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Core of Ahmedabad economy, poor street vendors don't enjoy economic freedom

By Rajiv Shah 
A recent study, “Street Vendors in Ahmedabad: Status, Contribution and Challenges”, scholars of the Centre for Urban Equity of the CEPT University, Ahmedabad — Darshini Mahadevia, Alison Brown, Michal Lyons, Suchita Vyas, Kaushal Jajoo, and Aseem Mishra – points towards deep vulnerabilities suffered by the street vendors of Ahmedabad. Carried out by interviewing 20-30 venders in several areas of Ahmedabad where street vending is common – Bhadra, Delhi Darwaja, Kankaria Lake, Jamalpur, Parasnagar, Khodiyarnagar, Nehrunagar, CEPT University, IIM-Ahmedabad and Vastrapur Lake — he study focuses on “harassment, coercion, bribery and eviction” suffered by them in these localities. 
Seeking to examine whether economic freedom if enjoyed by the poor sections of the trading community against the backdrop of economists like Bibek Debroy, who have called Gujarat “a model state in India from the perspective of economic development and economic freedom”, the study points towards how the “other side” of “urban renewal” — displacement of the lives and livelihoods of the urban poor and those in the informal sector – has missed any analysis.
“Street vendors have come under severe impacts of these projects, in particular public transport and road widening projects that have broken the natural markets of the street vendors who have been dispersed in the adjoining areas and consequently lost their business turnovers. Some projects such as Kankaria lake-beautification, wherein the free access to lake has closed and the street vendors doing business in the vicinity have been evicted and instead licensed kiosks have found place aside”, the study says.
The seventh largest metropolis in India, and the largest of the State of Gujarat, Ahmedabad — with an estimated population of 6.35 million in 2011 and an urban area of over 466 sq km – the study’s focus was to find out if economic freedom is enjoyed by street vendors. This is particularly significant, as in just area, Bhadra, there are approximately 3,500 street vendor enterprises, with turnover to the tune of Rs 236.88 crore.
Analysing the profile of the street vendors, the study says, “Majority of vendors interviewed were trading in the open without cover (73.5 per cent of the sample) reflecting lack of facilities in the locations surveyed. In Jamalpur, the vendors were vending underneath a flyover. In Khodiyarnagar, Kankaria Lake and Bhadra, some vendors had a temporary structure to protect them and their goods such as an umbrella or a plastic sheet covering. Otherwise, the vendors are all exposed to elements of nature while vending. This means that in summer they would carry on their business during the evenings and the mornings. It also means that the business is not possible during monsoons.”
It adds, “While vending using the lari was the most common form of display (about half of them did so), it was also common to display goods on the ground or on a wall behind or on a box (about 31 per cent did so). In Bhadra, Delhi Darwaja and Jamalpura high proportion of interviewees were trading from the ground (11, 13 and 18 vendors respectively), whereas in the peripheral markets of Parasnagar and Khodiyarnagar most traders used laris. Lari was also common in Bhadra and Delhi Darwaja where 16 and 13 respectively used it for vending.”
While 20% of the vendors set up business between 2006 and 2010, 37% had set it up in the previous decade, 43% started before 1995, with 12 started in 1975 or before, i.e. more than 36 years before the survey. Contrary to the general belief that the vending market is controlled by migrants, the study says, “68.5 per cent of the vendors are natives of Ahmedabad. The natives of Ahmedabad dominate all the markets, particularly ones in the core city and in the ring around the core city.”
Coming to community profile the study says, “Of the 200 interviewees, about a third was from scheduled castes (SCs) (32%), and a third from other backward casts (OBCs) (31%). In Delhi Darwaja 67% of interviewees were SC. Jamalpur market also had about half the vendors as SC, while in Khodiyarnagar,, 42 per cent belonged to this social group. In Delhi Darwaja 14 of the 30 traders interviewed came from the Dataniya community, which is a SC, and Khodiyarnagar 9 of 31 traders interviewed came from the Patni community, which is a SC.” While 86 per cent of the total sample was Hindus, with Muslims forming 13 per cent, in the Bhadra market 60 per cent vendors are Muslims. In Kankaria and in Jamalpur markets too some Muslim vendors are found.
“About 28 per cent of the vendors were illiterate making, yet among the literate 8.5 per cent could only sign and another eight per cent could only read. Among the markets, highest proportion of illiterates were found in Jamalpur market (63%) and Delhi Darwaja market (43 per cent), which have large proportion of women vendors belonging to the SC”, the study says.
