The beautification of the Model Market at Sewa Nagar and the up-gradation of the civic infrastructure produced many unexpected consequences. As long as vendors were operating from "illegally" occupied spaces, the rents they paid to those who claimed "ownership" of the space ranged from Rs 500 to Rs 1000 per month and the sale price of those stalls ranged from Rs 75,000 to about 125,000. But as the stalls and the market began to look glamorous, the market price of the stalls shot up dramatically ranging from Rs 5 lakhs to 12 lakhs in 2007. They also began to command higher rents. This price began increasing every year.
|Photographs from the documentary film made by the UN Comission for the Legal Empowerment of the Poor
promoting Sewa Nagar as an international role model. For a view of this film click here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2v7u0KSZ2M
Thus, the 158 stalls, the two large park plazas, a big toilet block and a small temple in white marble represented assets were now worth several millions. Neither the local mafia, nor the Municipal Councilor, nor for that matter the MLA, MP or the local police could stomach the idea of not cornering a chunk each of this pie.
|A toilet block with clean shower rooms constructed
as part of sanitation drive in the pilot project to stop
open defecation and provide provision for bathing
Unable to grab stalls through violence or blackmail, the local mafia developed a new strategy. Due to the absence of credit facilities people like the local goons use their ill gotten wealth for money lending at extortionist rates of interest-ranging from a minimum of 60% to 120% per annum. Even when they pay hefty installments, the debt keeps mounting because the interest rate is astronomical. The money lending mafia began to surreptitiously take over the stalls of some of the indebted vendors by making them sign off their rights on Rs 100 denomination stamp paper.
A sample of their criminal ways of moneymaking is provided by the account of Yogesh Kumar, whose allotted stall was forcibly taken away from him as payment for his "debt". In April 2003, Shiv Kumar -- one of the members of the local mafia led by the Basoya brothers and Bhagat Singh -- persuaded Yogesh into taking a loan of Rs 35000 at an interest rate of Rs 120% per annum to invest in his business, much against the wishes of Yogesh's mother. From May 2003 to December 2005, Yogesh paid Rs 3500 per month by way of interest for the loan of Rs 35,000. However, from January 2006 to March 2006 Yogesh was unable to pay the monthly interest because he was not left with enough money for running the household expenses. Yogesh was threatened that he should either pay a lump sum of Rs 50,000 or transfer his stall in Shiv Kumar's name. When he resisted, the most senior leader of this gang, Mahipal Basoya, insisted that Yogesh should join their Kameti (Chit Fund) group for 200,000 rupees, lift the money and pay off his debt to Shiv Kumar. Since joining the Kameti meant paying a hefty monthly installment ranging from Rs 7,000 to Rs 9,000 per month which Yogesh could ill afford, he was very reluctant to do so but was threatened into accepting the deal.
In September 2006, they forced Yogesh to lift the Kameti at a loss of Rs 60,000. Shiv Kumar took away Rs 70,000 as his dues on the loan of Rs 35,000 he had originally given Yogesh who was handed over merely Rs 30,000 in hand for a Kameti of Rs 200,000. Mahipal claimed the rest of the amount as penalty for joining six months late.
|Yogesh and his mother Saroj Devi who
finally took courage and filed a case
against the Bhagat-Basoya gang.
After that, for one whole year Yogesh paid Mahipal Basoya a monthly installment ranging from Rs 7,000 per month to Rs 9,000 for the Rs 200,000 Kameti totaling to a payment of over Rs. 80, 000. But this hefty installment meant that he was left with very little for his household expenditure. His wife had to work as a domestic help in order to supplement the family income. This created a lot of tension in his family. Therefore, he stopped paying Kameti installments. At this point Bhagat Singh and the Basoya brothers forcibly took away his new scooter, which had been purchased on installments by his father. In addition, they forced him to open a bank account and issue several blank cheques to them in order to blackmail him further since bounced cheques can lead to a jail sentence.
