Thursday 5 June 2008

An Appeal to the Members of the Indian Parliament

The 108th Constitutional Amendment Bill is yet another example of the growing gap between pious promises and actual results of government policies and legislation in India.

The Bill provides for reservation on rotation basis through a lottery system, which means that two-thirds of the incumbent members will be forcibly unseated in every general election and the remaining will remain in a limbo till the last moment. Such compulsory unseating violates the basic principal of democratic representation and jeopardises the possibility of effective planning to contest by nurturing a political constituency for both male and female candidates. As legislators will be denied the possibility of seeking re election from the same constituency, politics will become even less accountable than at present. Since a seat will be reserved once in 15 years, males who will be pushed out of their constituency are likely to field their own female relatives as proxy candidates as a stopgap arrangement and women will not get the chance to cultivate deep roots in their constituency. Women will be ghettoised and forced to fight elections only against other women. They will lack the legitimacy of being mainstream politicians. Moreover, this Bill is completely silent about women's representation in Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils.

It is unfortunate that the UPA Government did not take several more viable alternative proposals that have been mooted in the last few years for enhancing the representation of women in legislatures. The Alternative Bill proposed by Manushi CSDS and Loksatta has received the endorsement of the Election Commission and several political parties who are opposed to the recently tabled Bill.

We have proposed that a law be enacted amending The Representation of the People Act, 1951, to make it mandatory for every recognized political party to nominate women candidates for election in atleast one-third of the constituencies. In the event of any recognized party failing to nominate one-third women candidates, for the shortfall of every single woman candidate, two male candidates of the party shall lose the party symbol and affiliation and all the recognition-related advantages. (For the full text of Manushi's Alternative Bill along with a critque of the Government tabled Bill see issue No 116 at www.manushi-india.org.
In order to preemept the likelihood of parties giving tickets to women only in weak constituencies, we have prposed that the unit for consideration (the unit in which at least one out of three party candidates shall be a woman) for the Lok Sabha shall be a state or union territory; for the State Legislative Assembly, the unit shall be a cluster of three contiguous Lok Sabha constituencies.

This Bill has the following advantages: Firstly, parties will be free to field women candidates where they can offer a good fight rather than in pre-fixed lottery based constituencies, where they may or may not have viable women candidates. Thus there is flexibility and promotion of natural leadership. A woman candidate will be contesting both against female and/or male candidates of rival parties. The democratic choice of voters is not restricted to compulsorily electing only women candidates.

Unlike with the lottery system of reserved constituencies, in which women's presence is likely to get ossified at 33 percent since there would be resistance to letting women contest from non-reserved constituencies, this model allows for far greater flexibility in the number and proportion of women being elected to legislatures. If women are candidates for one-third of all seats contested by each party, theoretically they could even win the vast majority of seats - all on merit.

Another major advantage of our Alternative Bill is that it obviates the need for a quota within a quota. Since the onus of fielding women candidates will be each party, those who are concerned about increased representation of OBC, BC women can field as many BC/OBC women as they think appropriate. Given the prevailing electoral arithmetic, OBC, BC communities have a great numerical edge over so-called upper castes. That is how most of our state legislatures are heavily dominated by OBC/BC men even without a reserved quota for them. The same caste arithmetic will work in favour of women of these communities.

The Bill tabled by the government is likely to face endless delays and obstructions because it requires an amendment to the Constitution, which mandates a 2/3 vote in favour of the Bill in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Thereafter, it has to be ratified by at least half of the state legislatures. Given the overt and covert opposition to this Bill within all parties, including the Congress, the Bill will face endless hurdles and delays along the way. By contrast the Alternative Bill proposed by Manushi can be passed by a simply majority in the two Houses since all it requires is an amendment to the Representation of Peoples' Act.

It is noteworthy that the proposal made by the Election Commission is identical to the one proposed by Manushi. Important leaders within all parties, including the Congress Party have expressed preference for Manushi's Alternative Bill. Thereore, it has a much better chance of success.
We therefore request you to oppose this discriminatory and undemocratic bill by signing this petition to send a powerful message to the Indian Legislature.

