Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Hawkers' Fundamental Rights and Contemporary City Planning

Supreme Court, on Oct 20, 2010, gave a ruling that hawking is a Fundamental Right. Delhi hawkers filed a petition challenging Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC). SC pulled up the agencies on a few points. There have been several directives given to government and municipalities.

Any educated, sane person (literate or illiterate, rich or poor, layperson or professional) must be able to respond to this issue positively. But we (of The First World India) forget or ignore the millennia old Indian agrarian society and their living traditions which should be acknowledged as Unwritten Laws. Hawking is one of them.

Missing primary factor in city planning 

However, the vital and primary missing factor in this case is 'CITY' itself, therefore, 'City Planning'. City is the real cause of trouble (city being symbol of centralized power) for the people inside and outside, both.

Flower vendors during festivals, Mumbai

Judiciary, even the Supreme Court, and subsequently media-the-hawk missed this context to ‘city’ and ‘city planning’ which is at fault. City planning is not inclusive of people and their cultures in the pluralistic society of India.

When city planners write / draw map of a city, they actually write an Act of Law: That is the status of city plan. First, this map is displayed at appropriate place for the citizens to scrutinize and put on record their objections / grievances. Then it goes through hearings, redressal and then further stages of scrutiny and approval at government level. This indeed is a democratic process. 

This might seem absurd, if we consider the levels of education, literacy, illiteracy and the access to information of the citizens, and how do they use their resources This assessment may be difficult but not impossible. Media or multimedia, now, could work to spread non-formal education to all, if used effectively. 

Hawking is ancient tradition   

For millennia peasants and forest dwellers have been bringing their goods and produce for sell to weekly bazaars at villages, towns, cities and thousands of fairs annually held across the country, even in remote places. There are many cities older than thousand years, and there are 600,000 villages in India. Hawking is ancient tradition. 

Tender coconut vendor, Mumbai
Bazaar has been a characteristic feature of Indian Urban centres, small or big. If Indian intelligentsia and newfangled town planners want to ignore this fact in the name of Modernism or Westernization, and sell the land to Shopping Malls and Departmental Stores at the detriment of large majority, it is not patriotism. It is treason and intellectual slavery.

The First World India (of ruling minority) has been groomed by foreign-made education, by now a few generations. Perhaps they have lost the roots? Why architects and town planners should be an exception? If the professionals are ignorant of this loud and visible fact, and lack essential field-work, how could they ever integrate People in the Laws? How could they make People-inclusive plans? 

Each time of crisis of management of the country arises, they look for models elsewhere to imitate, or knock the doors of High Court/s and Supreme Court. But they do not look for answers from people and the ground reality; or create mass movement for divisive caused when poverty is rampant and policies oppressive.

Typically, cities 'built' in India during past ten decades have shops along roads or separate plots for shopping centres. However, in reality it seems they are planned, in the first place for cars and roads, then land-use zones, thereafter, population (numbers) that is a faceless entity. Now ‘family’ is called ‘household’ – am object. Of course, invariably the numbers prove the projections, projects, plans and planners failed.

Car takes more area than a squatter and hawker 
Cars - stationary and moving - take more area and 3D Space than slum dwellers, squatters & hawkers. It is a known fact that modern cities have lost Human Scale by domination of car. How car does consume energy, affects environment and ecology, which primarily comes from the Earth; and how it does pay back to Earth, is never questioned.

Squatters living under Mumbai Flyover

Now we pray, India's Nuke Deals don't bring further doom – by Bang Soundless and Cloud Smokeless – to the Peasants and Aborigines  by default, like that of Machine and Market so far. None speaks if the Fallout is counted in the Nuclear Safety Precautions? We ignore social – economic fallout of development. Would there be accelerated Migration from countryside or Annihilation? Already there are suicides by farmers: Annihilation by Invisible Forces?

Example of hawker inclusive Vadodara City Plan

While we (Town Planning Team) ware working on the Town Planning Schemes (TPS) for Vadodara City (formerly, Baroda), in the second half of 1960s, we integrated hawkers in the TPS. We had provided pathways for pedestrians and cyclists, besides the hierarchy of streets. At the rounded corners of the junctions of pathways and streets, small open plots were kept for the hawkers. These plots remain connected without coming in the way of pedestrians and vehicles. Corners of junctions are favourite of hawkers everywhere, not only at Vadodara. This planning action comes from ‘field-work’. 

Revamp Professional Education Disciplines  

Conclusions: There is an urgent need. The education in the disciplines of "City Planning, Urban Design, Environmental Planning, Regional Planning, Design of Indian Roads, etc. and their Foundation Courses, besides the Law”, need total overhaul, as if the Place (Land, Waters and Vegetation), People and their Cultures matter. There are no international standards for a city. A city is not a product for trade. 


1. Images above are by Remigius de Souza
2. Links: "Flower Bazaar at Mumbai during Ganesh Festival
3. News Link:  Hawkers’ fundamental right can’t be left in limbo: court

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©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.


  1. It is quite surprising that the SC ruling did not seem to have got much coverage. I certainly missed it. Anyway, thanks for the post. No I am updated.

  2. From Internet it seems there is lot of activity, but no action on ground level. I have written earlier also, in different context and published in local English weekly.

    Most of the elite are hostile to hawkers. So it is not surprising if there is no coverage.