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  Home >> Hawkers >> Hawkers And Rickshaw Pullers of Delhi pay Rs. 40 cr bribes monthly

Hawkers And Rickshaw Pullers of Delhi pay Rs. 40 cr bribes monthly 

Forwarded by: Vispi Jokhi

'The poor are the worst victims of statist control' By Rashme Sehgal

The laws governing livelihoods in India make it impossible to pursue a
legitimate occupation without being terrorised or fleeced by some government
agency or the other. Liberalisation has failed to create an enabling
environment for 90% of the country's workforce that operate in the informal
sector, says Madhu Kishwar

Madhu Kishwar, editor Manushi, founded Manushi Sangathan, an organisation
aiming to improve the lot of thousands of street vendors and
rickshaw-pullers in Delhi. If the experiment proves a success, Kishwar is
hoping her efforts will be duplicated by other civil society organisations.

Kishwar's recently released book Deepening Democracy -- Challenges of
Governance and Globalisation in India offers detailed strategies to deal
with the issues of employment and globalisation.

Q: In your book Deepening Democracy -- Challenges of Governance and
Globalisation in India you say that the modern Indian state has played a
predatory role in wrecking the livelihoods of millions of people rather than
helping facilitate and enhance their working environment. Can you elaborate
on this?

A: If we examine the laws that govern livelihoods, we find that it is
virtually impossible to pursue a legitimate occupation without being
terrorised and fleeced by one government agency or another. This unwritten
rule runs across the entire spectrum of livelihoods and affects everyone
from the Tatas and Birlas right down to the poor farmer or hawker. This is
because the laws have been framed in such a manner that they leave the poor
the worst victims of statist and vicious controls. A large number of
legitimate economies are caught in this web of illegality, forcing millions
of people to live at the mercy of the babu-neta combine.

Take the case of the rickshaw-puller in Delhi. The city has 10 lakh
rickshaw-pullers but the government authorities refuse to give them
individual licences. Because they have no licences, the babu-police combine
is free to exploit them as they please.

Q: You also make the observation that 90% of India's workforce earns its
livelihood in the informal sector, which accounts for 63% of the nation's
GDP. Your book goes on to explain how hawkers and vendors help provide a
highly efficient, decentralised system of distribution of essential
commodities. How did you arrive at the figure of Rs 40 crore being extorted
from the Delhi hawkers every month? Are similar figures available for the
other metro cities?

A: Delhi has 5 lakh street vendors, of whom only 4,000 have been given
licences. And those who have managed to get licences have got them only
after their case was recommended by some MLA or bureaucrat. A vendor gives
30% of his income to the babu-neta combine. Extortion rates range between Rs
500 and Rs 3,000 a month, while those selling in premium markets like
Connaught Place have to fork out Rs 10,000 per month and more. Even if we
calculate at the rate of Rs 500 per month, it works out to Rs 40 crore a

Government controls have stifled the informal sector. A farmer growing rice
is not in a position to husk his own rice. A fruit grower growing apples
cannot convert this into apple juice. The agro-based ancillary industry has
just not been allowed to develop. In fact, I have always maintained that the
government's ban on the development of rural industries and opting for
monopoly procurement was responsible for sowing the seeds of the Khalistan
movement. With the prices of farm products remaining artificially depressed,
while input costs have risen substantially, our farmers remain in a constant
state of indebtedness. India's strong entrepreneurial spirit has been
crushed and destroyed because of these artificial barriers.

To return to the point about Delhi's 5 lakh vendors -- since they have not
been given licences, their goods and carts can be confiscated at any time.
They are the main distribution channel for a large variety of products, from
fruits, vegetables and readymade garments to newspapers and magazines. Yet
when it comes to getting his confiscated cart released, a vendor has to pay
Rs 1,900 as a fine to the municipal authorities. This is a constant drain on
their health and an erosion of their savings.

Q: How did Manushi get involved with the vendors? Are you providing specific
kinds of assistance to women vendors?