[Written by Madhu Purnima Kishwar]

Saturday 24 May 2008

Sewa Nagar Part III: The Struggle Turns Life Threatening

This is Part III of a three Part Series. Part I is available here. Part II is available here. See also: A Pictorial History of Manushi's Struggles or Vendors' Rights.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has taken an active interest in policy reform for street vendors, intervened personally and asked for determined action to save the project from mafia elements. In a letter dated December 18th, 2007 the LG’s office issued written instructions to the Police Commissioner that CCTV cameras should be installed at the earliest possible. To quote from this letter:

"The LG is of the view that installing CCTV cameras in the areas pointed by Madhu Kishwar cannot brook any delay. This facility will help in giving a boost to setting up the projects contemplated to locate vendors meaningfully not only in Sewa Nagar but in other areas of Delhi. On this issue specific directions have been received from PMO(Prime Minister Office). …The LG is of the view that the criminal activities of the Bhagat-Basoya group must be curbed with a firm hand so as to ensure that their activities are not an obstacle to the functioning of the Pilot Project for setting up Street vendors in Sewa Nagar."

Unfortunately, the cameras have not been installed so far. Therefore, the gangsters operate freely in the area continuing with their terror tactics.

To give the latest example of the kind of murderous attacks we have had to face, I reproduce extracts from my police complaint of December 31, 2007,

"I reached Sewa Nagar around 12.30 p.m. after duly informing the SHO of the area that I was visiting the area to take some photographs along with Manushi staff member Sheeshpal. He parked the car in front of the park. I got out of the car and began taking some photographs. Ajay Basoya, Babli Basoya, Pinki Basoya, Kuku, Mahipal Basoya, Mohan Yadav along with some of their associates were sitting on chairs laid out in the park plaza. When I started taking pictures, Mahipal’s mother repeatedly stood in front of the camera. I felt that it would be a waste of time to get into an argument with her since she had attacked me on earlier occasions as well. Hence, I proceeded towards my car.

As I turned back, Mahipal’s mother caught me unaware, pulled my hair and hit me repeatedly. She then kicked me and pushed me into the drain in front of the park. As she was punching and kicking me Ajay Basoya, Pinki Basoya, Mahipal, Babli and Kuku also began kicking and punching me. The Basoyas all joined the chorus saying " We will not let this randi go out alive from here."

When Sheeshpal saw me getting beaten up, he rushed to rescue me, but Babli Basoya, Pinki Basoya, Kukku, Mohan Yadav and Ajay Basoya pounced on him and started hitting him with a danda. As they gave him repeated blows I heard them say, "we will not let this harami go back alive today." They hit Sheeshpal on his legs, arms and back with a danda. Pinki Basoya caught hold of Sheeshpal’s neck in a bid to strangle him and I saw Sheeshpal almost choke to death.

Mahipal’s mother pulled my hair and repeatedly banged my head my head against the sidewalk. With the help of my arm and my shawl, I managed to save my head from concussions but in the process injured my right arm. Then Mahipal called out to his men saying: "Snatch away the camera of this randi and thrash her up so much that she dares not enter this area again. Ajay was saying: "today we will tear up her clothes, strip her naked and beat her up in the open. When Mohan Yadav came to snatch my camera, I hid it in my lap and bent double over it to save it from being robbed. ( They had earlier snatched two other cameras of Manushi in similar violent incidents.) Ajay Basoya, Mahipal Basoya’s mother and Mohan Yadav punched and kicked me further…. During this mayhem, Mahipal Basoya’s mother and Ajay Basoya said "Let us shove them into her car and set fire to the vehicle. They will not learn their lesson till their dead bodies are taken out from this market." Saying this they attempted to force open my car door thus damaging my car. Mahipal Basoya’s mother also said " Before I kill her I will strip this randi naked and get her gang raped in front of everyone in the market." While they were beating me Basoya brothers and their mother kept saying: "Let us catch hold of Mehboob and Ishwar and thrash them up as well." Fortunately, Ishwar and Mehboob had gone to the Electricity Board office, otherwise they would have ended up with broken bones.

