Anjana Sinha (38), a mother of two young boys who was earning her decent meals as a street vendor selling food items at Khyndailad for the past 13 years was brutally murdered at Keating Road on September 3, 2017 after she shut her shop at about 1 am and had gone to store her goods. The vulnerability of hawkers and vendors, who risk their own lives was brought to the notice of the civic authorities through the Meghalaya And Greater Shillong Progressive Hawkers and street vendors association seems to have fallen into deaf ears.
In keeping with the recent Order passed by the Meghalaya High Court which has advised hawkers to immediately vacate the footpaths and main roads, failing which legal proceedings shall be initiated against them. The District Administration, East Khasi Hills District and the Office of the Chief Executive Officer, Shillong Municipal Board, and Shillong along with Magistrates, Police & Officials were frequently conducting eviction drives, overseeing that the footpaths and main roads are free from hawkers.
It may be reminded that street vendors or hawkers are an integral component of urban economies globally, very few are legalized and most of them collectively form a very important segment of the unorganized sector, offering easy access to a wide range of goods and services in public spaces. They sell everything from fresh vegetables to prepared food, from building materials to garments and crafts, from consumer electronics to auto repairs to haircuts. However, in some of the unplanned urban civilizations, the limited public space is being encroached upon by the setting up of such commercial activities raising the conflict as to whose Fundamental Right is being violated, the right of the general public to move freely or the right of the vendors and hawkers to earn a livelihood.
In India the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014, has been in force since May 01, 2014 as an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to regulate street vendors in public areas and protect their rights. In the same year, the Meghalaya Street Vendors and Protection of Livelihood and Regulation Act, 2014 was also introduced. The recent eviction drive in the commercial areas in the state capital, Shillong has affected the rights of livelihood of many.
In Meghalaya every hawker eviction drive has sparked off controversy regarding its legality where in the past, the pressure groups occasionally conduct eviction drives targeting the non-indigenous hawkers, only to make way for the indigenous tribals to occupy the vacated space.
In an attempt to decentralize the congested Iewduh, popularly known as Bara Bazaar, the former Chief Minister, B B Lyngdoh allowed more markets to be opened up in various localities within the state, including the roadside vendors, who have become the stuff of nightmares today due to their growing numbers and the very evident fact that these vendors have added to the congestion woes of an unplanned, space – constrained city.
Also the benami system being practiced in the state has made it almost impossible for the economically weaker section of the society to start any business and therefore resorts to vending in any free space. Although street vendors are rarely treated with the same measure of dignity and tolerance, they are all compelled to start their small businesses due to the absence of proper demarcation of vending zones as demanded by the Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending.
In Maharashtra and Sikkim, the state governments there have proper zones for the vendors which have managed to ease the congestion of the narrow lanes and bye lanes in the urban cities. At the same time they are providing amply space for the pedestrians and attracting tourists for an easy stroll while picking up the essential commodities including souvenirs.
The priority of any tourist will be cleanliness and security of the location and then comes the logistics and hospitality. Sadly Meghalaya, in spite of its natural beauty it could not even compete with Darjeeling or Sikkim when it comes to the inflow of tourists into the state.
As the tourist spots in Meghalaya have been scattered across the state, their overall development in terms of infrastructure is impossible; other services like availability of vegetarian food, accessibility for the Persons With Disability and old folk are not provided. Above this the attitude of the local inhabitants is often hostile.
The poor regulation of traffic in the city, unplanned city life and worst of all the militant activities are yet other major drawbacks before the state’s efforts towards making tourism a source of revenue.
Meghalaya, one of the states without the presence of a manufacturing industry, a production house and which is besieged by poor marketing skills, is left with only tourism as a source of income for many. But the unrest in Garo Hills lately has not only pushed back the tourists, the bank employees and the employees of other government departments have all refused to serve in the region due to rampant kidnapping for ransom.
In the Khasi- Jaintia districts, the fear psychosis is still high due to the demand for implementation of the Inner Line Permit, and now the cleaning drive of KHADC to eradicate hawkers in the city is also hampering the hospitality industry in the state.
As pointed out by the former Meghalaya Home Minister, Robert G Lyngdoh, other states have lots of people spreading out their hands begging – Babu doi naa, while here in Meghalaya, the moment one enters the state jurisdiction, the youths ask – Mangta? With such an attitude, no tourist will ever feel safe and wanted in Meghalaya. More than pinning hope to eradicate insurgency one needs a change of the mindset of the public for developing tourism in any state.
Simply evicting the hawkers without any constructive rehabilitation schemes will not only provoke law and orders breakdown and a rise in crime but it might also force many to take up arms. Hence early implementation of the Meghalaya Street Vendors and Protection of Livelihood and Regulation Act, 2014 will help but the only solution is a permanent vending zone, which will not only ensure decent livelihood to many, it will also free the city from crime such as the one involving Anjana who was a victim of a miscarriage of administration.