My highlighting of their plight in Manushi and then the holding of a public
lok sunwai (hearing) caught the attention of N Vittal, the anti-corruption
pointsman who chose to take up their case. He dashed off several letters to
different arms of the government including the PMO. Prime Minister Vajpayee
reciprocated by announcing the setting up of a national task force for

The Supreme Court has clearly ordered every city to demarcate hawking and
no-hawking zones. We have been provided with one such zone in Seva Nagar in
New Delhi, where we have gone about providing the complete infrastructure,
from pavements, parks and park fronts to various stalls designed by
architects and designers. The money for this project was donated by Congress
general secretary Ambika Soni as part of her MPLAD fund. We have also
received individual donations from friends of Manushi . But I must emphasise
the fact that the vendors built their stalls from their own money.

During our first phase we are working with 158 hawkers. Every vendor has to
pay Rs 395 for rental space and between Rs 30 and Rs 1,000 to the safai
karamcharis. There has been a complete transformation of the whole process
since no bribes are being forked out to anyone. The Delhi Municipal
Corporation has given a commitment to the Supreme Court that if this project
succeeds it will spread to the entire city. No bribes are being given to

One of the main reasons we see few women hawkers and vendors on the streets
is because the streets are too unsafe for them and they cannot face the kind
of harassment their male counterparts face. Women hawkers are either widows
or older women who head households. This is unlike the situation in East
Asia where markets are dominated by women. Hawkers who are members of
Manushi Sangathan, which is the organisational wing of Manushi , cannot
misbehave with women. According to a proposal we have placed before the
government, 25% of space must be reserved for women, and another 25% for the
disabled in all our future projects. We are also planning to move into the
field of primary healthcare.

Q: Manushi held a public hearing under the aegis of the Manushi Nagrik
Adhikar Manch in which vendors publicly cited their grievances against the
authorities. What kind of feedback did you receive on this subject? Can you
elaborate on some of the key grievances of the hawkers/vendors?

The public hearings were held at the India International Centre and the
FICCI auditorium in New Delhi. There was some criticism about why the
hearings were being held in air-conditioned auditoriums. We believe the poor
have as much right to access these places as the rich. We helped create an
organisational platform for them, and the rich and mighty came and listened
to their grievances in an atmosphere of electrifying silence. This is the
first time in independent India that such an organisational platform has
been created for these people.

Q: Your book also delves into the problems faced by the rickshaw-pullers,
and how Delhi's 10 lakh rickshaw-pullers are at the receiving end of
bureaucratic corruption. One of their chief problems is that they are not
given individual ownership licences and therefore constantly have to pay
bribes to local policemen. What is the situation in other cities like
Kanpur, Lucknow, etc, where millions of people ply rickshaws?

The problems of rickshaw-pullers and vendors/hawkers in all these cities
will be more or less the same. However, I believe the situation in Delhi is
much worse. For one, in smaller cities like Kanpur the administration has
not created any alternative public transport system. The result is that
rickshaw-pullers are considered indispensable. Delhi, however, possesses an
imperialist mindset. Here, the authorities would be happy to banish these
people completely.

In Delhi, the MCD has laid out a law that says that the owner of a rickshaw
must also be the puller. If the owner gets someone else to ply the vehicle
it will be confiscated and destroyed. On behalf of this sector, Manushi took
the MCD to court asking it to implement the PMO's policy on this sector. The
case is being battled in court, but we believe that cycle rickshaw-pullers
make easy targets because they are not a powerful group of people.

Q: Under the present Land Acquisition Act the government has the right to
snatch away vast tracts of land at throwaway prices and then literally gift
them to the city's well-heeled. How come no one challenges these powers of
the state? Also, it seems ironic that while the government is unable to sack
a single corrupt government employee it continues to treat the public with
so much contempt.

The government can destroy village after village but is not in a position to
sack one recalcitrant employee. The government should be going all out to
encourage self-employment. Statistics indicate that 10 years from now we
will not be able to absorb even 15% of our total workforce. Ninety three per
cent of the people will have to fend for themselves. The government has to
work towards creating an enabling, not restrictive, atmosphere.

Q: At one level you have been a votary for globalisation and the opening up
of markets. But at the same time you speak out against the way the Indian
farming community has been discriminated against at every step and therefore
needs to be protected. Don't you see a contradiction in this?

When I speak of economic reforms I am speaking about the need to
de-bureaucratise and decentralise our way of functioning.

(Rashme Sehgal is a Delhi-based writer and journalist)
InfoChange News & Features, June 2005


It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner