Lindsay Pereira: What is a hawking policy anyway?

Updated: 31 March, 2018 06:43 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

It sometimes seems as if the BMC puts together proposals and policies by playing a game of darts, given the complete absence of logic on display

When asked by this newspaper about the number of legal hawkers in Bombay, the BMC Commissioner cited a 2014 survey putting the number at 90,000. These illegal ones are at Jogeshwari. File pic
When asked by this newspaper about the number of legal hawkers in Bombay, the BMC Commissioner cited a 2014 survey putting the number at 90,000. These illegal ones are at Jogeshwari. File pic

Lindsay PereiraThis may come as a surprise, but the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has something called a Town Vending Committee that supposedly looks after our city's hawking policy. I was more amused by the fact that it had a hawking policy to begin with, because I always assumed hawking was simply a question of bribing the right people for any spot one chose to encroach upon. How else, I often wondered, did hawkers materialise as if by magic on our streets?

And yet, there is a hawking policy, probably because it makes for good public relations. After all, the millions in taxes collected from us by the BMC need to be justified in some way, and there are only so many committees it can form to sort out potholed roads and garbage collection. The Town Vending Committee was reportedly born a few months ago and, in keeping with the Street Vendors' Act (who knew?), the BMC finally agreed to give 40 per cent representation to hawkers in the committee. It was supposed to do this years ago, of course, but didn't, presumably because it was busy creating committees to figure out what the colour of streetlights at Marine Drive should be, or the best places for designated Selfie Spots.

So, to cut a long tale of apathy short, the Committee elected representatives of hawkers through a lottery, and unions none of us have ever heard of were given representation. The process was conducted with complete transparency, by which I mean no one knows who these people are, what the Committee intends to do, or what it has actually done since its formation in November 2017.

I empathise with hawkers, to be honest, because I can't imagine what life must be like at the mercy of government officials who care only about where the next bribe is coming from. And, yes, as every man, woman and child in Bombay knows, the bribes exist. How else can hawkers stand brazenly outside our railway stations, block entrances to ticket booths, take over subways meant for public use, set up shop at any street corner they choose to, and sell everything from fireworks to fried food, without someone, somewhere, turning a blind eye in exchange for a cut of their profits?

A month ago, citizens and municipal councillors criticised the BMC for demarcating hawking zones in an arbitrary manner, and the mysterious representatives of hawkers' unions said norms put down in the Street Vendors Act of 2014 were not being followed. Apparently, committee members were not consulted by the BMC, and there was no information on whether the 1,660 e-mails and 368 letters it received from citizens had been taken into consideration. In other words, it set up a committee only to ignore the committee's recommendations.

When asked by this newspaper about the number of legal hawkers in Bombay, the BMC Commissioner cited a 2014 survey putting the number at 90,000, before adding that his organisation has yet to verify these hawkers, define locations and mark pitches. For a hawker, this means four years of waiting for answers, permission or a designated spot, while fending off competition and continuing to pay a bribe in order to survive.

The BMC now intends to make special provisions for women hawkers as part of its initiative to make Bombay more gender-sensitive. No one knows what this means, because it's not as if the organisation considers gender-sensitivity when to comes to other aspects of its functioning. No one knows how these women hawkers are to be identified, verified and allocated designated spots for hawking, or how they will be protected from other hawkers, let alone policy changes over the coming months. Like much of what the BMC does, it seems like just another initiative to tack onto a PowerPoint presentation as part of its public relations initiatives.

Let's put aside Acts, Committees and Policies for a minute, and simply consider how hawkers on any street in our localities function. How do they break rules with such nonchalance? How do they fry food in the open? How do they take over our pavements with impunity, disappear during BMC raids well in advance and surface when the vans have gone? How are they so familiar with a bureaucracy that goes out of its way to make everyone else's life so difficult?

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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First Published: 31 March, 2018 06:11 IST

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