local goondas have taken hold of spots and charge a rent of up to ₹1,000 per day from vendors. In some cases, businessmen buy stocks in bulk and hawk them through hundreds of vendors, mostly brought from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A proper survey will also end these practices,” he said.

The survey apart, street vendors complained that the architecture that the Act provides to regulate vending was not completely functional yet in the city. While Town Vending Committees have been formed in all zones except Bommanahalli in 2020, these Committees are not yet full-fledged as representatives of RWAs and trade unions to be nominated by the civic body, is not done yet. “Most officials are not serious about street vendors, reflected in how irregular TVC meetings are. Most officials do not turn up for the meetings. Though the Committees are there, they have been rendered dysfunctional,” Mr. Rangaswamy said. The State government is yet to frame bye-laws for the Act as well. 

Balancing street vending with pedestrian safety

Despite several appeals by street vendors to stop the footpath eviction drive, the State government seems keen to continue. Even Mr. Shivakumar, responding to appeals by street vendors, said only illegal encroachments would be removed, and care would be taken to ensure protections under the Street Vendors Act, 2014. 

“The total length of the road network in the city is over 13,000 km. We have taken up footpath encroachment clearance drive only on arterial and main roads totalling to 1,200 km, less than 10% of the total road network. This drive is taken up in light of the increasing deaths of pedestrians in accidents on these roads. We need to strike a balance between pedestrians and street vendors. We are not bothered about pushcarts much but want to clear all permanent and semi-permanent structures on these pavements,” said Mr. Giri Nath.

However, street vendor organisations said that the civic body would be able to strike a balance if the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014, is implemented in letter and spirit rather than these ad-hoc measures whose brunt the poor bear.

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