Thus, on a loan of Rs 35,000 Yogesh has already paid them more than Rs 3,63,000 by way of interest, including loss of his scooter. Yet by September 2007 they began claiming nearly 120, 000 rupees more in order to clear his dues or else transfer his stall to their names. He was told that if he refused their demand he would be beaten out of the market. This was not an empty threat. They had used exactly the same tactic for "purchasing" the stalls of several other members of the pilot project. Whoever dared resist was beaten up and driven out of the market. The pressure to sign away his stall in the name of Basoyas got so intimidating that in sheer panic Yogesh simply fled from the market and took shelter in a nearby town with some distant relatives without informing his mother or wife regarding his whereabouts. After weeks of searching his mother Saroj Devi finally tracked him down and brought him to MANUSHI for help. We helped him file a police complaint as well as a court case but, despite our best efforts, we failed to get a simple F.I.R registered with the local police.
| One of the sealed stalls
After these illegal transfers of stalls came to the knowledge of MANUSHI, we urged the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of the Central Zone to seal the stalls which had been ‘purchased' illegally from vulnerable project members since the Agreement signed on oath by each vendor stated clearly that they could neither sell nor rent out those stalls. Fortunately, at that time, we had a supportive DC in Gyanesh Bharati. Therefore, on January 4, 2007 eleven stalls were sealed by the MCD. This firm action aimed at the mafia led to an all out war against MANUSHI endangering our very lives.
Starting March 2007, the project members and MANUSHI volunteers in charge of administering the Model Market for street hawkers at Sewa Nagar, began to face life threatening forms of violence with a view to drive out some of the leading project members from the market because they were effective in keeping the flock together. My cameras were a special target of attack because it captured evidence of their misdoings in the area. Three of my cameras were snatched from me with varying degrees of physical violence on three different occasions. On one occasion, one of the tempo owners, a leading member of the local mafia, tried to run me over with his speeding tempo while I was taking pictures of a large illegal room he and his brothers had constructed in the public park. I narrowly escaped being crushed under his tempo because two vendors screamed to warn me and I managed to jump on a high pavement barely three seconds before the tempo would have hit me.
On April 30th, 2007 the four brothers of the Basoya family who are leading members of the goonda brigade and run several legal and illegal businesses -- including drug peddling, manufacturing pornographic CDs, selling illegally mined underground water and illegally tapped electricity, providing goons to interested parties for illegal eviction of tenants through brutal force, as well as running a fleet of tempos--- came and pounced upon a MANUSHI volunteer Rita Sharma, snatched her gold chain as well as the tehbazari money she had collected and started beating her up. Local vendors' leaders - Mehoob and Rajkumar - who came to save her were also thrashed with hockey sticks. The goons had a mob of 25-30 persons with them. Rita and Mehboob were told if they dared enter the market again they would not go back alive. The local police station not only refused to register an FIR (First Information Report) but also registered a false counter case that our members had tried to murder one of the local drug addicts who went to hospital at their behest with superficial self inflicted injuries.
This set the tone for implicating us in a string of false criminal cases. For example, on one of my visits to Sewa Nagar I was mobbed and beaten up by a group of women of the Basoya family who also tried to tear off my clothes. But they lodged a false counter case that I tried to run them over with my car. On another occasion, the Basoya brothers threw huge stones aimed at my skull. They narrowly missed their aim and damaged my car instead of my head because those who were watching the scene quickly shoved me into my car.
MANUSHI Workers Beaten Out
Since April 30th, 2007 none of us can enter that area without risking our lives. Thrice I have narrowly escaped being lynched to death by them. They threatened me with gang rape or to get me killed in a "hit and run accident" if MANUSHI resisted their takeover of stalls. The most active among project members who had played a vital role in organizing project members and bringing about civic discipline in the area were beaten out of the market with hockey sticks and iron rods. They were warned not to dare enter the market or else they would face death. Other members were also threatened daily, roughed up, terrorized, fleeced and forced to sign all kinds of bogus documents and petitions against the project without even being shown the text. What is worse, after each incident of assault, they succeeded in filing patently bogus criminal cases filed against us subjecting us to soul-destroying harassment.
