In the coal town of Dhanbad, around 6,000 of them are under the perennial threat of displacement or relocation to suburban, unfavourable areas, along with harassment by locals and civic body officials alike.
Dhanbad, Jharkhand: Over 6,000 street vendors in Dhanbad, the infamous coal town of Jharkhand, battle regular threats of displacement from their places of operation. Since January 7 this year, the state’s Urban Development Department has issued QR code-based smart identity cards and certificates of vending to 1,110 such workers, recognising their identity as street vendors as well as aiming to provide them protection against harassment by law enforcement agencies or other individuals. Yet, the ongoing phase-wise drive of enabling vendors to sell their wares at allocated vending zones appears to be hitting regular roadblocks.
Mahesh Baranwal, a roadside bookseller near SSLNT Women’s College on Luby Circular Road in the heart of the town, told 101Reporters, “When the Dhanbad Municipal Corporation [DMC] recently carried out an anti-encroachment drive near the college, we presented our smart ID cards and certificates of vending to them, which the DMC itself had issued us. These mentioned the place of trade as near SSLNT Women's College, but the officials leading the drive claimed that the certificates and ID cards had no value.”
“We were told that we were being driven out because of the unnecessary gathering of unwelcome individuals at our shops, many of whom harass students of the women's college,” added Baranwal, the treasurer of the SSLNT Market Committee who believes that it's the responsibility of the police to deal with such issues, if these allegations were true.
Harassment from various quarters
Janardan Thakur, another street vendor near SSLNT Women’s College, who deals in cosmetic items, sheds further light on the grim circumstances.
“Due to the lack of a designated place of trade for us, not only are we compelled to face the batons of the police, civic body, railway and public works department, we also have to face extortion from local goons claiming that the space belongs to them. Many of us are being compelled by the local residents to pay rents amounting from Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 per month, as they claim that the land belongs to them, although we are sure that the land on which we carry out trade belongs to the DMC,” said Thakur.
On being asked to corroborate this claim, DMC City Manager Chandra Shekhar, said, “We have received a complaint in this regard from the street vendors and will take action after verifying the facts.”
Meanwhile, Sneham Sinha, district coordinator of the National Association of Street Vendors of India, confirmed, “Though no street vendor was beaten up, their makeshift structures were uprooted and dismantled during the drive.”
Vending zones identified, but no NOCs
In 2018, the DMC selected the following 12 sites for the development of vending zones including a vacant land near the labour department office at Bartand, government land near the water tower in Purana Bazar area of Bank More and ganesh Puja ground near Digwadih Number. However, No-Object Certificates (NOCs) from the respective departments were not granted to carry out their plans of setting up designated vending zones.
The DMC then constructed a vending zone of 232 shopping pedestals in Dhanbad's Baniahir area in September 2021. Situated around 4km from the existing main market of Jharia, this vending zone is on the outskirts of the town.
However, even after intensive awareness programmes carried out by the DMC, none of the street vendors turned up to receive shop allotments for the first four months — primarily due to apprehensions about customer footfall. During the drive conducted in the first week of March this year, the DMC distributed pamphlets among the street vendors of Jharia market, listing out the facilities at the newly-constructed vending zones as well as the benefits of relocating. While 70 street vendors have so far turned up for the shop allotments, over 160 shops are lying unoccupied.
Sudama Ravidas, the street vendor allotted shop no. 63 in the Baniahir vending zone, said, “Earlier, I used to sell vegetables by visiting different localities with my cart. Now, I have around 25 to 30 customers visiting on a daily basis, but this is still not enough. So in the afternoon, I go to the adjoining localities to sell vegetables at the doorsteps of people’s homes... The facilities at this vending zone are undoubtedly very good, be it the lighting arrangement, water availability, toilets, etc., but the footfall is low.”
According to Shekar, who is also in charge of the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) project, “Initially, there was some resistance among the street vendors, but after our awareness drives, they are now willing to move. We are also in the process of constructing another vending zone at the Kohinoor Grounds, near the district headquarters, which will be better equipped in terms of facilities and will have bigger spaces for individual shops.”
According to Sinha, “The problem lies in the theoretical approach adopted by the civic body to relocate the street vendors to vending zones situated far from the heart of the town. Instead, the DMC should construct small shops at the places of operation of the vendors by augmenting the facilities with lighting arrangements, drinking water, parking lots, toilets, etc. This was done in the nearby Giridih district, where the administration converted the existing places of operation into vending zones, instead of wasting time looking for new spaces. It’s also difficult to find dispute-free land to construct these vending zones.”
Non-disbursement of bank loans
Besides displacement, street vendors also face the challenges of the civic body's nonchalance and banks unwilling to provide them loans under the Pradhan Mantri Street Vendor Atmanibhar Nidhi Yojana (PM SVANidhi Yojana), which is being implemented locally by the DMC. This scheme, launched by the central government in June 2020, is aimed at providing collateral-free working capital loans of Rs 10,000 for a one-year tenure to approximately 50 lakh street vendors across the country.
“Instead of providing loans to needy street vendors under this scheme, DMC authorities seem more concerned with documentation to take credit for getting application forms filled, without pursuing them with the bank for the disbursement of the loans,” Sinha told 101Reporters.
Shyamal Mazumdar, street vendor and general secretary of a local street vendors’ organisation, Footpath Dukandar Roji Roti Uparjan Sangh, added: “The DMC has engaged Self-Help Group members or Cluster Resource Persons to carry out surveys to issue loans to street vendors under the PM SVANidhi Yojana. But instead of the names of genuine street vendors, the names of SHG members are being listed as loan beneficiaries.”
According to DMC City Manager Chandra Shekhar, a total of 3,966 vendors were disbursed the loan amount of Rs 10,000 each in the first phase; 218 were disbursed a loan amount of Rs 20,000 each in the second phase, bringing the cumulative figure of beneficiaries to 4,184. According to the scheme's dashboard, 7,715 applications have been received so far in Dhanbad. Meanwhile, 28,249 beneficiaries are supposed to have received Rs 30.59 crores up until March 24, 2002, according to this response in the Lok Sabha.
“Such is the state of affairs that sometimes, we feel our condition was much better when there was no law in place for the rights of street vendors. Ever since the enactment of the NULM, the situation has worsened,” claimed Mazumdar, referring to the intensive anti-encroachment drives launched by different government departments in recent years, which are carried out without providing rehabilitation to street vendors as per the provisions of NULM.
Edited by Gia Claudette Fernandes
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