In the ever-bustling lanes of New Delhi, amidst the vibrant chaos and ceaseless energy, a myriad of stories unfold every day. These are the tales of dreamers like Ali, a 40-year-old fruit vendor whose life epitomises resilience, hope, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Ali’s Cart: More Than Just a Business

Ali’s vibrant fruit cart, set against the backdrop of New Delhi’s clamorous streets, is not just a means of livelihood but a symbol of defiance and hope. Every day, as Ali sets up his cart, he enacts a ritual that embodies his fight for existence in a metropolis where dreams are as often deferred as realised. However, Ali’s story takes a challenging turn when he faces a Rs 4000 fine from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) for a minor infraction of leaving the cart unattended to answer a phone call from his daughter posing a threat not only to his livelihood but also to his daughter Heena’s aspiration to study law.

The Invisible Many

Ali’s narrative is just one among the approximately 450,000 street vendors in New Delhi, who face such legal issues. Though they have legal recognition as street vendors under the Street Vendors Act 2014, they are often not aware of their rights when fined by the authorities. In Ali’s case, the fine should not have exceeded Rs 100 but the MCD authorities imposed a hefty fine of Rs 4000. In addition, vendors like Ali find themselves at the crossroads of various traffic and urban regulations resulting in complex overlaps and confusions. Hence, a lack of formal support mechanism places them in a precarious position, navigating the uncertain terrain of various legislations and daily survival.

The Other Side of the Story

While the plight of street vendors like Ali is stark, understanding the challenges faced by urban authorities like the MCD is crucial. They are tasked with maintaining order, managing urban sprawl, and designating vending zones amidst rapidly evolving cityscapes. Despite laws like the Street Vendors Act, 2014, intended to protect vendors, implementation challenges often leave vendors vulnerable. However, it’s essential to recognise that the authorities are also working under constraints, striving to balance the needs of a growing population with limited resources and infrastructure.

Unraveling Complex Challenges

The profession of street vending is riddled with hurdles, including economic hardships, educational and skill-related barriers, gender-based discrimination, and the impact of events like the COVID-19 pandemic. Vendors often face harassment, confiscation of goods, and eviction threats, adding to the complexity of their struggles.

Justice and Accessibility: Two Sides of a Coin

Ali’s challenging interaction with the legal system highlights the broader issue of justice accessibility for those who cannot afford penalty or legal services. However, the legal landscape is not always unfair to the street vendors. There are instances where the law has acted as a protective shield for vendors, indicating a varied spectrum of experiences.

A Call to Action: “Error 404: Justice Denied”

The documentary “Error 404: Justice Denied”(to be released soon) by the Centre for Civil Society and Patric Reasonover brings to light the multifaceted challenges faced by vendors. It advocates for a collaborative approach, urging vendors, city planners, and the community to work together towards inclusive, sustainable solutions.

Envisioning a Brighter Future

Reflecting on Ali’s journey and insights from “Error 404: Justice Denied,” it’s evident that the path to a harmonious future lies in a balanced approach. This involves recognising the vendors’ struggles alongside the predicaments of city authorities. Effective implementation of the Street Vendors Act, educating vendors about their rights, and fostering empathy among all stakeholders are crucial steps. Moreover, exploring successful models from other urban contexts and acknowledging the limitations in our current understanding can lead to more innovative and effective solutions.

The stories of vendors like Ali are integral to New Delhi’s vibrant narrative. By fostering dialogue, understanding the challenges of urban governance, and promoting cooperative efforts, we can ensure that these resilient entrepreneurs find their rightful place in the heart of the city.

Post Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.

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Sudeshna Saha

Sudeshna is a senior fellow at Centre for Civil Society. Earlier, she has developed joint programs with Central and State government ministries, as well as with private sector firms, on issues such as UN Sustainable Development Goals, integrated village development, universal water and sanitation services, and Covid-appropriate behavior.