The BMC is getting ready for the day when all the illegal hawkers in the city gain legal status. Civic activists are, however, in a state of disbelief and shock as they fail to comprehend how the city, with so little space, would accommodate so many hawkers. They are well aware that the municipal body has not made any special provisions for accommodating hawkers in its Development Plan (DP) for the next 20 years.
Illegal hawkers have been always an issue for citizens, as the former have been quite assertive. Whether it is the Hill Road or Linking Road in Bandra and Khar, or outside Vile-Parle or Andheri railway stations, hawkers have always been aggressive whenever the authorities have tried to control them.
Recent cases of spat between citizens and hawkers—at Band-Stand in Bandra and in Khar, or in Goregaon, where a couple was assaulted by street vendors—only suggest the might of the anti-social elements at work and the apathy of the police in confronting them.
Even the license department staff of the BMC have been assaulted by hawkers at various areas, and these incidents are on BMC and police records.
Atul Vora of CITISPACE, an NGO fighting for the open space in the city, said Mumbai should not be compared with any other cities. If the BMC plans to settle the 'legitimate' hawkers haphazardly, we will challenge that in court. "How can a civic body decide, on behalf of the citizens, about ceding their rightful space to hawkers," asked Vora.
Nayana Kathpalia of CITISPACE added that whatever might be the number of hawkers who would have to be legitimised as per the new Act, the city planning authorities would have to keep in mind the city's holding capacity.
"Where are such footpaths in the city where even after two-thirds of the space is occupied, there will be space for people to walk? We have to be practical enough in such matters," said Kathpalia.
The hawkers unions, however, have a different take on the issue. "Our constitution gives a person the right to engage in his/her business. Under article 19/1/g, hawking is a fundamental right. However, article 19/1/d gives pedestrians the right to move about without being hindered. The BMC and the police should strike a fine balance between the two rights," said a hawkers' union leader.
'Not in my area' approach
Sandeep Deshpande, MNS corporator from Shivaji Park–Dadar asked how the BMC could think of settling hawkers near the station areas under the name of natural markets. "They have even suggested that 'X' amount of hawkers be settled or given space in residential areas. But who will allow hawkers near their buildings? Everyone wants to buy vegetables and household goods at reasonable rates, but no one wants hawkers next to their gates," he said.
In Vile Parle (west) near the station area, civic activists have been relentlessly trying to keep illegal hawkers away and have tried to convince residents to buy only from the municipal market, but residents keep buying from hawkers citing convenience. "However, when we offered to settle these hawkers on footpaths or nearby by-lanes in order to de-congest the station area, residents feel they are a menace and don't want them in their area," said a prominent civic activist in that area.