Labour and Employment
Street vendors say they’re forced to bribe officials, and take loans from moneylenders at very high interest rates, because the government hasn’t done its job on time.
Representation Photo

At the corner of Old Kasai Road in Bengaluru’s KR Market, 31-year-old Seethamma* perches on her stool as she carefully arranges apples in an artistic display. “Rs 100 for one kilo!” Seethamma calls out to pedestrians. “You know, people love to bargain. That’s why I hike up the price so I know I’ll get a decent profit,” Seethamma says. Every morning, Seethamma sets up her fruit stall at KR Market and has a target of making Rs 500 per day.

“I have to pay the daily loan amount to the money lender. I have to pay the police. If I don’t make these payments, I will get evicted and there is no way I will be able to buy ration for my family every month,” Seethamma adds.

Seethamma is the sole breadwinner for a family of seven. Her husband left home in 2012 and never returned. Seethamma’s meagre earnings supports her three children and her in-laws. Just like Seethamma, around 25,000 street vendors in Bengaluru are struggling to make ends meet. With no concrete rules that provide protection to street vendors, these workers in the informal sector have become victims to the whims of the civic authorities and the police.

The threat of eviction

Mani is a 47-year-old street vendor in Bengaluru’s Vijaynagar. For over two decades, Mani has sold betel leaves and flowers to customers in the same spot along Vijaynagar Service Road. On the morning of July 17, the tarpaulin sheet on top of Mani’s stall came crashing down on him even as he was sitting inside his stall.

When Mani rushed out to see what was happening, he saw an earth mover mowing down all the stalls set up by numerous street vendors along the service road Mani saw the BBMP officials, with notice in hand, telling the street vendors that they were being evicted for encroaching on the road.

“This is not the first time BBMP officials or the traffic police have evicted us. I have seen this happen countless times in the last two decades. Either someone has filed a case against street vendors in the court, or the police or BBMP officials want more bribes from us. This never ends,” Mani says.

One of the primary reasons why these vendors face the threat of eviction is due to the state government’s delay in formulating rules that govern the way street vending operations must be carried out in the state.

In 2014, the union government had enacted The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act. The union had instructed the respective state governments to formulate rules and notify the same in state gazettes by October 2014. The act aims at providing social security to street vendors and to prevent them from being forced to pay bribes in order to sustain their livelihoods. According to the Centre for Civil Society, only 19 states in India have implemented the rules so far – and even this was done way after the October 2014 deadline.

Arunachal Pradesh, Telangana and Nagaland are yet to even notify rules, while Karnataka on June 12, 2019, notified the Karnataka Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Rules, which were formulated in 2016.

But though, the rules have been notified in Karnataka, they are yet to be implemented, leaving street vendors in a lurch.

The threat of police action

Hafiullah*’s food stall located in Indiranagar is a sensory delight. Famous for his kebabs and rolls, his stall is generally packed with customers every evening. He invests Rs 2,000 per day to buy supplies for his food stall and expects to make a profit of Rs 500 – Rs 800.

However, Hafiullah takes home only between Rs 250 and Rs 550, despite turning a reasonable profit daily. The reason, he alleges, is the bribe he has to pay the police in order to not get evicted.

“I have to pay Rs 20 to the beat constable, Rs 30 to the cop who arrives in the Cheetah (bike patrol police), Rs 50 to the sub-inspector inspector and Rs 50 to the police inspector. On a really good day, I make a profit of Rs 800.. Of that, I have to pay Rs 150 to the police,” Hafiullah says.

Hafiullah makes a profit of Rs 16,000 per month. In addition to the daily hafta he says he has to pay, Hafiullah claims that he also has to pay a monthly bribe to the police. “I have to pay a monthly hafta of Rs 1,000 to the police inspector. The daily hafta adds up to anywhere between Rs 4,500-Rs 5,000 per month. I have to pay an additional Rs 1,000. I end up making only Rs 9,000-Rs 10,000 per month. If I did not have to pay bribes, I would have saved close to a third of my earnings. If the rules meant to protect us are implemented, then police and officials cannot evict us on a whim. There will be procedures to follow and we will finally be able to tell the police that we don't want to pay bribes,” Hafiullah laments. Just like him several street vendors in the area say they face the same problem.

