Mumbai hawker law’s residency requirement targets migrants, vendors say

 06 Jan 2017 - 20:21

Mumbai hawker law’s residency requirement targets migrants, vendors say
A vendor arranges bags as he waits for customers at his shop at a market in Mumbai, India, January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

By Rina Chandran / Thomson Reuters Foundation

MUMBAI: India’s western Maharashtra state has passed a law requiring street hawkers to have lived in the state for 15 years before they can apply for a licence, in a move vendors say unfairly targets poor migrants.

Officials in Maharashtra’s capital Mumbai this week passed the law, which also lists conditions for surveying vendors and demarcating hawking zones.

Workers’ organisations say many hawkers, who have migrated from rural areas to Mumbai to seek work and escape poverty, cannot afford property in Mumbai, India’s financial and commercial capital.

“Many hawkers have been here for generations, yet do not own homes and do not have domicile certificates. This is the state’s way of pushing out these migrant workers without explicitly asking them to leave,” said Salma Sheikh of the Azad Hawkers’ Union.

She said Mumbai’s hawkers will protest the new policy and challenge the domicile condition in court.

Arbind Singh, coordinator for the National Association of Street Vendors of India lobbying group, said the new law will only divide the hawkers and further alienate migrants.

“It’s unconstitutional for the state to insist on a 15-year domicile. As per the constitution, anyone can move anywhere within the country for their livelihood,” he said.

“Do they ask doctors or lawyers or film actors to prove they have lived in the state for 15 years before letting them work?  This is clearly discriminatory and targets poor migrant workers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Vendors selling everything from snacks and tea to toys, clothes and shoes are a common sight in India’s cities. They spread their wares on pavements, outside schools and temples, and carry them in baskets on trains and at traffic lights.

Only about 14,000 hawkers in Mumbai are licensed, while the number unlicensed is estimated at about 150,000.

Unlicensed hawkers often have to pay policemen bribes to continue selling, and must flee eviction drives by city officials.

Municipal official Pallavi Darade said the policy would be applicable for future licenses, including 95,000 pending applications.

After years of lobbying by activists, India passed the Street Vendors Act in 2014, which protects vendors from being arbitrarily evicted or relocated from their spots.

States were required to pass a law adopting the national policy, but few have done so.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, editing by Alisa Tang)