Even after the police arrived they continued beating and hurling abuses at us, and were not letting us get out of the mob they had collected.When the police took us to the police station, they along with their entire gang, including their drivers and cleaners, reached the police station and created a riotous situation there as well and kept threatening us openly. With great difficulty, the police were able to take us out of the thana for an MLC.

These people literally shadow me around wherever I go. One of their own associates—Roshan told me that the Basoyas and Bhagat gang have arranged for a supari of Rs 50,000 to get me eliminated. My car has been pelted with huge boulders on previous occasions with an attempt to kill me. "

As a result of this attack, my entire body was covered with bruises and my right arm suffered injuries with several torn ligaments. Even after 6 weeks of the attack, my right hand in severe pain and cannot be used for simple tasks, including writing. On the same evening this gang went and looted the stalls of three vendors (Ram Singh, Manoj Yadav and Angoori Devi) and threatened them with dire consequences if they continued associating with Manushi on dared give testimonies against any of the gang members.

This was meant as an object lesson for all others. All three of them risked their very lives to go and file police complaints against them. Similarly, Yogesh Kumar who had been blackmailed to surrender his stall despite having paid Rs 363000 interest on a loan of Rs 35000 also sought the intervention of the Magistrate’s Court for getting an FIR registered on his complaint. Despite orders from the Magistrate’s court, the police have resisted registering appropriate cases against gang members admitting to political pressure as the reason for non action.

The police did register an FIR on the basis of my complaint of Decemebr 31st and some earlier attacks on me, but they also allowed the attackers to lodge several false complains against Manushi including "attempt to murder" charge against me alleging that I had tried to kill one of their aunts by ordering my driver to ram my car into her. They also alleged that when they protested, my "henchmen beat them up." This has been their standard strategy. After every single attack on Manushi members, they lodge all manners of fraudulent counter cases against us. They are even able to buy newspaper space for spreading these lies by influencing reporters through money or political influence. Two such fabricated reports appeared in Midday and another one in Tehleka. While Tehelka offered an unconditional apology in their issue of February 11, 2008, for their reporter having been misled by mafia elements, Midday continued with the falsehoods despite repeated warnings thus forcing Manushi to sue the paper and the reporter for criminal defamation.

The message of the mafia is clear: they want Manushi to withdraw from the market so that the mafia can take over the project stalls and other assets unhindered. Manushi has filed a Criminal Writ in the High Court on May 22, 2007 to seek protection for the lives of our members and against the forcible takeover of project property through force and fraud. After the December 31st attacks on me, I have been provided round the clock police security and a police picket has been posted in the Sewa Nagar market. That has enabled our core team members--Mehboob, Ishwar Lal and Raj Kumar to return to Sewa Nagar to resume their business but their lives are still under threat. The Lt Governor had ordered that leading members of the Bhagat-Basoya gang be externed from Delhi since even after registering of some cases against them, they seemed to be running amok.The police did serve an externment notice to them but no follow up action has been taken due to political pressure from local leaders of both the Congress and the BJP. Leave alone externing them from the city, the Bhagat-Basoya gang are seen openly socialising with the police picket on duty. Most worrisome of all the police has resisted filing FIRs against this gang despite solid complaints by several affected vendors and despite clear written instructions from the LG’s office.

It is a telling commentary on the state of our law and order machinery that a project:

  • Undertaken by the Municipal Commissioner of Delhi with sanction of the Supreme Court.
  • Strongly supported by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India as well as the present Lt Governor of Delhi.
  • Funded by the MPLAD Fund of a senior minister in the Congress Government,
  • Backed by the present Deputy Commissioner of the concerned Zone.
  • Endorsed and appreciated by senior leaders of both the Congress and the BJP, (Mr Advani, Dr Harshvardhan among others) the two national parties that rule Delhi;
  • Managed by a well known and conscientious organisation like Manushi in the heart of South Delhi in the vicinity of elite colonies like Lodhi Estate and Defence Colony

can be taken over by a bunch of local criminals with such ease, simply because for months on end the police did not stand up to the might of goondas and several politicians provide them active support.