In larger markets, street vendors claim that they have to pay bribes to both police and BBMP to avoid getting evicted. “Generally, those selling food in markets end up paying more hafta than those selling fruits and vegetables. We end up spending anywhere between Rs 5,000 and Rs 6,500 per month just paying off the police,” Annamma*, a food vendor in KR Market, says.

The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act lists the conditions under which evictions can take place, and also states that street vendors must be allotted spaces by the state governments to carry out their business.

“Since these rules have not been implemented, these vendors are vulnerable to the whims of the police and BBMP,” says Vinay Sreenivasa, a member of Alternative Law Forum and also a member of the committee that drafted the street vending rules for Karnataka.

Meter baddi

Due to the lack of adequate income, street vendors end up borrowing money for initial investments at the beginning of every month. They then pay off the loans at extremely high rates of interest on a daily basis.

Meena* is a vegetable vendor and owns a push cart. Every day, she travels across Jayanagar to sell the vegetables. She borrows Rs 10,000 per month from a local moneylender who charges a 15% interest on the principal amount.

“If I ask for Rs 10,000, the money lender withholds Rs 1,500, which is the interest and lends me Rs 8,500 at the beginning of every month. Every day, I have to pay him Rs 100 and I have to do this for 100 days. Therefore, I would have paid him back Rs 10,000. But every month I have to take loan and currently I have over Rs 40,000 to repay. We have to pay the police and the loans. I am barely left with anything to run a household,” Meena says. Just like Meena, almost all street vendors in the city pay back loans on a daily basis and are stuck cycles of debt.

In order to ease their financial situation, the state government, in November 2018, rolled out the Badavara Bandhu scheme. It aimed at providing interest-free loans to street vendors up to Rs 10,000. However, the street vendors have not been able to avail this scheme as they do not have licenses issued by the BBMP.

According to Roopa Nayak, Co-operative Inspector in charge of the Badavara Bandhu Scheme in the Cooperation Department, only 2,500 licensed street vendors have availed this scheme in Bengaluru since November 2018.

“We are unable to provide the loans as the BBMP has not issued ID cards and licenses to these vendors,” she says.

The delay in implementation

The draft rules under the central act were formulated by a committee set up by the Karnataka government in 2016. Despite the draft rules being framed, the state government delayed notifying the same in the official gazette for three more years. With the rules finally being notified, the vendors say that the government is delaying implementing the rules.

In 2016, the Bengaluru District Street Vendors’ Organised Union (Bengaluru Jilla Beedhi Vyapari Sanghatanegala Okkuta) filed a PIL in the Karnataka High Court, against unnecessary evictions of street vendors. They had also demanded that the rules be implemented as early as possible. After several reprimands by the High Court, the state government enlisted the help of the National Urban Livelihood Mission to carry out a survey of street vendors. In 2018, NULM identified 24,861 street vendors within BBMP limits.

According to the union act, these vendors cannot be issued licenses or ID cards unless the BBMP forms designated town vending committees in each of the eight zones in the city. 40% of the members of these committees have to be representatives of street vendors. These representatives must be elected by state-identified street vendors.

“An interim town vending committee must be formed and the BBMP has not yet done this. This interim committee must oversee the election of the street vending representatives and also issue ID cards to all identified street vendors. Although, they have notified that an interim committee has been formed, no one knows who is in it,” Vinay Sreenivasa says.

Speaking to TNM, BBMP Special Commissioner Randeep says that the Department of Skill Development Entrepreneurship and Livelihood has given the BBMP three-months’ time to appoint the zonal town vending committees after holding a consultation session with the street vendors.

“We have to first issue ID cards to the street vendors and the interim committee will do that by the end of September. We will hold a meeting with the interim town vending committee to decide on a schedule,” Randeep says.

The BBMP Chief Accounts Officer Janardhan tells TNM that once the zonal town vending committee has been formed, the Joint Commissioners, the BBMP will begin the task of identifying designated zones for these vendors to set up their stalls.

“We will consult the street vendors first and then the committees will finalise on designated street vending zones in each of the eight BBMP zones. Currently, street vendors violate norms and have set up stalls on footpaths, which is an impediment to pedestrians. With designated street vending zones, they can have their own space, legally to carry on with business,” Janaradhan adds.

All pictures are for representation only