| Women of Basoya family being held back by policewomen as they gathered in a mob to attack Madhu Kishwar
Through this period, other than Rakesh Mehta only one IAS officer, Mr. Gyanesh Bharti -- stood up to the goonda brigade. All others allowed them a free hand even while expressing verbal sympathy with MANUSHI. Since this group of anti social elements posed a serious threat to the survival of the pilot project, Gyanesh Bharti in his capacity as the Deputy Commissioner of the area ordered the removal of the Basoya Tempo Stand in very categorical terms as recorded in the Minutes of the MCD meeting held on June 6, 2007:
"It was decided that since the Tempo Stand has become the hub for anti-social elements out to forcibly take over the project property and stalls, determined action should be taken to get the unauthorized Tempo parking and the illegally constructed office of the Basoya Tempo Stand removed from the project area. After getting it removed with police protection, the local police should be informed that the Basoya Tempo Stand should not be allowed to reoccupy space in the Sewa Nagar area."
|The unauthorized Tempo Stand of Basoya brothers in
the midst of Sewa Nagar
Following this decision two clearance operations were carried out with police support. But within the same hour the tempos would come back to the same spot near the park plaza. The Deputy Commissioner then wrote a long letter to the Police Commissioner detailing why it was important to ensure permanent removal of the Tempo Stand from Sewa Nagar. He requested the Police Commissioner to:
a) " Book and charge sheet cases against those who have indulged in violence against law-abiding vendors and office bearers and staff of MANUSHI Sangathan for performing legitimate functions under the MCD project. The charge sheets should include attempts to illegally take over MCD property, threats, blackmail, extortion and coercion against vendors and MANUSHI Sangathan (for which ample evidence has been provided to Kotla police station) and for booking false cases against Manushi Sangathan with a view to harassing and coercing the organization into abandoning the project.
b) Enforce the permanent removal of the unauthorized tempo and private taxi stand operated by Basoya brothers whose removal has been twice executed by the MCD."
However, since the police was extremely reluctant to take determined action against the gangsters, their attacks and threats continued unabated.
|Kishwar with an injured arm and
several injuries on her body
One of the most murderous attacks took place on December 31, 2007 when I went to hold our regular monthly meeting. While I was taking some photographs, women of the Basoya family tried snatching my video camera. They also tried tearing my clothes. This had been an old strategy of the goons. They felt that if they could humiliate me by stripping me of my clothes in public, I would never again venture into the market. As I fell down, a big gang of men and women began kicking and punching me with full might. When MANUSHI staff member Sheeshpal came to my rescue, he was beaten up with sticks till he fell down half conscious. He suffered a backbone injury which has not fully healed till date. They also inflicted an eye injury on him which could have damaged his eyes permanently, if he had not thrown away his glasses while they were punching his face and other delicate parts of the body. Apart from other injuries, several ligaments of my right arm were torn leading to permanent pain spots in that arm. Even today I cannot use my right hand and arm for certain tasks. Two of them tried to break open my car door shouting loud and clear, "let us shove both of them in the car and set it on fire." The car door was badly damaged but took time to break open. In the meantime, someone had called the police and we were rescued in the nick of time.
The Basoya gang followed us to the police station and threatened me with murder and gang rape right in front of the SHO. But he did not book them for riotous behavior. After taking my complaint, the SHO sent me for a medico legal exam. To our horror we found that the matriarch of the Basoya family who had led the mob that attacked me had come there with more than 20 goons of her family with self inflicted injuries to build a case that I had ordered Sheeshpal to run her over with my car. Thus, I ended up with an "attempt to murder" case against me in addition to being patently implicated in false criminal cases on charges of extortion, impersonation, fraud, blackmail and what not. This had become a standard pattern. Every time any of us were beaten up, the gangsters would send some bogus victim - a local drug addict or one of their tempo drivers or a woman member of their family- to go with superficial self inflicted injuries and register false criminal cases against us.
Whenever I visited the market, even if they did not attack me physically, one or two of them would lodge a complaint that I had come to threaten them with my goondas and demanded "protection money." These cases could not have been filed without the active connivance of the local police. They filed a series of criminal cases against me for charges ranging from impersonation, fraud, extortion, blackmail and so on. Their game plan was clear: make it so hazardous and humiliating for us to enter the market that we would give up the project.