While 80 per cent of vendors had an informal arrangement to secure space, the study says, this is made possible through “weekly or monthly payments”, with new vendors finding it “extremely difficult” to enter in, particularly Bhadra, Delhi Darwaja, and Jamalpur. “New vendors can only come to the area when a place is vacated, i.e. by a death, and costs are high. One vendor reported paying Rs 50,000 to the middleman as a deposit, returnable when he leaves. He also paid a monthly rent of Rs 3,000 to the middleman, which is increased to Rs 3,500 during festivals”, the study says.
Seeking to establish the costs of trading, including space rental, transport costs, and storage, the study finds that “32 per cent stated that they paid for storage, 62 per cent had to pay for transport and overwhelming 80 per cent stated that they paid bribes. Payments for storage range from about Rs.10 to Rs.60 per day, and transport costs, mostly to auto rickshaws, from about Rs 20 to Rs 100 a day.”
The net earnings, the study says, were quite low. “Two-fifths of the vendors stated that their profit was between 21 to 40 per cent of their income (turnover) per day and 45 per cent stated that it was less than 20 per cent of their daily income. In particularly, Bhadra, Jamalpur, IIM market, the vendors carried out their trade with less than 20 per cent of profit margin.” The earnings were further affected by the incidence of giving bribes.
While pointing out that it was not easy to ascertain the amount paid as bribe, the study says, “The guided interviews suggest that in Bhadra, vendors are paying about Rs 300 a month for rental and ‘protection’ money. Some other vendors gave the amount as Rs 1,000 per month if the person was vending on a lari and Rs 50 per day if the vendor was sitting on footpath (had a pathari on road).” The bribe amount increased during festivals like Diwali and Ramazan.
The study further says, “Vendors stated that the system of bribe collection was very systematic. There was an aagyevan (leader) for specified lanes, who collected ‘protection money’ regularly. Some vendors stated that the aagyevan was hardly concerned about the welfare of the workers while the others stated that such people were useful and sometimes advanced them money in times of need. Non-payment of bribe means confiscation of goods and other assets such as lari, jail for a few days during which they lose their livelihood and then payment of fine.”
It adds, “Also, particularly in Bhadra area, any new local policy leader taking charge meant that either payment of the bribe once again to the person or even increase in the bribe rate. Eviction was used as a strategy to increase the bribe rates. One cut-fruit vendor (fruit-chat vendor) at Bhadra stated that before the last eviction they were paying Rs 20 per day as bribe, which increased to Rs 40 per day post-eviction.”
Elaborating, the study says, “Vendors reported paying Rs 100 a week in ‘protection’ to the agewan who gives a bribe to the police at the end of the month. A portion is retained, and if the police confiscate goods the vendor is reimbursed, and in an emergency may get a no-interest loan. The agewan retains a small percentage of the money collected. When a new Deputy Commissioner of Police is appointed there are more evictions and bribes tend to increase. Some higher payments were reported, eg: lari operators may pay Rs.1000 a month in ‘protection’.”
Not without reason, the study says, “Relations between vendors and state agencies were generally conflictual. All the vending areas were fairly regularly patrolled and visited by municipality officials, dabaan, or the police. Various reasons for the visits were given, including general order and patrolling; settling disputes between traders; reduce traffic congestion and ensure that vendors were not blocking highways; eviction/ hafta(inducements)/ seizing goods/ getting free snacks; and visits of higher officials, ministers or the Chief Minister.”
The result is, “an extremely high proportion of the vendors surveyed (86%) had suffered shocks and stresses, with particular problems in the main markets of Bhadra, Jamalpur, and Delhi Darwaja; some 16 of the 17 vendors interviewed in the four outlying areas had also suffered problems. The shocks and stresses suffered were slightly lower in the peripheral markets than the central ones.”
‘Beautification’ plans for Bhadra Fort became a major threat to the long-established vending community recently. The study says, “The Bhadra Fort Redevelopment Project was approved in June 2011 under a JNNURM scheme to create an historic pedestrian route from Teen Darwaja to a new pedestrian bridge over the River Sabarmati. Vendors were first evicted in December 2011, but made representations, and given a temporary reprieve, but evictions were carried out in January 2012. As of now, there is no plan mentioning anything about the rehabilitation of the current vendors into the new project area or elsewhere.”

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