While the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have changed many things, scores of street hawkers of the popular Sultan Bazar in Hyderabad never expected to fear for their livelihoods.
With the government easing restrictions in pockets of Hyderabad unaffected by the coronavirus, several hawkers— who are among the worst-hit by the lockdown— have been eager to resume trade. However, the local traffic police have informed them that they are not allowed to continue selling their wares on the sides of the road. Stating that the Hyderabad Metro Rail authorities would allocate platforms constructed under metro lines to hawkers, the traffic police have warned them that others will not be allowed to continue doing business on the street side.
With fears of losing their already depleted business and source of livelihood, hawkers staged a protest on Sultan Bazar Road, demanding that authorities not evict them until they are all accommodated between the pillars below the metro line.
For most of these hawkers, ‘shops’ mean their portable, hanging metal stands or four-wheeler pushcarts.
Several hawkers staged a protest on Wednesday, holding placards and urging the authorities to not impact their livelihoods.
While there are nearly 400 hawkers on Sultan Bazar— including small shops, pushcarts, and those who sell wares balanced on their shoulders— the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) authorities have reportedly said that platforms constructed at the metro median would be given to 160 people.
Speaking to TNM, Laxman Yadav of the All India Unorganised Workers’ Congress said, “We have been dependent on Sultan Bazar Road for the past 30 years. All of us are poor, we make a living by selling seasonal items. Where should we go if they throw us out? This should not be done.”
Some hawkers allege that those associated with a particukar trade union were being given preference for allocation of shop spaces.
Laxman, who runs a juice stall, added, “Everyone should be treated equally. Why is there special treatment for some, while leaving out a large number of us? GHMC officials should intervene, sort out the matter and save our livelihoods.”
Santhosh Reddy, a hawker who sells belts, said, “My family has been surviving on this footpath for the last 25 years. Now they are chasing us out illegally and unjustly as the lockdown is coming to an end. The government should do us justice. Along with me, there are hundreds whose lives will be on the streets.”
Speaking to TNM, P Narasimalu of the Sultan Bazar Hawkers Union said, “When we opposed metro works, we were assured of our livelihoods. But now, few men who have vested interests are attempting to allocate spaces to people on good terms with them.”
Narasimalu said, “We all are members of the Town Vending Committee (TVC) of which the GHMC Commissioner is also a part. But the present developments suggest that they are disregarding TVC norms.”
He added, “These footpaths have supported us— from paying for our childrens’ education to our house rent to everything. Our shops should not be evicted until the matter is solved. We should be allowed to do our business.”
Civil society groups, Campaign for Housing and Tenurial Rights (CHATRI) and Human Rights Forum (HRF), visited Sultan Bazar’s hawkers on Wednesday. They urged the Hyderabad Metro Rail Limited (HMRL) and the Mission for Elimination of Poverty in Municipal Areas (MEPMA) as well as the Town Vending Committee to resolve the issue.
In a statement, they said that the ruling TRS party had assured protection of livelihood when hawkers opposed the construction of the metro rail through Sultan Bazar as it would affect the business.
Speaking to TNM, Sanjeev Kumar of CHATRI said, “Many hawkers were kept out of purview of the agreement between HMRL, GHMC and hawkers unions. Now HMRL is providing infrastructure to only 160 hawkers under the metro. Most of the victims make their living by selling home decor items, curtains, napkins, bags, pillows and bindis. They have informed that now the traffic police are pressuring them to not sell in Sultan Bazar.”
Sanjeev added that MEPMA authorities have taken the details of all the hawkers and GHMC provided them with ID cards.
He said, “Keeping aside the existing hawkers list, members of only one trade union are being accommodated. We urge traffic police authorities to let the hawkers continue their business until the matter is resolved.”