It is noteworthy that Manushi has executed and administered the Sewa Nagar pilot project for four years without taking any grants from the government or any donor agency. The entire planning, administrative, advocacy and legal expenses were met with donations from Manushi friends and members of the pilot project. However, instead of allowing it become a role model for the city, the local mafia has endangered its very existence.

Larger Significance of the Sewa Nagar Project

We bring the plight of Sewa Nagar project to public attention because the fate of the National Policy for Street Vendors is linked with the fate of this pilot project. For example, as per the mandate of the National Policy for Street Vendors, the MCD has announced that it will be allotting 3,00,000 tehbazari licenses and vending sites in Delhi. Given the severe shortage of commercial space in Delhi, these vending kiosks are seen as prized assets. At a modest average of Rs 10 lakh per vending kiosk/stall, 300,000 tehbazari sites represent assets worth Rs 30,000 crores. The Ward vending Committees in each municipal zone have been filled with local mafias with political patronage. Each corporator has been unofficially been assured a minimum allotment of 100 kiosks each as part of sharing of booty between municipal employees and the political leaders. If the Government appears too weak to resist the takeover of a small pilot project from criminal mafias, it cannot possibly save hawking zones and kiosks in the rest of the Delhi and other cities from being similarly grabbed by political mafias. The process of applications and selections so far adopted by the MCD for grant of tehbazaris has the making of a humungous scam.

The manner in which the National Policy for Street Vendors is implemented has implications that go far beyond the right to livelihood of street vendors. When vulnerable citizens see the police join hands with extortionist mafias, they lose respect for laws and law enforcers leading to greater crime in society. Today all our markets are in control of criminals with political links.They don’t stop at preying on the poor. The growing political clout and money power at the disposal of criminals renders every one unsafe, no matter how many security guards they position outside their homes. Safety is indivisible and we all have a stake in ensuring the security of livelihood of all citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable.

We have demanded the following:

  • An empowered independent Commission headed by the Lt. Governor of Delhi should be set up to institutionalize a rational, honest and accountable system for legalizing the status of street vendors and to prevent extortionist mafias and vested interests from capturing vending kiosks and stalls in hawking zones.
  • A citywide computerised database should be created by a credible and independent agency to identify those who are actually operating on the streets, their exact location as well as the total number of street vendors actually operating in Delhi as a first step towards determining who qualifies to get tehbazari.
  • Appropriate punitive action against criminal mafias who are out to destroy and grab the pilot project.
  • Installation of CCTV cameras in the project area to keep local criminals at bay and provide safety of life to project members as well as prevent the project stalls and other assets being taken over by mafia elements.

The time, energy and money spent on work for street vendors has virtually bankrupted the organisation and compelled us to suspend the publication of Manushi Journal which was widely respected as a pioneering readers-supported magazine on women’s rights and human rights issues. Manushi Journal not only lived for 28 years without accepting advertisements but also generated resources for our research and activist interventions on various issues, including work for street vendors. Our commitment to making our work self supporting, meant that so far we have refrained from accepting government or other grants and therefore, relied largely on voluntary, unpaid work. When we started work for street vendors, we knew we would be upsetting deeply entrenched vested interests but we had no idea that it would become so life threatening--both for our volunteers as well as for the organization itself.

We seek your help and support in carrying forward the work of policy reform for street vendors to its logical conclusion.

[Written by Madhu Purnima Kishwar. Originally published here]

Sewa Nagar Part II: Under Attack

This is Part II of a three Part Series. Part I is available here. Part III is available here. See also: A Pictorial History of Manushi's Struggles or Vendors' Rights.

The local mafia indulging in the attacks belongs to the nearby village, Kotla Mubarakpur. The main figures are Basoya brothers (Babli, Mahipal, Pinky and Ajay) who run several legal and illegal businesses from the area, a Class IV employee of LNJP Hospital in Delhi, a notorious character named Chavanni, and a mysterious man named Sanjay who refuses to reveal his real identity and calls himself "Hindustani". They are able to mobilize other anti social elements of the area with ease since they are bound together through ties of kinship, crime and corruption. At the local level, both Congress and BJP leaders offer them support and patronage.

