GMC Fails to Implement Vending Zones even after 5 Years of Vendors’ Act
Street vending expanding at alarming rate in the city; local miscreants alleged to be extorting hafta from poor vendors
Guwahati is one of the fastest-growing cities in India. However, rapid urbanization spurs its own sets of issues. One of the major concerns of the city today is the popping up of vendors in almost every road and lane.
Guwahati Municipal Corporation’s (GMC) survey back in 2015 showed that there were 7,183 street vendors in the city. At that point in time, there were 497 food vendors, 727 cloth vendors, 661 fruit vendors, 2,044 vegetable vendors, 194 fish vendors, 82 meat vendors, 1,163 paan/tamul vendors, 183 chana/puchka/bhel puri vendors and 1,631 others.
However, the Assam Street Vendors’ Association (ASVA) claims that there are more than 40,000 vendors in Guwahati as on date. The influx of these many vendors across the city without any valid recognition and proper vending zones is something that cannot be overlooked.
The Street Vendors’ (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 regulates street vendors in public areas and protects their rights. The Act states that all vendors are to be accommodated in vending zones and no vendors are allowed to carry out such activities in no-vending zones. But even after 5 years of its commencement, GMC is yet to implement it in full force.
After the Act was passed in March 2014, a Town Vending Committee (TVC) was formed in Guwahati which is headed by the GMC commissioner with members from various sectors like NGOs, 40% members from vendors, banks and the police department. Today there are a total of 20 members with 8 members from ASVA.
From all this, It may be brought to notice that the TVC has not served its purpose and meetings are not held regularly. Consequently, GMC is yet to establish any vending zones in Guwahati.
The administration had earlier proposed 8 vending zones in Borbari, Kachari, Ganeshguri, Bhangagarh, Uzan Bazar and Silpukhuri. But these locations are yet to be notified.
Naren Rajbongshi, President of ASVA, told G Plus, “Two tenders were called for the vending zones at Panbazar and Borbari but there is no development as of yet.
Rs 8,72,500 was sanctioned for the Panbazar vending zone. Also around Rs 22 lakhs remain unspent under the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) for development of vending zones in the city.”
GMC Commissioner, Debeswar Malakar, said that the implementation of two vending zones at Borbari near IIHM and Panbazar opposite Meghdoot Bhawan are at the initial stage. The project would be funded by NULM; its cost is estimated to be Rs 20 lakhs in total.
However, only the 7,183 vendors who were identified during the 2015 survey would be allotted settlement. He denied taking responsibility of the others who have come in after the survey.
Talking about the encroachment by vendors at random places that often lead to traffic blockage, Rajbongshi said, “Authorities should first identify the no-vending zones so that the association could also prevent the vendors from opening shops anywhere as per their whims.”
It is to be mentioned that eviction drives are carried out to prevent traffic jams and mostly during VIP visits or during major events. But no step has been taken by authorities to tackle the problem permanently.
Lately, Municipal Corporation Police (MCP) has been seen to be deployed at major vending hubs by the Enforcement Department. MCP personnel are seen in the illegal vending area at SS Road Fancy Bazaar. They are present from 10 am to 5 pm to prevent re-establishment of stalls by the vendors.
Talking to G Plus a few of the vendors said, “We usually display our products on a large polythene sheet or other temporary setups so that we can remove the shop as soon as the authorities come for eviction.” Most vendors said that they start the business post 5 pm after the MCP leaves.
One vendor said, “My family has been vending for a long time at this same place. My father set up the shop 12 to 15 years back in this area and we had documents and registration of the same. However, the authorities have evicted us from the place and now we have nowhere to go.”
Although the vendors were relocated to the GMC market of Fancy Bazar, they refused to settle in there alleging that the space was small and the allotted top floors would be highly inconvenient to their kind of business.
No identity check on vendors
As per notification No. GDD.29/2008/Pt./277 dated 26 February 2016 in The Assam Gazette, “Every Town Vending Committee shall maintain up-to-date record of registered street vendors and street vendors to whom a certificate of vending has been issued.” The record is also to be updated every three months and the returns furnished to the state government and local authorities must be uploaded on the website.
However, GMC has not yet provided any such identification or certificate. As such, there is no official record of the number of vendors or their identities.
The question arises, “Could there be possible miscreants amongst these vendors?”
While municipal authorities have no data of these illegal vendors, the city police also do not hold any record of the same.
Police sources at some of the most crime-prone areas of the city said that although eviction drives are conducted along with municipal officials from time-to-time, no permanent step has been taken by any of the authorities to record the identity of the vendors or evict them from heavy-traffic areas.
Moreover, both authorities have uprightly denied holding responsibility of these unidentified vendors.
Jayanta Kumar Das, officer-in-charge of Fancy Bazar Police Outpost has taken an initiative to verify the identity of the vendors under his jurisdiction. He said, “I have asked the vendors and other unregistered vendors to submit their identity verification cards and other records so that we can keep a track of them. Although a few have already submitted their documents, most of them have not yet come forward.”
