It’s been a troubled week for hawkers in the city, with the police and the BMC cracking their whips frequently, causing unlicensed vendors to all but disappear from their usual nooks and corners. The change has been particularly noticeable in the western suburbs, with hawker hubs in the entire stretch from Bandra to Andheri now practically unrecognisable, thanks to the absence of the ubiquitous hawkers.
Surprisingly, their absence hasn’t gone down too well with residents, who complain that they are the ones paying the price for this brouhaha, having to travel long distances in search of hawkers for fruits and vegetables, who, moreover, have hiked prices over the past week. In response to the aggressive action taken against them, hawkers in the western suburbs waged a strike yesterday and participated in a morcha at Azad Maidan organised by Azad Hawkers Union, leaving the streets even more deserted in their wake.
There has been a 10 per cent hike in the rates of vegetables and fruits in the local markets. Hawkers explained that they have been hiked their rates as they have to compensate for the heavy price they pay by way of fines to the police and BMC officials. Mohan Gupta, who sells vegetables in Santacruz (East), participated in the morcha yesterday.
“We have been at our spots for almost 10 years and now suddenly we have nowhere to go. We have lost our source of income, and over and above that have to pay fines of Rs 1,250 to BMC officials whenever they raid us. We need to make up for it from somewhere, so we are forced to increase the prices when we do get a chance to sell vegetables.”
On Thursday, over 1,000 hawkers participated in the morcha at Azad Maidan, where they demanded the implementation of a national policy for hawkers. While addressing a crowd of protesting hawkers, union leader Salma Shaikh said, “The BMC should start issuing licences to illegal hawkers and collect some amount in return, which will also generate revenue for the BMC.” Shaikh also emphasised that hawkers do not hail from a particular caste or region, “All hawkers are poor and they work hard from morning to night for their livelihood. The union will fight to provide licences to hawkers.”
The Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) market at Vashi confirmed that there has been no official hike in prices, and the hawkers in the suburbs have been hiking rates at random. The director of the vegetable wing at APMC market, Shankar Pingle, said, “There is no official increase in rates of vegetables and fruits and there is no control over the vendors and what rates they quote for their produce.”
What hawkers say
We have lived in constant fear of Vasant Dhoble for months. The way he treated us was inhuman and we did not deserve this as we conduct business to earn our livelihood. I hope some good comes of this protest. Aslam Khan, Santacruz
Tired with the raids, we decided to join the Azad Maidan morcha in the hope that it would decrease our problems, but I don’t see any such comfort in the near future. We need a proper hawking policy and the civic body needs to consider our requests. We are demanding that whenever we are fined we should be given receipts so that we have proof that we have paid the fine. Suresh Singh
I have been selling vegetables for the past 12 years at Andheri and have always sold vegetables at a reasonable price. Now with frequent raids by the police and the BMC we are forced to pay heavy fines to retrieve our vegetables that get confiscated. This compels us to sell the vegetables at a higher price. Vellappa Ganesan
ACP Vasant Dhoble and the political game
When fruit vendor Mohan Jaiswal died during one of ACP Vasant Dhoble’s raids in Santacruz, political parties jumped into the fray, with many demanding his transfer. Ever since, the issue has been abused by political parties to score points off each other.
The first to jump in was Congress MP Priya Dutt, followed soon by Congress MLA Kripashankar Singh. Both bayed for Dhoble’s immediate transfer. Members of the BJP soon joined the chorus, with the party’s city chief Raj Purohit claiming that Dhoble was paying undue attention to the hawker problem causing the crime rate in Vakola to rise. Dhoble was then transferred from Vakola to the control room. Even the RPI (A) showed support for hawkers.
Soon after the transfer, however, the Shiv Sena and MNS raised a hue and cry against it, saying they wanted Dhoble to be reinstated at Vakola. Shiv Sena even undertook a protest march at Vakola, while the MNS asked that Dhoble be shunted to the BMC. Even the NCP showed support for Dhoble. While the BJP’s city unit had supported hawkers, Vinod Tawde, the leader of the Opposition in the BMC favoured Dhoble, and even met the CM to show his support.
I have been buying vegetables from these hawkers for several years now and they have become my friends. They were never a menace for us locals and I don’t see any reason for the BMC to get rid of them. Even after hunting for two hours, I couldn’t find a vegetable vendor and I had to borrow vegetables from my friend. You just can’t remove these hawkers suddenly and force residents to travel over 5-km to buy vegetables. - Arpita Chatterjee, Versova
There needs to be some arrangement for these hawkers as they cannot peddle their goods on the roads and block it. The BMC should also consider our basic necessities: where will we go if they remove all the hawkers? We have to go to far off places now, as all hawkers have been evicted from our area now. - Raksha Dave, Santacruz (E)
Hawkers are essential, but that doesn’t mean they can encroach upon footpaths and occupy the roads leaving no place to walk. There is a need of a proper system that can solve our problem as well as theirs. - Sunita Parikh, Santacruz (E)
Shopping at malls for basic items is not feasible, as we don’t have the time to stand in queues for billing. We need hawkers, and it is becoming difficult to cook for Eid since there is a shortage of vegetables. - Shaista Khan, Four Bungalows
Our entire area is deserted and I am not saying we need to have all of them back, but a few of them at least who can help us get our daily household items. It takes 45 minutes from Lokhandwala to Andheri market. In the same time I could have cooked an entire meal. - Ujwala Barot, Lokhandwala
This issue needs to be resolved with patience, which the civic body and the police never show. Why is politics being played out here? Where were these politicians when Dhoble was hitting the people left right and centre? Because of them, we have to now walk all the way to the station to buy goods that were easily available earlier. - Sumedha Shewale, Santacruz
Where would the common man go to buy daily necessities if the regular vendors are evacuated? Elderly people are most affected since these hawkers were located close to their residences. - Madhumitta Sadadekar, Seven Bungalows
My locality is constantly fighting the hawker menace. There are hawkers who have taken over the footpath, with women selling flowers and mobile carts selling fruits and vegetables. No eviction drive has been conducted in our area and we suffering from the problem. - Anand Shirali, Dhake Colony
Now that the hawkers have disappeared, we are forced to go all the way to the main market to purchase vegetables and fruits. Initially we used to purchase them from these hawkers right near our building for a much cheaper price. Now the prices have gone up and what used to cost Rs 300 now costs over Rs 450. - Sarika Hussain Andheri
We residents are happy, as now there is space to walk on the footpaths. But at the end of the day we feel the pinch when we enter the kitchen. The moment we run out of vegetables, the thought of travelling all the way to a market is unsettling. For working women, it is very difficult to go to the market everyday to buy vegetables and fruits. - Achala Sanghvi