Much needed drive of Jammu Municipal Corporation in coordination with Traffic Police against widespread encroachments on footpaths, pavements and roads is hogging limelight. The unprecedented move renders instant relief from sprawling network of unauthorized street vendors on footpath. However, realistically its shelf life is not only short lived but also devoid of direction and strategy which are prerequisite ingredients to accomplish target in a desired manner.
Candidly speaking, the way encroachment is prevailing predominantly on large scale in Jammu, the region is fit to be known as ‘City of Encroachers’ instead of much admired ‘City of Temples’. From notorious land grabbers to white collar encroachers residing in posh colonies, there are incorrigible traders and shopkeepers who think encroaching upon footpath and road is their birth right. Sabotage of yellow line initiative shows they are all untouched trend setters and buttress prevailing mess in Jammu city. This situation have been further deteriorated by long tails of cars which the citizens are forced to park along either sides of roads due absence of required parking slots in the area.
Convincingly, the issue of hapless urban vendors is a social-economic problem which attained a gigantic monstrous look due to apathetic attitude of past governments and visionless kabab hungry babus towards this informal sector. Street vending which includes installation of stalls by food, tea shop owners etc anywhere on public spaces as per their convenience leading to problems for pedestrians and motorists. Unlike, white collar encroachers of posh colonies and several notorious land grabbers who enjoy patronage in system and thus earned crores by selling and raising commercial structure on encroached state land, the poor street vendors need a legal framework where they can work with dignity to earn livelihood for their families as per the Street Vendors Act, 2014. It’s a burning problem in the urban areas and connected with Roti-Rozi of thousands of powerless fellow which needs urgent attention of LG administration albeit short lived coercive action.
The administration needs to understand that street hawkers are integral part of urban economies, offering easy access to wide range of items at affordable price in public spaces. Statistics shows 74 % of India’s population lives in villages and accounts for 32.75 % of poverty as against 8.81% in urban areas. For better earning prospectus, a large portion of this BPL migrate to urban area and work as street hawkers. There are roughly 15000 street vendors operating in JMC limit alone. In absence of hawking zones, they encroached upon footpaths and established their stall anywhere along roadsides thereby endangering life of pedestrians and create traffic congestion. Worst, some of them get trapped by the Rehri mafia who operate in league with greedy cops as well as crooked sanitation/revenue staff of municipal corporation and usually extort Rs. 50,000 annually for providing permanent spot in nook and corner of cities with brisk customer footfalls whereas Rs. 1000 to Rs 3000/monthly from each rehri. Several city arteries are fully under the control of Rehri Mafia run by self styled politicians. This results in exploitation and harassment of poor vendors besides ruthless encroachment of roads and footpaths thus obstructing free movement of motorists as well as pedestrians, making them more vulnerable to accidents.
There is no denying then fact that over the decades urban policies and local planners of economic development hardly prioritize livelihood security for this large population of informal workers. Moreover, a few alternatives that are created rarely are of any help as the street vendors are relocated in such areas which either unhygienic (Gandhi Nagar in close vicinity of open Nallah) or not properly developed to attract customers or inaccessible. To make the situation worst, some of the rehabilitated hawkers after sold or rented allotted space to others resurfaced along roadsides at old vantage locations and generated double income source.
Eviction is a process of law to free roads and footpaths from illegal encroachment but prior to hook on forceful eviction, the government and especially the civic authorities first develop sufficient number of hawking zones at appropriate locations and rehabilitate the street vendors with proper license and identification cards followed by its strict implementation. Most of the hawkers with permanent installations are earning more than Rs 5000/day. Surprisingly, there are crorepati Theila walas prominent among them includes Bittu Fish (Residency Road), Tinchu Kulchei wala (Behind Apsara lane Gandhi Nagar) and Hungary Hop (Gole Market Gandhi Ngr). This shows that informal unorganized sector generates good amount of income but since they are not trade license holders and hence not contributing to economy of the nation. The civic authorities should levied taxes on hawkers depending on nature of their work.
To sum up, the menace of urban vendors needs handling with humane approach as resorting to short term coercive action is only a medium of SoS treatment whereas the genesis of problem lies in implementing the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood & Regulation of Street Vending) Act in letter and spirit which was passed by the PM Sh.Narendra Modi led BJP Govt in 2014. Unfortunately, the lackluster approach to implement street vendors Act, 2014 not only left them as unlawful entities which are subjected to regular exploitation and harassment by the Rehri Mafia, police and civic authorities. Encroachment of pavements and roads is a burning issue and the LG administration need to constitute a task force to frame road improvement policy with special emphasis on provision to encourage hawkers on footpath for peaceful coexistence with pedestrians.
The much acclaimed face lifting of Jammu under prestigious Smart City Special Purpose Vehicle project would be of no use if there is no provision for developing Multi Utility Zones for licensed street vendors. They deserve a respectable space to earn their livelihood without disturbing the peace of the residents and obstructing free movement of pedestrians and motorists on footpaths and roads respectively. Even the SC of India while appreciating valuable service render by street vendors render to Aam Admi, in S. Singh vs NDMC has ruled “If properly regulated, according to exigency of the circumstances the small traders on sidewalks can considerably add to comfort and convenience of general public, by making available ordinary articles of everyday use for a comparatively lesser price. An ordinary person, not very affluent, while hurrying towards his home after work, can pick up these articles without going out of his way to find a regular market. The right to carry on trade or business mentioned in Article 19 (1) of the constitution, on street pavements, if properly regulated cannot be denied on the ground that the streets are meant exclusively for passing or re-passing”.