New Delhi, Sep 28, 2010 (Calcutta Tube) As Delhi dresses up for the Commonwealth Games and covers up its warts, the ubiquitous street vendor selling vegetables, fruits, cigarettes, utilities or quick eats on carts or from roadside stalls say they have been asked peremptorily to shut shop as they are seen as potential security threats.
An atmosphere of gloom is palpable among the vendors, most of whose families live off their daily income, as the thought of losing a month’s unemployment is a scary proposition.
‘What will I do? One whole month is a lot of time, I have got a family to feed, money to pay, where will I go?’ asked Kamlesh Nath, an affected vendor who sells vegetables and earns Rs.300 a day.
Also among those affected is 45-year-old Ganga Ram, a tobacco vendor in one of south Delhi’s posh colonies. He had hoped the Oct 3-14 event would provide added earnings, but now his expressionless face tells another tale altogether.
‘Police came to me and told me to shut my shop Oct 1-31 because of the Commonwealth Games,’ a distressed Ram, who earns Rs.400 a day by selling cigarettes, told IANS.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) claims it has not started any new drive and any clampdown is a result of squatting on public land and not due to the Games.
‘We haven’t started any such drive in the name of the Commonwealth Games. Even if any clampdown is conducted, it may be because of illegal encroachment,’ a senior MCD official told IANS, but did not wish to be identified.
He said vendors who were running into problems were those who did not have proper vending licenses, known as tehbazaris in local parlance.
But police did not deny the move outright. A senior police official said: ‘Such drives go on from time to time. Whenever the MCD needs our help, we send our personnel.’
Even residents of the city have expressed reservations about such a move, which they claim is purely for the Commonwealth Games and not for illegal encroachments, as some of the vendors have been present for over a decade in many areas.
‘This is not fair. We depend on these people for everything – from vegetables to fast food. They have been here for such a long time. This has really changed my perception of the Games from bad to worse,’ Vasant Kunj resident Vickramjeet Singh said.
Major factors which work in the favour of lakhs of such vendors are they pay the local Residents’ Welfare Associations (RWA) a monthly fee which is an integral part of the local economy and they provide a key distribution and marketing point.
‘I have been over here for 15 years. For that time I paid all my dues, taxes, fares and what not, just to work without causing a hindrance or disturbance to anyone,’ Ram said.
Not only vendors, even autorickshaw drivers and domestic helps have expressed apprehensions about what may happen to their livelihood when the Commonwealth Games arrive.
‘We have a very strong apprehension that many of us won’t be allowed to work. In that case, we have to leave the city,’ said 34-year-old autorickshaw driver Prakash Sharma.
Jayati Ghosh of the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) said: ‘No matter how small the spectrum of services they may provide, it forms a crucial part of the national capital’s economic system, without which the city may come to a grinding halt.
‘Why is it that the downtrodden part of society has to pay for such Games?’ Ghosh told IANS angrily.
With sharp criticism surrounding the Games for incomplete stadiums and infrastructure, the main concern for some is that the city may lose its essence.
‘Delhi was better. At least no one was called an outsider, now look at this, it will become just like Mumbai,’ Sharma said.
‘It’s not ‘Garibi hatao, it’s Garibon ko hatao’ (It’s not about poverty alleviation but the elimination of the poor altogether),’ he added.
Some 7,000 participants and officials from 71 teams are expected to attend the Commonwealth Games – India’s biggest sporting event since the 1982 Asian Games, though negative publicity in the run-up may considerably deplete the number of visitors from abroad.
(Rohit Vaid can be contacted at email@example.com)