Twenty years ago Basoyas were among the lower rungs of Kotla Mubarakpur. The eldest son Mahipal began his life as a tempo driver. But over the last two decades through a mix of crime, extortion, robbery and illegal occupation of government land they have today amassed assets worth crores. Their new found wealth provides valuable insights into how those rising from the ranks of the poor fleece the poor with far greater ferocity and how those making money through illegal means inevitably gravitate towards politics and manage to find patrons cutting across party lines.

Apart from owning a flourishing transport business including a fleet of tempos and taxis, the illegal businesses run by Basoyas include the following:

  • Extortionist money-lending, at 120% per year interest from local street vendors and other needy people. They use terror tactics to extract their loan repayment and have used this tactic to illegally take over stalls of several vendors.
  • An unregistered Kameti (Chit Fund) business that acts as a supplement to their money lending business. Those in need of loans are induced to join the Kameti and lift money at a loss and thereafter made to pay hefty instalments of Rs 7000 to 10,000 per month. Those unable to pay are charged 120% interest on defaulted instalments. Many have fallen into the debt trap because of this Kameti racket. Most of the vendors are unable to make sense of their complex calculations since the whole business is conducted without any written receipts. Yogesh’s account given below provides a graphic account of how their money lending and Kameti business go hand in hand.
  • Making and selling duplicate copies of pornographic and other CDs. They hold shows of blue films at night at their adda.
  • Buying and selling stolen petrol and diesel. People have witnessed government and private company cars come and deliver petrol and diesel to them during odd hours of day and night. They sell this at slightly discounted price to local people.
  • Selling illegally tapped power supply and ground water at exorbitant prices to shopkeepers and residents of the area.For example, they charge Rs.300/- per month per fish vendor and those selling cooked food for the supply of water from a bore pump they drilled illegally in the public park. Similarly, each vendor has to pay Rs 10-20 per day for stolen electricity.
  • Extorting money from local vendors by running a "protection" racket charging Rs 50 to Rs 100 per day from each vendor who operates under their protection.
  • In addition they own farm land and two multi storey buildings in Kotla Mubarakpur from which they get a rental income of over 1.25 lakh per month from working class tenants who are given little cubby-holes at high rents.

The Tempo Stand acts as their base and adda where anti social elements of the area gather daily for drinking liquor and creating terror by routine assaults and attacks on vulnerable individuals.

Unable to grab stalls through violence or blackmail, the local mafia, developed a new strategy. Due to the absence of credit facilities many vendors are under their debt. Even when they pay hefty instalments, the debt keeps mounting because the interest rate is astronomical. The money lending mafia began to surreptitiously take over the stalls of some of the indebted vendors by making them sign off their rights on Rs 100 denomination stamp paper.

A sample of their criminal ways of money making is provided by the account of Yogesh Kumar as to how they tried to grab hold of the allotted stall to him. In April 2003, Shiv Kumar-- one of the members of the local mafia led by Basoya brothers and Bhagat Singh, persuaded Yogesh into taking a loan of Rs 35,000 at an interest rate of Rs 120% per annum to invest in his business much against the wishes of Yogesh’s mother.

From May 2003 to December 2005 Yogesh paid Rs 3500 per month by way of interest for the loan of Rs 35,000. However, from January 2006 to March 2006 Yogesh was unable to pay the monthly interest because he was not left with enough money for running the household expenses. Yogesh was threatened that he should either pay a lump sum of Rs 50,000 or transfer his stall in Shiv Kumar’s name. When he resisted, the leader of this gang Mahipal Basoya insisted that Yogesh should join their "Kameti" (Chit Fund) group for 200,000 rupees, lift the money and pay off his debt to Shiv Kumar. Since joining the Kameti meant paying a hefty monthly instalment ranging from Rs 7000 to Rs 9000 per month which Yogesh could ill afford, he was very reluctant to do so but was threatened into accepting the deal.

In September 2006, they forced Yogesh to lift the Kameti at a loss of Rs 60,000. Shiv Kumar took away Rs 70,000 as his dues on the loan of Rs 35, 000 he had originally given Yogesh who was handed over merely Rs 30,000 in hand for a Kameti of Rs 200,000. Mahipal claimed the rest of the amount as penalty for joining six months late.

