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Tuesday, June 26, 2001

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CVC listens to vendors plight

By Our Staff Reporter

NEW DELHI, JUNE 25. Delhi's street vendors and hawkers -- estimated to be over five lakhs -- are an agitated and anguished lot. Despite a Supreme Court ruling that it was a fundamental right to livelihood under the Constitution, they are being forced to lead an ``outlawed'' life day in and day out.

To survive, these people have no other option but to grease the palms of officials ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs. 3,000 per month. Not sure how long they can continue, these vendors fear they will meet the same fate as those in Sewa Nagar area recently who were removed from their locations where they have been sitting for several years.

These startling facts and much more were revealed at a public hearing today which was chaired by the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, Mr. N. Vittal. The hearing was organised by Manushi: Nagrik Adhikar Manch, a voluntary organisation headed by social activist Ms. Madhu Kishwar. Reeling out the changing ``bribe rate'' over two decades, she calculated that hawkers might have paid approximately Rs. 500 crores per annum to police and municipal officials.

So appalled was Mr. Vittal after hearing the street vendors, and figures quoted by Ms. Kishwar that he said: ``All existing street vendors and hawkers of the Capital should be immediately regularised. The license and permit raj should be immediately done away with.''

Mr. Vittal said before coming here he had written to the Union Urban Development Minister, the Delhi Chief Minister, the Municipal Commissioner, the New Delhi Municipal Council chairman and the Delhi Chief Secretary. ``Today I am again going to write to them and request that the license for street vendors be done away with. This a sure breeding ground for corruption,'' he said.

``When five lakh vendors are serving more than a crore population of Delhi, who is the Government to come in between?'' asked Mr. Vittal.

Quoting the Supreme Court ruling, he said: ``Automatic permission should be given to all those who are and want to come in this profession. The Court's, clause subject to reasonable restriction, cannot be used to deny them their right to livelihood.''

Referring to the vendors' traumatising experiences Mr. Satish Chandra Gupta, a community leader, said : ``Instead of recognising their service potential, they are treated merely as a public nuisance. In the name of cleaning up the city, we are evicted because they do not have a licence. Getting a license without heavy patronage and payoffs is well nigh impossible.'' Less than one per cent of vendors have valid license, commented Ms. Kishwar.

Conceded Prof Dinesh Mohan from IIT, and a panelist: ``The street vendors help in providing social security. Our researchers has proved that where there are street vendors, the crime rate is less. Not only this, in a city like Delhi the presence of vendors helps in curbing pollution as people need not take their scooter and drive out for vegetables.''

According to Prof. Mohan, an expert on road transport and safety, the IIT has submitted a report to the Delhi Government recommending that street vendors should be available every half-a-kilometre and at every bus stand.

Almost all hawkers and vendors who had come for the hearing said that of late there has been an increase in violence and crime against them. ``We are routinely beaten up, and abused by the police. This has destroyed our confidence," said a weeping Saroj from Sewa Nagar. Some elders among the vendors even warned that if steps were not taken now, many of them, in particular the youth, would have no other option but to take up arms.

At the end of the four hour hearing, they demanded that vending be delicensed and their services given due recognition. ``The Supreme Court order of 1989 requiring the city to clearly demarcate Hawking and No Hawking zone should be implemented expeditiously,'' they urged.

However even after the hearing, this apprehend that they might have to face the music, for coming out in the open. One hearing does not change their destiny, does it?

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