| 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
legitimate occupation without being terrorised or fleeced by some
agency or the other. Liberalisation has failed to create an enabling
environment for 90% of the country's workforce that operate in the
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
hoping her efforts will be duplicated by other civil society organisations.
Kishwar's recently released book Deepening Democracy -- Challenges
Governance and Globalisation in India offers detailed strategies to
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
predatory role in wrecking the livelihoods of millions of people rather
helping facilitate and enhance their working environment. Can you
A: If we examine the laws that govern livelihoods, we find that it
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.
because the laws have been framed in such a manner that they leave
the worst victims of statist and vicious controls. A large number
legitimate economies are caught in this web of illegality, forcing
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
is free to exploit them as they please.
Q: You also make the observation that 90% of India's workforce earns
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
highly efficient, decentralised system of distribution of essential
commodities. How did you arrive at the figure of Rs 40 crore being
from the Delhi hawkers every month? Are similar figures available
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
after their case was recommended by some MLA or bureaucrat. A vendor
30% of his income to the babu-neta combine. Extortion rates range
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
calculate at the rate of Rs 500 per month, it works out to Rs 40 crore
Government controls have stifled the informal sector. A farmer growing
is not in a position to husk his own rice. A fruit grower growing
cannot convert this into apple juice. The agro-based ancillary industry
just not been allowed to develop. In fact, I have always maintained
government's ban on the development of rural industries and opting
monopoly procurement was responsible for sowing the seeds of the Khalistan
movement. With the prices of farm products remaining artificially
while input costs have risen substantially, our farmers remain in
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
been given licences, their goods and carts can be confiscated at any
They are the main distribution channel for a large variety of products,
fruits, vegetables and readymade garments to newspapers and magazines.
when it comes to getting his confiscated cart released, a vendor has
Rs 1,900 as a fine to the municipal authorities. This is a constant
their health and an erosion of their savings.
Q: How did Manushi get involved with the vendors? Are you providing
kinds of assistance to women vendors?
My highlighting of their plight in Manushi and then the holding of
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
different arms of the government including the PMO. Prime Minister
reciprocated by announcing the setting up of a national task force
The Supreme Court has clearly ordered every city to demarcate hawking
no-hawking zones. We have been provided with one such zone in Seva
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
general secretary Ambika Soni as part of her MPLAD fund. We have also
received individual donations from friends of Manushi . But I must
the fact that the vendors built their stalls from their own money.
During our first phase we are working with 158 hawkers. Every vendor
pay Rs 395 for rental space and between Rs 30 and Rs 1,000 to the
karamcharis. There has been a complete transformation of the whole
since no bribes are being forked out to anyone. The Delhi Municipal
Corporation has given a commitment to the Supreme Court that if this
succeeds it will spread to the entire city. No bribes are being given
One of the main reasons we see few women hawkers and vendors on the
is because the streets are too unsafe for them and they cannot face
of harassment their male counterparts face. Women hawkers are either
or older women who head households. This is unlike the situation in
Asia where markets are dominated by women. Hawkers who are members
Manushi Sangathan, which is the organisational wing of Manushi , cannot
misbehave with women. According to a proposal we have placed before
government, 25% of space must be reserved for women, and another 25%
disabled in all our future projects. We are also planning to move
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
authorities. What kind of feedback did you receive on this subject?
elaborate on some of the key grievances of the hawkers/vendors?
The public hearings were held at the India International Centre and
FICCI auditorium in New Delhi. There was some criticism about why
hearings were being held in air-conditioned auditoriums. We believe
have as much right to access these places as the rich. We helped create
organisational platform for them, and the rich and mighty came and
to their grievances in an atmosphere of electrifying silence. This
first time in independent India that such an organisational platform
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
bureaucratic corruption. One of their chief problems is that they
given individual ownership licences and therefore constantly have
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
will be more or less the same. However, I believe the situation in
much worse. For one, in smaller cities like Kanpur the administration
not created any alternative public transport system. The result is
rickshaw-pullers are considered indispensable. Delhi, however, possesses
imperialist mindset. Here, the authorities would be happy to banish
In Delhi, the MCD has laid out a law that says that the owner of a
must also be the puller. If the owner gets someone else to ply the
it will be confiscated and destroyed. On behalf of this sector, Manushi
the MCD to court asking it to implement the PMO's policy on this sector.
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
snatch away vast tracts of land at throwaway prices and then literally
them to the city's well-heeled. How come no one challenges these powers
the state? Also, it seems ironic that while the government is unable
a single corrupt government employee it continues to treat the public
so much contempt.
The government can destroy village after village but is not in a position
sack one recalcitrant employee. The government should be going all
encourage self-employment. Statistics indicate that 10 years from
will not be able to absorb even 15% of our total workforce. Ninety
cent of the people will have to fend for themselves. The government
work towards creating an enabling, not restrictive, atmosphere.
Q: At one level you have been a votary for globalisation and the opening
of markets. But at the same time you speak out against the way the
farming community has been discriminated against at every step and
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