Bengaluru’s street vendors struggle with extreme heat, heavy rain, and limited options

Amid health issues and declining sales due to weather extremities, Bengaluru street vendors also face threat of eviction.

It is 11:30 in the morning, Aarif (name changed), a vegetable vendor in KR Market, looks ahead, braving the searing summer heat, while waiting for customers. After a long time, a customer finally approaches him and asks for the rate of green chillies. As the day inches towards noon, the footfall in the market starts decreasing.

Arif, who primarily sells chillies and ginger, says: “In about 1-2 hours, customers will start decreasing, but we will still sit in hope of getting more customers. We have to do something for survival. No matter how strong the sun is, we have to sit here all day”, says Aarif. “Barish ho to bhigna hai, dhoop ho to sukhna hai (If it’s raining, everything gets drenched, when there is sun everything dries up),” he adds.

Aarif has been selling vegetables at the same spot for over a decade. He is not aware about the existence of street vending committees in the area, nor does he have a licence. “I have been selling vegetables for 12 years now. Earlier, the police would come and try to evict us, but we would protest, we don’t have any other option. Now, everyday we have to give Rs. 300 to the police, and they don’t bother us.” If there is an eviction, street vendors are at the mercy of the local MLA, who helps them secure their spot by lodging complaints and staging protests.

Read more: Bengaluru’s street vendors are the first to be impacted by climate change: Lekha Adavi

In April this year, Bengaluru’s temperature touched nearly 40°C, among the highest in nearly half a decade. Due to the scorching heat, street vendors are among the first to get impacted. At the same time, when it started raining heavily in May, they were struggling again because of lack of facilities available to them.

Street vendors’ issues due to weather extremities

Reducing tree cover and rapidly-urbanising areas affect these vendors. There is a lack of shade, provision of space/area for street vending. During heavy rains, street vendors have to either cover their stock and take shelter in a shade nearby. During light showers, they wear a raincoat or simply cover their head with plastic and sit near their stall.

Describing the problems faced by street vendors, Lekha Adavi, a lawyer-activist and a member of the All India Centre of Trade Unions (AICTU), says, “We have given a letter to the government to provide shelter from not just the heat. Last year, we also asked about the rain because it was raining continuously and due to climate change, whatever happens, even though street vendors produce nearly zero pollution, they are the ones to be impacted first.”

Street vendors across Bengaluru are facing similar problems. Alamelu, 46, who has been selling fruits on a push cart for over 30 years, says, “Earlier I would put up my stall on the road side and no one would bother me. But in the last 4-5 years, police have started forcing me to shift to other locations.” At times, they come with a court order and force us to leave. They throw our fruits on the road and vandalise our carts. How come they are having problems with us now, and do not have problems with when people park their big vehicles in the same spot?” she asks.

“It is a class issue that the state does not want street vendors to be present on the streets, they think they are a nuisance. They think they’re thieves,” says Adavi.

Alamelu says she earns around Rs. 4,000 per day, with a profit of Rs. 800. She pays house rent of Rs. 10,0000 and another Rs. 10,000 is for food, out of which she has to pay Rs. 300 everyday to the police. “We don’t have an option but to pay, otherwise they will vandalise our stalls,” she says.

Initially, she would go from house to house and sell fruits, but for the past 10 years, she, along with other dozen vendor families, started putting up stalls on Alexander road in Johnson market. “Now, I have grown old, it is not possible to roam around and sell fruits,” says Alamelu.

Read more: Push government to implement all welfare measures in Street Vendors Act : Lekha Adavi

BBMP’s measures

Vikas Suralkar, IAS, Special Commissioner, Health, Animal Husbandry & Welfare, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), says: “As per the High Court direction and existing Street Vendors Act and further notification by the Karnataka government, we are marking different areas where street vending is allowed, some of these areas are supervised by Town Vending Committees formed at the Zonal level.”

The formation of street vending committees and conducting the survey are essential to go ahead with the planning and implementation of the Act; both these, however, are lacking in the city.

In the past two years, due to back-to-back elections, street vendors’ surveys have been postponed. This time, BBMP has decided to get their own staff to do the survey, instead of going through a third party, thus hastening the process. But the issue of changing weather affecting street vendors has taken a back seat for now. “At the moment, our focus is more on flooding areas and bringing the situation under control. We are not able to prioritise street vendors right now,” says Suralkar.

Javed Khan, 63, who has been selling crockery on a pushcart since the early 1980s in Shivaji Nagar, says, “ I can’t say anything directly, but nothing happens without pushing some money under the table.”

In July-August 2023, Khan had to sit at home for 45 days without any work because of an eviction. He, along with other street vendors, complained to the BBMP and sought help from the local MLA Rizwan Arshad. Finally, BBMP intervened. Khan and other street vendors in Shivaji Nagar were able to secure spots.

When asked about whether he has a street vending card, he said, “I recently applied, and am still waiting for it.”

However, he expressed his dismay over the futility of making the card. “What’s the use of the card? The system is such that we can’t complain about anything, if we do we will be in trouble. It will take time to change the system. Today my business is here, if they allot me some other place after the survey, it will be very difficult for me to run the business. Right now whatever the government is planning, is going to be a waste of money,” says Khan.

street vendor selling crockery
Javed Khan, 63, has been selling crockery on a pushcart since the early 1980s in Shivaji Nagar. Pic: Satendra Kumar Singh

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