Mr. Prime Minister,
In a TV interview recently, you asserted that a person earning Rs. 200 a day selling pakodas is also an employed person. Many people took offence to this statement, claiming that your promise to generate 1 crore jobs is a hoax. While we appreciate the fact that you recognise street vending as an employment, the harsh realities under which street vendors carry out their livelihood has been lost in your statement.
Street vending is an independent and dignified profession. We are proud to be street vendors. However, we cannot take away the context in which we have become street vendors. It is out of distress of migrating to a city, of drought in villages, agricultural crisis reeling in this country, and more importantly for lack of employment options that we have resorted to street vending.
Moreover, education has become a costly affair for millions of people in the country. In fact, you are further distancing it from the people by decreasing the budget outlay for education, as was presented last week. The poor in this country cannot get an education, but there are no job options for those educated either. And even when we want to earn a decent livelihood of street vending, we face harassment and threats of evictions from various authorities on a daily basis.
Act has failed to protect street vendors
While the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihoods and Regulating Street Vending) Act, 2014 was passed by the UPA-II Government, very few State Governments have actually implemented the legislation. The Act grants a right to livelihood to us street vendors, and is intended to provide solace to us from all the harassment. However, we continue to be left out of public spaces, police officers demand hafta, municipal authorities threaten to evict us, residents call us dirty, that we obstruct traffic, and other such unreasonable allegations are made against us.
It has been four years since the Act came into force, and four years since you have been the Prime Minister of India. If you thought this was an honorable profession, why do we continue to be perceived as nuisance?
The Lieutenant General of Delhi ordered massive evictions, in blatant violation of the 2014 Act. Why has no action been taken against any authority across the country for trying to evict vendors? What have you, Mr. Prime Minister, done for us street vendors?
FDI in retail: When you sat in opposition to the UPA Government, you vehemently opposed Foreign Direct Investments in Retail – against Walmart and Target entering our country. However, you have now approved 100 per cent in single brand retail. This will no doubt harm small businesses, including us street vendors.
Smart City: To add insult to injury, your ‘smart cities’ project is ensuring complete evictions of street vendors. This project is not only affecting our livelihood, but is taking away our right to shelter as well. Smart city has become synonymous with evictions of street vendors and slums. Your vision of development does not include us, sir. Instead, your policies are increasing the number of dispossessed people every day. There is no respite for us from poverty. So, where is our acche din?
Demonetisation and GST: When you demonetised the Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 currency notes, we the street vendors were the most affected. You want to make India cashless. Do you expect our customers to swipe money into our phones for a dozen banana? In addition to this, you’ve introduced GST. It is wiping out small businesses who source small items for us to sell.
Sir, we do not want a ‘Smart City’, we do not want a ‘Digital India’, we do not want ‘Make in India’ or your ‘Swachch Bharath’, if it doesn’t allow municipal workers, construction workers, slum dwellers, and street vendors to live with dignity. We want public education, public health system, and public housing! You are shirking your responsibility to provide us all of this and are instead privatizing our entitlements.
Yes, it is employment if a person sells pakoda on the streets. But, do not use us as an excuse for your inability to provide employment to the citizens of this country, and going back on your promise. On the contrary, we street vendors stand on our abilities and hard work.We will fight against anyone who takes away our rights!
[Note: This was issued by Bengaluru Jilla Beedi Vyaparigala Sanghatanegala Okkuta (Affiliated to AICCTU) and has been republished with minimal edits]