Almost every day, through the busiest streets of Mumbai, near the Kurla railway station, a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation van patrols the area to remove encroachments on pedestrian walkways. As the BMC van approaches, street vendors hurriedly pack up their things and hide in order to avoid eviction, along with confiscation of their belongings. It is a routine affair. “Due to fear of the BMC, everyone packs everything and, when the car leaves, they put it again,” Sudha Ranade, a street vendor in Tilak Nagar, told us, in July. “How difficult it is to pack everything up and rebuild it.”
Street vending accounts for about fourteen percent of informal employment in India’s cities, making up one of the largest segments of self-employed people in the country. According to the National Hawker Federation, there are over 40 million street vendors, with a cumulative daily turnover of Rs 80 crore. While it requires relatively low capital investment and offers flexible working hours, most street vendors work fourteen to eighteen hours a day, with no security at the workplace. Over three-fourths of respondents in a study conducted by the National Alliance of Street Vendors in India said they pay daily bribes to the police or municipal workers for protection from raids. In Mumbai, another study found, bribes tend to constitute ten to twenty percent of a vendor’s daily earnings.
The BMC has been acting against street vendors under Section 314(c) of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, which empowers it to “remove without notice anything erected, deposited or hawked” without a license or in a way that obstructs pedestrians or traffic. Evictions are also carried out under Sections 67 and 102 of the Bombay Police Act, which authorise detention or removal of anyone obstructing the flow of traffic, and as part of city beautification projects.