- Published: 21 July 2022
Transforming Puducherry into a Smart City is taking a heavy toll on the famous Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Road street vendors.
What began as a weekly fare in the early 1980s evolved into a daily market on MG Road, a central locality in the Puducherry district. The city administration under the BJP rule plans to shift them three kilometres south to a place hidden away from the tourists.
The workers are ready to be relocated as part of the city development project, but they demand the safeguards mentioned in the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act 2014 to be withheld by the administration.
Meanwhile, the Puducherry Municipality outsourced the daily rent collection to a private firm, and the workers are harassed by thugs to pay more than the fixed rates.
The street vendors of Puducherry who were slowly recovering from the COVID-19 financial losses are distressed by these rent collectors. Under the banner of the Puducherry Pradesh Street Vendors Union affiliated with the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) the vendors are fighting the Puducherry Municipality to withdraw the private tender.
A NewsClick team visited MG road to document the plight of the famous market. Out of the 1,325 registered street vendors of Puducherry, 700+ are in MG Road, Muthialpet.
OVERCOMING PANDEMIC DEBT
During the first lockdown, the Puducherry street vendors were unable to set up their stalls for three months, and during the second wave, it was for four months.
R Anbazhagan, who sells fancy items and tools on MG Road said “The government did not allocate any funds for us, even though there is a separate protection act for street vendors. We went through a difficult phase, many deaths were also reported.”
“During the lockdown, we struggled without income to pay house rent, current bills, etc. We struggled even for food. We borrowed money from microfinanciers for children’s education and everyday expenses. Our debts increased, and there was no progress” said Xavier, who has been running a sugarcane juice stall for 15 years.
The street vendors buy goods on loan and pay them back on a daily basis, and they have taken more loans during the lockdown and are crushed by them.
“I borrow money and buy goods, as it sells I use the money for household expenses. In a situation where I am unable to pay back the debt, I keep paying the interest. In total I have around Rs 5 lakh debt,” said Vijayalakshmi, a seller of small utensils. Street vendor Vijayalakshmi arranging her shop on MG Road.
“I am the head of the family, I am the breadwinner. We depend on this business. I have even borrowed money from Marwadi, and he collects interest from me every night,” she added.
‘SMART CITY NOT INCLUSIVE’
The Puducherry Smart City Development Limited website says the “Purpose of the Smart Cities Mission is to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development.” On the contrary, Puducherry street vendors fear their livelihoods would be affected by the Modi- government’s mission.
F Vadivelu, secretary of the street vendors union said “we are in a difficult scenario now. Approximately Rs 1860 crores are allocated for the Smart City project, yet there is no benefit from it to informal sector workers, particularly for street vendors. The only beneficiaries are the corporate sectors. We are not against the city’s development. But, when the Smart City is implemented, the government should take the progress of street vendors into consideration.”
“They are trying to evict us in the name of the Smart City project. The project is planned keeping in mind tourists to Puducherry. What the law says is that while evicting street vendors, a space has to be identified for them with basic facilities like drinking water and toilets. But, the government is belittling us, that cannot be accepted,” Vadivelu said.
The second schedule of the Street Vendors Act reads “Affected vendors shall be relocated so as to improve their livelihood standards of living or at least to restore them, in real terms to pre-evicted levels.”
“Over the past two years, the district Collector has been planning to evict street vendors from main areas in the city claiming we are encroachers. We have explained how we are not encroachers, we pay daily rent. There are government buildings that are rented out, I am not sure if the rent is properly collected there. But, each street vendor pays Rs 30-40 per day to the corporation,” he added.
THUGS COLLECTING RENT
The street vendors pay a certain amount as rent to Puducherry municipality for setting up stalls. The amount is fixed according to the space occupied by the vendors, and it changes from time to time.
Till recently the rent was directly paid to the municipality, but it has been privatised and the vendors have heavily opposed the move.
“Only now, for two to three months, have we reached some stability. But the police and government officials together are giving us trouble. They are collecting daily rents through thugs. They have privatised the system and made it difficult for us. Vendors who were paying Rs 10 or Rs 20 now have to pay Rs 100 to Rs 120. This move is outrageous,” Anbazhgan said.
“An MLA has mentioned that he has Rs 26 crore debt in his election manifesto. Nobody takes action on him. But, if a street vendor does not pay Rs 10, the police pick him up. His goods rot in the rain and his business is ruined. All the 3,000-4,000 street vendors of Puducherry are asking only one thing, leave us alone. We will pay the taxes due to the government, but not to the private players,” Xavier said.
We have been paying this daily rent from the time it was Rs 1. We submitted many memorandums on behalf of CITU to the Collector, yet the corporation has given the tender to the agents of politicians. Now it is collected per square metre,” R Azhagaraj, president, Puducherry Pradesh Street Vendors Union.
After many decades of struggle, an Act was passed in 2014 during the UPA II period to protect the rights of street vendors, but not much changed say the vendors.
“The street vendors pay direct or indirect taxes to the government in these fares. It is the duty of the corporation and public works department to safeguard the livelihoods of street vendors. But we are treated like thieves,” said Vadivelu.
Only after a long struggle by the street vendors union, a survey of street vendors was carried out in Puducherry. The survey is essential so vendors claim their rights ensured by the Act.
Vadivelu estimates that the number of street vendors in Puducherry would grow in the coming days. He said, “Not only in the urban areas but even in rural areas educated youngsters are becoming street vendors. I am also a graduate, but the government ensured no work. So I invested money and became a vendor.”
He further said “There are two lakh unemployed youth in Puducherry, many of them are becoming street vendors. Even other informal sector workers and farmers are taking to this work. Agriculture produce is directly being sold by farmers in parts of Puducherry now.”
The union insists that it is the duty of the government to safeguard the rights of the street vendors.
Autor(en)/Author(s): Sruti MD
Quelle/Source: News Click, 13.07.2022