In April this year, ahead of the Karnataka Assembly polls, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, while campaigning in Bengaluru, had said that street vendors are assets of the city and need to be protected. Seated beside the current Deputy Chief Minister and KPCC chief DK Shivakumar, Rahul said, “During the time of the UPA government, we had come up with a law that guaranteed a certain amount of space in the city to street vendors because we view street vendors as critical elements of every city”.
Now, more than six months after his party led by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah formed the Government in Karnataka, livelihoods of street vendors across Bengaluru continues to be threatened due to the actions of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). The agency has been accused of flouting the norms of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 and forcefully evicting the vendors.
On Tuesday, November 28, the Federation of Bengaluru District Street Vendors Association demanded that action be taken against BBMP officials who violated the Street Vendors Act. The civic administrative body, earlier this month, had demolished several stalls of the vendors around the Jayanagar 4th Block shopping complex. In the words of a top BBMP official this was only the latest in a series of eviction drives which happens in Bengaluru city every once in a while. In other words taking away the right to livelihood of street vendors was just a ‘routine exercise’.
What does the Act say?
The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014, passed with the aim of protecting street vendors from harassment and loss of livelihood, requires local authorities like the BBMP to conduct a survey every five years to identify them. The vendors who are identified through the survey will be given licenses.
According to Section 3(3) of the Act, “No street vendor shall be evicted or, as the case may be, relocated till the survey specified under sub-section (1) has been completed and the certificate of vending is issued to all street vendors”.
The BBMP hasn’t conducted this survey since February this year. Most of the licenses that were given out in 2017, during the first street vendors survey, have expired.
This technically means that the civic body cannot undertake evictions without a new survey being conducted. Despite this, several hundreds of vendors were evicted over the past few months in areas like Jayanagar, Malleswaram and Banashankari.
BBMP flouting laws
“The BBMP officials are not aware of the Street Vendors Act and they have already evicted thousands of street vendors across the city without conducting a proper survey,” says S Babu, president of the Federation of Bengaluru District Street Vendors Association. Apart from the illegality of evicting the vendors without a survey, authorities are not even willing to disclose on whose orders the evictions were carried out or reasons behind the eviction, says Babu.
TNM spoke to some of the vendors who were evicted from Jayanagar 4th block. According to them, when the vendors questioned the officials, they were told that the order for eviction came from ‘top officials’. The officials allegedly refused to show the order of eviction to the vendors.
The other blatant violation by the civic authority is evicting vendors without prior notice. As per section 18 (3) of the Street Vendors Act, “No street vendor shall be relocated or evicted by the local authority from the place specified in the certificate of vending unless he has been given thirty days’ notice for the same in such manner as may be specified in the scheme”.
TNM reached out to Vinoth Priya IAS, Zonal Commissioner, BBMP south, with regard to the allegations of laws being flouted during the eviction proceedings. “We are only clearing stalls that are encroaching on footpaths,” she said. When asked whether the authorities have established vending zones to where the evicted vendors can be relocated to, as per the Act, the IAS officer replied that they are still in the process of establishing these zones.
This in itself is a violation, according to advocate Clifton D’Rozario, president of All India Central Council of Trade Unions (Karnataka). “You cannot evict vendors without conducting a survey and setting up vending zones for their rehabilitation. This is a violation of the act,” says Clifton.
City based activists and journalists also lashed out at the BBMP for their double standards when it comes to dealing with street vendors and other private commercial establishments. “If the BBMP is so particular about evicting street vendors for encroaching on footpaths, why can’t they do the same with popular eateries or juice shops that use footpaths for dining or parking spots?” asks advocate Vinay Sreenivasa, a member of the Street Vendors Union.
No place for street vendors in ‘Brand Bengaluru’?
The constant harassment meted out to street vendors is not something new. Clifton explains that it is an open secret that vendors are intimidated and harassed by law enforcers, who often demand hafta (bribes) on a daily basis to allow them to carry out their business. “On top of the police harassment, street vendors are often seen as a nuisance by the privileged sections of the society, who crib about them occupying public spaces, which is a right that they have, just like any other citizen,” he adds.
Politicians often talk about ‘Brand Bengaluru’ but activists point out that this is a concept only for the privileged 1% of the city, as the majority of the population in the city consists of the working class, who depend on roadside vending stalls, which Clifton terms as the “malls of the working class”.
“Our livelihoods are being destroyed in the name of Brand Bengaluru. We have been making a livelihood selling fruits in the streets for the last thirty years. And now, despite having a license, we have been asked to leave and on top of that, they have also confiscated our possessions,” Subramani, a fruit vendor in Jayanagar, told TNM. He said that his complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
Advocate Vinay also stated that the BBMP officials must be given training and made aware of the rights of street vendors.
On Tuesday, representatives and leaders of the street vendors federation held a press meet to share the demands and concerns of the vendors. Some of these demands that were raised are:
Fir against BBMP authorities for illegally evicting street vendors
Compensation for the vendors who are not able to engage in their business because of this.
Conducting the survey under the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014.
Awareness workshops for the BBMP police officials need to be conducted.
Goods seized during the evictions should be duly returned to the vendors.