After that for one whole year Yogesh paid to Mahipal Basoya a monthly instalment ranging from Rs 7000 per month to Rs 8,000 for the 2 lakh Kameti totalling to over Rs. 80, 000. But this hefty instalment meant that he was left with no money whatsoever for his household expenditure. His wife had to work as a domestic help in order to supplement the household expenditure. This created a lot of tension in his family. Therefore, he stopped paying Kameti instalments. At this point Bhagat Singh and Basoya brothers forcibly took away his new scooter, which had been purchased on instalments by his father. In addition, they forced him to open a bank account and issue several blank cheques to them in order to black mail him further since bounced cheques can lead to a jail sentence.

Thus on a loan of Rs 35,000 Yogesh has already paid them more than Rs 3,63,000 by way of interest, including loss of his scooter. Yet by September 2007 they began claiming nearly 120, 000 rupees more in order to clear his dues or else transfer his stall to their names. He was told that if he refused their demand he would be beaten out of the market. This was not an empty threat. They had used exactly the same tactic for "purchasing" the stalls of several other members of the pilot project. Whoever dared resist was beaten up and driven out of the market. The pressure to sign away his stall in the name of Basoyas got so intimidating that in sheer panic Yogesh simply fled from the market and took shelter in a near by town with some distant relatives without informing his mother or wife regarding his whereabouts. After weeks of searching his mother Saroj Devi finally traced him down and brought him to Manushi for help. We helped him file a police complaint as well as a court case but despite our best efforts we have failed to get a simple F.I.R registered so far.

When these illegal transfers of stalls came to the knowledge of Manushi, we requested the Deputy Commissioner of Central Zone to seal the stalls, which had been ‘purchased’ illegally from vulnerable project members. Therefore, on January 4, 2007 eleven stalls were sealed by the MCD. This firm action aimed at the mafia unleashed a new and more deadly wave of violence and terror against Manushi.

The reason for the violence is understandable. Due to the transformation of Sewa Nagar from a slum-like hawker market to a neat and well-developed area, the market value of each stall and the combined value of the entire pilot project area is today worth several crores. Each stall already commands a black-market price of Rs.5 to 15 lakhs depending on its location. The local politicians and their mafia associates are not willing to allow an ordinary vendor to have usufruct rights over a property whose market value is rising fast given the short supply of commercial space in Delhi. They are being ousted one by one through force and fraud.

These criminal elements join the bandwagon of whichever party comes to power. Therefore, they are able to get the patronage of political leaders of all hues who are all united by common interest--to ensure that the livelihood of vendors stays captive in their grip so that they do not dare resist paying bribes and do their bidding at election times.

Since April 30th, none of us can enter that area without risking our lives. I myself have thrice narrowly escaped being lynched to death by them. I have been threatened with gang rape and worse if I dare pursue the matter further. The most active among project members (Mehboob, Ishwar Lal, Shahid, Yaseen and Raj Kumar) who had played a vital role in organizing project members and bringing about civic discipline in the area were brutally beaten up in a series of violent incidents starting April 19th, and driven out of the market. They were warned not to dare enter the market or else they would face death. Other members are also threatened daily, roughed up, terrorized, fleeced and forced to sign all kinds of bogus documents and petitions against the project without even being shown the text. What is worst, after each incident of assault, I and other members of Manushi have patently bogus criminal cases filed against us subjecting us to soul-destroying harassment.

Since this group of anti social elements posed a serious threat to the survival of the pilot project, following numerous complaints by project members regarding the criminal acts of the local mafia, the Deputy Commissioner ordered the removal of the Tempo Stand in very categorical terms as recorded in the Minutes of the MCD meeting held on June 6, 2007:

"It was decided that since the Tempo Stand has become the hub for anti social elements out to forcibly takeover the project property and stalls, determined action should be taken to get the unauthorized Tempo parking and the illegally constructed office of the Basoya Tempo Stand removed from the project area. After getting it removed with police protection, the local police should be informed that the Basoya Tempo Stand should not be allowed to reoccupy space in the Sewa Nagar area."

