Vending 'off' Bangalore's streets

It was around 10.00 am on Thursday, the 7th of April 2011. Over 400 street vendors from across Bangalore, under the banner of Beedhi Vyapparigala Hakkotaya Andolana (Street Vendors' Rights Campaign), began an indefinite sit-in at the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Head Office demanding restoration of their trading space. They camped overnight at the BBMP compound resolute not to stir until their needs were met. At present, 250 hawkers do not have a source of livelihood since they were evicted ten months ago on July 07, 2010 by the BBMP and the police department without any legal notice.

As many attempts to meet the Mayor of Bangalore and the BBMP Commissioner failed, vendors tried to reclaim Meenakshi Koil and Central Street in Shivaji Nagar (a large locality in central Bangalore) on 24th January 2011. But the Commercial Street police detained the hawkers and their supporters. At the police station when these people demanded to see the written order based on which the police removed them, the police admitted that they did it based on verbal orders from the BBMP. After several confirmed meetings with the Mayor and hawkers were postponed, a discussion finally occurred on February 08, 2011. After listening to the all updates and requirements of the street vendors, the Mayor said that the BBMP was not against the hawkers and recognised their contribution to society. The Mayor emphatically stated that he was in favour of ensuring that no unlawful displacement of the vendors would happen under any circumstances.

Due to the absence of the Commissioner, the Mayor decided that he would soon arrange another meeting with the Commissioner, BBMP officials in charge of the local area and the concerned police officials to ensure that the street vendors got their livelihood back. He promised the street vendors that they would get back their places to carry out selling and would ensure that justice is done to them. Based on this assurance from the Mayor, the hawkers agreed to wait for the Mayor’s office to organize the next meeting. Despite several reminders to the commissioner and mayor no meeting has been conducted as on date.

The hawkers demands:

1. The evicted vendors should be restored back to the place they were evicted from and a space of 1 metre X 1 metre must be allotted to each vendor on the extreme side of the pavement to carry out their hawking.

2. The BBMP must reframe its Street Hawking scheme in accordance with the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court judgments and the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2009

3. The BBMP must undertake not to carry out any evictions without following the due process of law. Atrocities against vendors should be stopped immediately. In the name of beautification, BBMP must not evict any vendors anywhere in Bangalore.

Even as the street vendors sat through the day, neither the Mayor nor the Commissioner felt it necessary to meet them, although the Commissioner was supposed to see them in the evening. When the hawkers tried to continue the dharna on Friday, the police refused them permission stating that their issues were being considered.

The organizations that participated in the protest included Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (Ambedkar Vada), National Alliance of Street Vendors of India, National Alliance of People’s Movements, Bridge network, Maraa, Sangama, Samara, Garment and Textile Workers Union, People’s Democratic Front, Bengaluru Slum Janara Kriya Vedike, Hasru Usiru, Sadhana Mahila Sangha, Association for Promoting Social Action, People’s Union Of Civil Liberties, Bangalore and other concerned citizens.

Ekta Mittal of Maraa provided valuable inputs and photos for this piece.

Pushpa Achanta
(The author is a community volunteer based in Bangalore, India)