On Friday, the Sarojini Nagar market in South Delhi was missing its famous bustle. There were far fewer street vendors, thinner crowds, no jostling and none of the usual liveliness.
Dwiti Lal, a 22-year-old college student who wanted to buy a dress, was disappointed by the lack of choice. “I have to attend my juniors’ freshers party [for first-year students] and I came to the export market to shop,” she said. “I have not found enough pleasing options, which never happened before.”
Nayela Kiran also looked forlorn. “It’s just not the same,” said the 12-year-old, who was accompanied by her mother. “I wanted to pick up a Pokemon Go cover for my phone but the vendors who sell that are not around.”
This is not reaction normally elicited by the central market in Sarojini Nagar. The market is one of Delhi’s beloved shopping haunts, a one-stop destination that offers everything from rip-offs of big brands to export rejects and grey-market goods. Rows after rows of street vendors selling cheap wares makes it the go-to place for college students and bargain-hunters.
All this changed after the New Delhi Municipal Council decided to evict illegal street vendors. Now what remains are shops in the allotted spaces. Hot summer wind blows through empty spaces that were earlier crammed with traders and shoppers.
Since July, the New Delhi Municipal Council has been conducting a survey to identify street vendors who have been authorised either through a licence or previous decisions of courts.
Once the “genuine vendors” are identified, the Town Vending Committee of the municipality will pick vending zones for them and issue certificates. If it is found that there isn’t sufficient space for all, the muncipality will create a list according to seniority, with those vending for longer getting preference, The Hindu reported.
On Friday, vendors lined up in a park adjoining the Sarojini Nagar market with challans or licences as Devendra Prasad, an inspector in the NDMC Enforcement Department, vetted the paperwork.
Ram Mohan Gupta, 43, dressed in a starched white shirt and pleated pants, was one of the vendors in the queue. Gupta said he had a stall in a corner of the market since 1987 from where he sold hair accessories for women and girls. “Mujhe nahi pataa yeh humein baar-baar kyun pareshaan karte hain,” he said. “Yeh dekhna chahte hai ki jo paper hai woh mere naam ke hai. Main asal me huun. Mein mara nai huun.” I don’t understand why they trouble us time and again. They want to check if my papers are actually mine. And, if I am still alive.
Also around in the park was Raju Singh Chandravanshi, head of the All India Street Vendors Association, with a copy of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014. People flocked to him, looking for assistance.
“I am here to assess the situation,” Chandravanshi said. “According to the Street Vendors Act, NDMC has to help regulate street vending and allow those with licences to function.”
Arbind Singh, the national coordinator of the National Association of Street Vendors of India, explained that on May 18, the Delhi High Court had directed the NDMC to conduct a survey to identify street vendors authorised either through a licence or through previous decisions of courts. Singh’s organisation was instrumental in pushing through the Street Vendors Act, which prescribes the methods of survey, certification, confiscation of goods, and eviction of vendors.
“According to the Street Vendors Act, the Town Vending Committee’s objective is to identify vending zones and issue certificates to those found eligible,” he said. “A list of seniority would be drawn up. Those who have been vending for longer would get preference.”
However, Singh was displeased with the goings-on. “This is all due to the high-handedness of the NDMC,” he said. “Ever since the [region under the] NDMC has been declared a Smart City, it has been removing vendors in inappropriate ways, making a mockery of the Street Vending Act.”
“It’s a travesty that the heart of the capital of India does not follow the law enacted by the Indian Parliament a couple of years back,” Singh said. “Before the survey and preparation of a Street Vending Plan, the NDMC has already decided upon a figure of 500 vendors that would be allowed in total. Even the court judgements are misinterpreted and used selectively to harass the vendors.”
Singh added: “To add to their comfort, the Delhi government constituted a pliable TVC [Town Vending Committee] without following any norms of selection. Street vendors who got licence to ply their wares 20 years back were not even asked to be a part of the TVC. No street vendor association was included in the TVC, though the Act clearly requires that. As a result, more than 5,000 street vendors are suffering badly with uncertain future and fear in their mind.”
He noted that Sarojini Market is not the first to face the survey. The NDMC has also surveyed other popular markets such as Connaught Place, Palika Bazar and Janpath in Central Delhi.
KK Mishra, who rents a shared space in one of the shops at Sarojini Nagar Market, was also unhappy. He said that the shops sell clothes at a higher price than the street vendors outside. “Different people come to shop at different prices,” he said. “Because the sellers outside have been removed, people have stopped coming to the market. I usually make around Rs 5,000-6,000 a day. But my earnings are down to less than half.”
That was not how Lila Kutty saw things. The teacher has been shopping at Sarojini Nagar market since the 1970s and, with the street vendors gone, was happy with the emptier spaces. “The parking situation has become better,” she said. “I guess the vendors must have been chased off because of the fear of bomb blasts.” Sarojini Nagar market was one of three targets in the 2005 serial bombings in Delhi.
Kajal Sharma, a 24-year-old who works in the hospitality industry, shared Kutty's concerns – “Delhi is on high alert because of Independence Day celebrations.” Besides, she said, the police always clear public places and markets around national holidays.