Following this decision two clearance operations were carried out with police support. But within the same hour the tempos would come back to the same spot near the park plaza. The Deputy Commissioner then wrote a long letter to the Police Commissioner detailing why it was important to ensure permanent removal of the Tempo Stand from Sewa Nagar. He requested the Police Commissioner to:

a) "Book and charge sheet cases against those who have indulged in violence against law-abiding vendors and office bearers and staff of Manushi Sangathan for performing legitimate functions under the MCD project. The charge sheets should include attempts to illegally take over MCD property, threats, blackmail, extortion and coercion against vendors and Manushi Sangathan (for which ample evidence has been provided to Kotla police station) and for booking false cases against Manushi Sangathan with a view to harassing and coercing the organization into abandoning the project.

b) Enforce the permanent removal of the unauthorized tempo and private taxi stand operated by Basoya brothers whose removal has been twice executed by the MCD.

However, since the police was extremely reluctant to take determined action against the gangsters, their attacks and threats continued unabated. Therefore, we had to seek the intervention of the Lt Governor of Delhi who took a very positive view of the pilot project. He supported Manushi’s demand for police protection for the pilot project, including installation of CCTV cameras in the area to keep the local anti-social elements under check and prevent them from attacking Manushi members and as a counter blast strategy implicate our members in false criminal cases.

Continue to Part III

[Written by Madhu Purnima Kishwar. Originally published here]

Sewa Nagar Project Part I: The Beginning

This is Part I of a three Part Series. Part II is available here. Part III is available here. See also: A Pictorial History of Manushi's Struggles or Vendors' Rights.

Ten years ago when Manushi got involved in the work for policy reform work for street vendors, we had hoped that we would help reform the system of vending licenses and provide a measure of livelihood security for nearly one crore persons in various urban centres of India who survive by vending and hawking on the streets. Ironically, even while we have had notable success in changing the policy framework at least on paper, today Manushi volunteers and staff are as endangered as the vendors and hawkers whose rights we sought to strengthen. After a series of violent attacks by mafia elements on me and several Manushi volunteers and staff, and because of threats against my life, I have been made to accept round the clock police security at the behest of the Lt Governor of Delhi.

Most ironical of all, there are particular parts of Delhi I cannot enter without risking my very life and without being escorted by four five policeman--namely: Sewa Nagar and Kotla Mubarakpur areas in the heart of New Delhi. All this because Sewa Nagar was selected as the site of a unique experiment through which Manushi undertook the responsibility for creating a self governing market for street vendors. This pilot project aimed at not only legalizing the status of street vendors by making them pay regular rent to the municipality but also help transform Sewa Nagar hawker market into a role model of civic discipline for the rest of the city.

As per the estimates of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, there are over three lakh street vendors and mobile hawkers in Delhi. But less than 3000 persons have managed to secure vending licenses from the MCD and that too after prolonged legal battles in the High Court and the Supreme Court of Delhi. The situation is no different in other urban centres of India. The illegal status of more than 99% vendors makes them easy targets of extortionist mafias. In Delhi alone, vendors end up suffering an income loss of at least Rs 500 crores per year by way of bribes and confiscation of goods while being routinely subjected to systematic blackmail, terror and human rights abuses.

A key argument offered by municipal agencies and the police for not legalising the status of street vendors is that street hawkers cause obstructions for other road users and also spread chaos and squalor. To combat this official prejudice against vendors Manushi offered to take responsibility to show by example how:

  • Vendors can be accommodated in the city in an aesthetic and orderly manner.
  • Security of livelihood and avenues for upward mobility can be provided for the self-employed poor by giving them access to space for developing their entrepreneurial skills;
  • The existing system of payoffs, protection rackets run by politically connected mafias who indulge in routine human rights abuses to extract bribes can be replaced with fee based access to market space which enhances municipal revenues and curbs the growth of criminal mafias who parasite on the poor in urban areas.