Jayanta Kumar Das, officer-in-charge of Fancy Bazar Police Outpost has taken an initiative to verify the identity of the vendors under his jurisdiction.
GMC losing revenue due to lack of registered vending zones
It is to be mentioned that due to lack of recognized vending zones the GMC authorities are not being able to collect revenues from the vendors. This has resulted in a huge loss to the state government.
Chandan Goswami, General Secretary of the Street Vendors’ Association said, “As the vendors are not yet registered and no proper placement has been provided, regular revenues cannot be collected.”
G Plus asked vendors of some of the markets regarding payments to concerned authorities.
Most said that while payment for the setting up shop is not collected, they have to pay Rs 20 daily to the appointed NGOs for garbage disposal. This is an amount of Rs 600 per month per vendor.
However, some vendors claim that even after payment with proper receipt the garbage is not collected daily.
Bhangagarh vending zone eviction case
“It was on 4th May 2017 that the officials of GMC, along with the Mayor and Circle Officer Lakhinandan Saharia reached the Bhangagarh market and carried out the eviction drive without issuing any prior intimation. It was said earlier that the market which was in existence in front of the Gauhati Medical College & Hospital (GMCH) would be shifted to below the Bhangagarh flyover but the GMC officials went ahead and evicted the market without giving any notice.
In the eviction drive 80 unauthorized shops, kiosks, restaurants and fruit and vegetable stalls were removed. The official of GMC said that the eviction was carried out so as to free up the traffic movement. The GMC took the action after the stretch from Bhangagarh flyover to the rotary at GMCH emergency entry point was declared “Protected Area” by the district administration.
But whatever be the reason, the public money amounting to Rs 20 lakhs that was used did not serve its purpose.
Debajit Senapati, working president of ASVA and an executive member of National Association of Street Vendors said, “I was arrested and kept in custody for fourteen days. We had registered a case (Case No. I.A.(Civil).1878/2017) with regard to the eviction in the Gauhati High Court. The Court has asked GMC to settle the dispute before 23 January 2020. We have met with the Commissioner of GMC but there seems to be no progress although we have been assured.”
Debeswar Malakar justified GMC’s stand saying, “The High Court has ordered us to allot settlement to eleven vendors. We have already processed the files but are awaiting the NOC from the DC’s Office as the vending zone falls under ‘Protected Area’ which has not yet been received. As such we are unable to proceed with the work.”
Probable syndicates behind excessive sprouting of vendors
Concerned Guwahatians have claimed the presence of syndicates behind the existence of the huge number of street vendors.
Chandan Goswami said that they have, at times, received complaints about groups collecting ‘hafta’ or protection money for allowing to carry out vending activities in certain areas. But the vendors themselves never report of the same and as such no action can be taken.
On the other hand, the city police claim that although they have inside information of extortion rackets they are unable to take action as vendors themselves never report for fear of harassment.
There have been allegations against locals over extortion of money from vendors at several areas across the city.
Locals from the Kachari Basti area usually collect money from the vendors in and around Ulubari.
The Old Jail road connecting Machkhowa and Fancy Bazar has a permanent street vendors’ market that leads to heavy traffic blockage.
Locals in Machkhowa alleged that some of the miscreants have been collection extortion money within the premises of Young Amateur Club. It has been alleged they have been using this road for illegal vendor settlement and collecting ‘hafta’ for the same, ranging from Rs 30 per day to Rs 2,000 per month.
Speaking to G Plus the Secretary of the club said, “We have strongly asked the vendors to clear the place. However, a few of the local miscreants are extorting money inside the premises which has harmed the club’s reputation.”
In this context, officer- in-charge of Bharalumukh PS said that they have received complaints saying money is collected from the Machkhowa Market around 2 am to 3 am by some miscreants. But the police have not been able to arrest any such person even during raids.
Further, people have said that extortion rackets by a group of locals from Santipur area are working even in the Fatasil market although they could not give any names.
Extortion in the name of development tender at Six Mile
A vendor who did not wish to be named informed that GMC had invited a tender for the development of the vending zone under the Six Mile flyover. The contract would be valid for eight months till 31 March 2020. The tender was allotted to one Dinabandhu Nath.
The said market in Six Mile was established in 2013 with the help of NULM and an NGO. Before the tender was called, one Anwar had been collecting extortion money from the vendors. But after the tender was allotted every fish-monger in the market has been paying Rs 200 to Dinabandhu Nath and another Rs 100 to Anwar every day.
As for the vegetable and fruit sellers, they are paying around Rs 150 to Nath alone.
Earlier there were about 70 stalls here but the number has increased to around 120.
Moreover an amount of Rs 50,000 is also collected as advance payment from anyone who wishes to set up a stall or a mere kiosk.
Sources also claim that local miscreants set up a few stalls and kiosks and then rent them out to the vendors.
Debeswar Malakar said, “When GMC allots a tender the said party or lessee could collect money from the shopkeepers for the given period as per permitted rates. But we have not received any complaint from vendors regarding collection of excess amount.”