A living for the city's poor, bane for traffic police

new delhi: it’s already widespread. one man trying to earn a living encroaching on another’s convenience. and as the prime minister’s office (pmo) seeks to relax the licence-permit regime and do away with the numbers’ limit on hawkers and cycle-rickshaws, there is bound to be a greater tussle for public utility spaces. the common fear is that an unlimited number of rickshaws will clog the city roads and an unchecked number of vendors will block the sidewalks. it may be good news for those coming to delhi in search of livelihood, but it certainly is bad news for city officials, particularly the traffic police. the plan, forwarded to the lt-governor in august last year, suggested an alternative regulatory system for street-hawkers and cycle-rickshaws which, by lifting the ceiling on their numbers and doing away with licensing, would end harassment by officials. free for all: the move was interpreted as a go-ahead for free-for-all hawking and uncontrolled proliferation of cycle-rickshaws. however, the pmo clarified that the idea was to recognise hawking and rickshaw-pulling as legitimate occupations and to accommodate them in the formal economic sectors. social activist madhu kishwar, whose recommendations on the ‘‘urban poor’’ were instrumental in the formulation of the concept plan, explained that the ‘‘pm sees this as the inauguration of far-reaching second generation economic reforms.’’ columnist tavleen singh supported the contention. ‘‘nobody needs economic reforms more desperately than the poor, for whom the licence-quota raj is brutally alive and well,’’ she said. central vigilance commissioner n vittal was more direct. ‘‘one way to end the corruption plaguing these street vendors, is to abolish the licensing rules,’’ he said. most important, the pmo noted, is that the right to earn a livelihood is upheld by the supreme court. why has it failed? the civic bodies were assigned the task of giving a final shape to the pm’s vision. it is still to see the light of day. the civic agencies have not been able to divide the city into zones which would and would not allow cycle-rickshaws to operate. it was proposed that three zones would be created: red zone where no rickshaws would ply; amber zone where they would be subject to restrictions; and green zone which would be restriction-free. but lacking that demarcation, the traffic police is finding it hard to juggle with about five lakh cycle-rickshaws on the road. the same is the case with hawkers. there are over six lakh street vendors with just about 80,000 being registered with the mcd. says joint police commissioner (traffic) maxwell periera: ‘‘we are not against hawkers. but there should be some regulations about their operational space.’’ the problem occurs when hawkers force pedestrians to walk on the roads and disrupt traffic, pereira said. admitted a senior mcd official: ‘‘mcd’s heart seems to be out of it and that is why no systematic framework has been achieved. there has been no proper consultation with local rwas or market associations.’’ the results are: creation of 24 hawking zones or (haats) in remote places where it would take the vendors another 10 years to establish businesses. the hawkers, too, were segregated into two categories. mobile hawkers — who can sell their wares in any market — pay rs 20 a day for temporary tehbazari rights between 9 am and 5 pm. the second category is permanent hawkers (squatters), who remain something of a problem. the genesis of the problem lies in the difference between what the pmo wants and what the supreme court had ordered in 1993. the sc had asked the mcd to first grant tehbazari rights to those who had been squatting between 1970 and 1982 (a survey had been conducted to establish the names). for those who came after 1983, space was to be given subject to availability. this conflicts with the pmo’s suggestion of unrestricted numbers. kishwar explains: ‘‘if these haats are to exist by destroying the existing ‘natural markets’ created by street vendors, then lakhs are likely to lose their livelihood. also why impose sarkari work schedules (four days a week, from 9 am to 6 pm)?’’ she added: ‘‘instead of creating new sarkari haats where entry will be regulated by officials, thus further legitimising corruption, it is far more practical to recognise and provide necessary facilities to the existing natural markets.’’ still pending: similarly for rickshaws, the proposal to approve abolition of their registration and quantitative limits is still pending with the delhi government. ‘‘as a result, a sort of ad-hocism prevails. there is no law to manage them,’’ the mcd official said. the concept plan has its critics, but as the pmo argues, ‘‘if 13 lakh of them can operate illegally, and be accommodated in the city, why can’t this be done officially?’’

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