We all have failed Manohar

Despite court orders and a national policy, street-vendors remain a harassed lot

danish

Danish Raza | May 9, 2011



Manohar the chaiwallah has been grounded, literally. His kiosk is gone. Now, he sits on the road - two steps from the spot where he used to have his kiosk in Noida’s Film City, the home to many national TV channels. He sells cigarettes, gutkha and namkeen. The 2x2 feet space on the road is too less to make tea, Maggi noodles and bread-omelette selling which used to form the major share of the Rs 200 - his daily earning till a fortnight ago. He is down to roughly Rs 100 a day now.

The owner of the media house, outside which Manohar runs his business, says that the tea-stall attracts lot of customers which results in frequent traffic jams. Visually also, she says, it does not look good to have people standing in groups, sipping tea and puffing on cigarettes outside the swanky glass building. Politicians, actors and sportspersons are regulars at the building, reducing people like Manohar to an eyesore.

Let us analyse what has happened here.

On the face of it, it appears that a powerful person has taken away the right of a man, much smaller than him, to conduct business.

But will it be fair to squarely blame the owner of the media house? What about the responsibility of other stakeholders?

What about that media person as an individual? By and large, it exemplifies the attitude of society at large - me, you, and everyone who comes across thousands of Manohars in our lives, almost every day. Yes, there are times in the day, especially evenings, when people did throng his tea-stall. And there must have been minor traffic jams as well. But jams occur in Film City because almost all the media barons have not bothered to create underground parking lots. Cars and bikes of all sizes and makes parked on the both the side of the roads is a common sight here.

The reason why this media baron makes use of his clout to shoo away the likes of Manhohar brings into picture the role of the government. The executive has failed to ensure that 17 to 25 lakh urban street- vendors have a right to their business in favourable conditions.

The centre introduced the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors (NPUSV) in 2004 and introduced a revised policy in 2009.

Among other things, the policy talks of census of street vendors, giving them ID cards and licences and allotment of proper place and shops for transacting business. Eight states including Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have implemented the policy.

But the situation remains the same.

Street vendors continue to pay bribe to the nexus of musclemen, municipal committee staff, policemen and politicians.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly reminded the government of the rights of street vendors. “The right to carry on trade or business mentioned in Article 19(1) g 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 and no other use,” it said in one of the rulings.

But then court order can do nothing when there is no political will to solve the problem.

Interestingly, NGOs, another important stakeholder in this case, have also failed to do anything substantial for the street vendors.

NPUSV was the result of the efforts of the national alliance for street vendors of India - a Patna-based NGO. But expecting one organization to work for the benefit of vendors across the country would be demanding too much.

Other non- profit organisations do not take up the issue of vendors because it does not appear to be as ‘sexy’ as child labour, street kids, hunger and environmental issue.

And by the time, one of them will develop interest in street-vendors, thousands of Manohars would have lost their livelihood.

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