Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Gandhi Bazaar: Street Vendor Eviction

The Street vendors at Gandhi Bazaar were evicted on Jan 23 and it’s now three weeks since then. There is more than one reason being cited for the Gandhi Bazaar main road being cleared of street vending. An article in the Deccan Chronicle on Jan 25, 2012 says, "The BBMP authorities said there was a demand from the traffic police and members of the public to clear the footpath and the road to ensure smooth movement of pedestrians and vehicles". So, it is the traffic congestion and the inconvenience to the public that seems to have triggered the eviction.

When I spoke to the residents of Basavanagudi, I learnt that the vendors are  now quite arrogant and rude so unlike the way they were in the past. The residents say that the vendors infringe on more urban space than they can manage within. The objection to street vending from the residents was related more to the behaviour of the vendors and the government's objection was related to the traffic congestion that street vending was contributing to.

Some months ago, I had read a paper – Lessons from the Unbuilt Tagore circle underpass by Dr.Vinod Vyasulu, Centre for Budget and Policy Studies. The reason I think about this now is because the underpass construction that started in October 2009 has caused so much traffic congestion and one wonders if the need to evict the street vendors would have arisen if the underpass work had never begun. I reproduce here an excerpt from Dr.Vyasulu’s paper:

Why did work start before it was clear that land would need to be acquired for the service road? What alternatives were debated within the BBMP before deciding upon this? Why was no attempt made to share information with the residents of the area? Why were no public hearings held? Why now, in the middle of construction are alternatives not being debated?
    There are alternatives.
We could fill up the mess and go back to the old situation. Apart from the BBMP losing face—and money being wasted, this would be the best option as this underpass was never needed. Why cannot this be debated openly?

There could be several reasons for the traffic congestion, one, the street vending, second, the construction of the underpass, thirdly, the lack of a service road after the commencement of the underpass and perhaps also the parking of vehicles along the Gandhi Bazaar main road.

The Gandhi Bazaar main road on Feb 13, 2012 and the absence of flower sellers outside the Vidyarthi Bhavan 

If you look at the Gandhi Bazaar main road from the Tagore Circle end, you find a continuous row of two-wheelers randomly parked along the footpath and further down, a line of cars parked along the road. There are signs put up by the municipality that confirm that there is “Parking for cars” and “Parking for two-wheelers”. There is organised parking that occupies such a large part of this shopping environment which ought to be dedicated more to pedestrians and less to cars.

While the act of street vending is brought under strict scrutiny by the government, it may also be worthwhile to understand how the traffic works, why it transits through this street and whether the cars that park or transit here have direct linkages to the shopping activity which is the mainstay of this urban space. A thorough study of the users of the cars would tell us if the cars parked here belong to the shoppers who use the street bazaar, to the shop-owners or to the offices located in the vicinity and it could be worked out what percentage of the space can be allocated to whom.

In order to decongest the Gandhi Bazaar main road, we need to ask ourselves what are the causes of the street not functioning properly anymore – the increase in the vendor population, the increase in the resident and shopper population, the lack of enforcement of parking regulations or the unjustified construction of the underpass? Perhaps, we need to prioritise our objectives – is it to provide a better environment for the residents of Basavanagudi, is it so that the street functions efficiently as a transition zone, is it to improve the hygiene conditions in this region or is the objective linked to a decision about an underpass that cannot now be retracted from action.

In the future, to make a Street better, can short-term experiments be carried out to determine the extent of change required? Can these include conducting a meeting of Shopowners, Street vendors and Users of the area to know their views on the day-to-day problems and implementing some of their recommendations? Can we seek comments and suggestions from the citizens of Bangalore, through a market survey? Or, can we have an exhibition of an Urban Planning draft proposal, which would be open to the public inviting their views in a visitors’ book or in a follow-up workshop to be attended by organisations and old residents of Basavanagudi?

An initial Urban Planning Survey at Gandhi Bazaar may ask questions such as: How did Gandhi Bazaar originate? How many street vendors operating here have a legal status? What is the length or extent of the street that makes Gandhi Bazaar? What are the average walking distances for customers? How many people enter Gandhi Bazaar every day? Of these, how many are buyers and how many are in transit going somewhere else? What are the roads that surround the Gandhi Bazaar, what roads connect here? How does this street connect to the neighbourhood it lies within? How does it influence what happens in the localities adjacent to it? What have been the government interventions over the last 20 years at Gandhi Bazaar? What are the views and thoughts of the regular customers of the Gandhi Bazaar? How much of the Urban Street Vendor Policy 2009 has been implemented in the city? How are the Town Vending Committees to be constituted at the city level functioning? Who is responsible for this?

We need to know what works, what does not work and what are the costs involved in making a better street and a better city. There is so much to know before we start to come up with appropriate solutions that solve our infrastructural problems, our livelihood issues and give us urban habitats that match up to the “world class city” that we seem to be wanting in India all the time, without wanting to find out how people live their everyday lives and what the day-to-day needs are.

Related Posts:
The Informal Economy and Urban space
Territoriality in the Indian Bazaar
A Street bazaar and the City
Pedestrianising Gandhi Bazaar

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