We raised funds through personal donations from Manushi supporters, hired a team of architects and submitted a detailed plan of action to MCD. Each project member voluntarily signed an oath (Shapath Patra) on Rs. 10 stamp paper agreeing to abide by the following disciplines:

  • Pay a monthly rent of Rs.390/ to the MCD through Manushi;
  • Contribute towards the salary of the Cleaning Brigade specially hired to maintain cleanliness in the project area;
  • Stay within the agreed-upon Sanyam Rekha, (Line of Discipline) Hawkers who do notobserve this discipline agreed to be fined Rs.100 per violation of Sanyam Rekha.
  • Promise not to build any extra structures above or outside the stall area;
  • Promise not to sell or rent out the allotted stall.

Those who violate these disciplines are liable to have their membership cancelled and the stall sealed. Manushi also took the responsibility for redesigning the rehdis and vending platforms to improve their functionality, cleanliness and aesthetic appeal. We also arranged ICICI loans for vendors to pay for the cost of new stalls. Manushi also bore the cost of ensuring rent compliance from all those street vendors who opted to become part of the model market project.


Seeking Legal Sanction for Model Market Project

A majjor breakthrough in getting sanction for the pilot project occurred after the MCD got a pro-citizen Commissioner, Mr. Rakesh Mehta, who strongly backed this project. The MCD Commissioner approached the Supreme Court to allow the M.C.D. to undertake two pilot projects, one at Sewa Nagar and the second near CGO complex in collaboration with Manushi to try demonstrate by concrete example how vendors could be accommodated in the city landscape in an orderly and aesthetic manner. It would also create a model for rejuvenating our cities without throwing out the poor who would in fact become tax payers and contribute to city’s maintenance and infrastructure development rather than be seen as a nuisance.

The petition filed in the Supreme Court argued forcefully that the existing tehbazari system had facilitated massive extortion rackets and widespread human rights abuses. It admitted that the restrictive licensing policy had proved a dismal failure in controlling the number of vendors in the city, which keep increasing with the overall rise in population of Delhi. Therefore, there was need to evolve a more realistic system of licensing. The petition also informed the Court that if the pilot projects proved successful, they would provide a model for creating hawking zones all over Delhi

On April 10, 2003, Supreme Court gave a go ahead to MCD to execute two pilot projects with the following words of caution:

"…The implementation of any policy or project, howsoever well motivated it may be, depends on the bona fides and whole-hearted faithful implementation by the agencies involved in the execution. We only hope and trust that such projects and policies shall not be shadowed by corruption and red-tapism which, unfortunately, has become the order of the day…"

An Agreement was signed and registered between MCD and Manushi for the Sewa Nagar and CGO Complex Pilot Projects on April 7, 2004. Mrs. Ambika Soni supported the Sewa Nagar project with Rs 25 lakhs from her MPLAD fund to build the required civic infrastructure in Sewa Nagar, new pavements, stall platforms, park plazas, drains etc. Dr. Karan Singh sanctioned Rs 10 lakh from his M.P.LAD fund for the CGO complex project but the local police made it impossible for us to execute the project, despite clearance from the Security Wing of CGO Complex. MCD Commissioner could not do much about it because the land was temporarily under CPWD charge. They were hostile to the project and kept postponing transferring that area of land to the MCD.

The Sewa Nagar project started in October 2004 amidst violence and repeated assaults from the police and local extortionist mafia for the following reasons:

1). Since membership of the project gave them legal protection vendors who are members of the Manushi pilot project stopped paying monthly bribes.The local mafia was outraged at this.

2). Manushi refused to give in to threats, violent attacks and blackmail tactics of the local mafia including intervention by well known political leaders, who wanted a certain number of stalls to be handed over to the " their men" who act as local touts for bribe collection and play a "helpful" role in elections.

As a result, the new civic infrastructure was repeatedly damaged and the new pavements, drains and stalls were time and again vandalized during and even after construction. Project members were repeatedly subjected to violence, intimidation and life-threats to make them abandon the project. When the terror tactics failed, the mafia approached the High Court for a stay order on the basis of bogus and flimsy allegations. The High Court refused to grant stay. But the mafia dons keep filing more and more bogus objections to harass and tire us out.

Continue to Part II

[Written by Madhu Purnima Kishwar. Originally published here]