In response to our complaint against the partisan attitude of the police, the Lt Governor of Delhi supported MANUSHI's demand for installation of CCTV cameras in the area to keep the local anti-social elements under check and prevent them from attacking MANUSHI members and as a counter blast strategy falsely implicate several MANUSHI members as well as me personally in false criminal cases. Prime Minister's Office also intervened in the matter since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had taken interest in policy reform for street vendors. The PMO's letter asked for determined action to save the project from mafia elements. In a letter dated December 18th, 2007 the LG's office issued the following written instructions to the Police Commissioner:
"The LG is of the view that installing CCTV cameras in the areas pointed by Madhu Kishwar cannot brook any delay. This facility will help in giving a boost to setting up the projects contemplated to locate vendors meaningfully not only in Sewa Nagar but in other areas of Delhi. On this issue specific directions have been received from PMO (Prime Minister Office).The LG is of the view that the criminal activities of the Bhagat-Basoya group must be curbed with a firm hand so as to ensure that their activities are not an obstacle to the functioning of the Pilot Project for setting up Street vendors in Sewa Nagar."
Unfortunately, the cameras were not installed. Nor did the LG's order have any effect on the attitude of the local police. Therefore, the gangsters operate freely in the area, continuing with their terror tactics and act as overlords in the area. I was advised not to enter the area without police protection. Even while the DCP Police provided police protection to me for over two years without my asking, that did not restrain the local police from assisting the mafia elements from registering several more false cases against me and key members of the pilot project.
Goondas Try to Take over Swachhnarayani Temple
As mentioned earlier, to begin with the Broom Goddess was housed in a mobile stall. But by 2006, we had built a small marble temple for her. Since the Swachhnarayani temple had become an emotional centre point for the project, they tried to grab the mandir by installing an idol of Hanuman in the precincts. The local SHO threatened us that if we dared install the Goddess in the new temple, he would arrest us on charge of instigating a communal riot. The charge was bizarre considering that it was the Basoya gang who tried to instigate a communal riot in order to enable them to take over the temple and other assets.
|Mob led by Basoya brothers to protest the
visit if MCD officials an inspection
Among the many tricks used by them to promote Hindu-Muslim tension, one was to approach the Imam of a neighbouring mosque and tell him that MANUSHI was making Muslim vendors go against their religion by worshipping the Broom. Luckily for us, the Imam snubbed them saying he did not want to get involved in their battles, especially since he knew that Muslim vendors were playing a leading role in and were prime beneficiaries of the pilot project and that the Broom was a symbol of their common secular battle for a dignified livelihood.
Fortunately, barring a handful in debt to the Basoyas, none of the pilot project members were swayed by such divisive games. Everyone knew that Muslim vendors had taken the lead in worshipping the Broom goddess and act as her priests. They were the ones who started the practice of a special worship of the Broom goddess during Navratras with full fanfare, including setting up a bhandaara(free feast). They insist such worship is nothing new for them. In their respective villages, Hindus and Muslims jointly celebrate all festivals. In any case, Broom Worship was never forced on any one. Vendors were free to ignore this ritual. The only mandatory requirement for membership was maintaining cleanliness outside the stall and staying within the Sanyam Rekha.
Having failed to turn Broom worship into a communal issue, the gangsters then filed complaints with the police as well as any number of senior politicians and bureaucrats that MANUSHI should be banned from the area since the organization was "hurting Hindu sentiments" by promoting the worship of an impure object like the Broom, not fit for being kept in any temple. They accused us of defiling the upper castes by forcing them to perform Jhadu Puja. They also alleged that we had hurt Hindu sentiments by creating an "imaginary" goddess who in their view amounted to insulting "real" goddesses.
|Sign board put up by Basoya brothers on the wall of the Toilet block and the park railing nearby
the Toilet Block as the site of a "Pracheen (ancient) Hanuman Mandir"
On their part, they thought nothing of hurting Hindu sentiments by claiming the new and very spacious Toilet Block we had built as part of the model market by putting up a signboard proclaiming it to be a Pracheen Hanuman Mandir (ancient Hanuman temple)!
The toilet block was also sealed by the MCD on our complaint because the goodagroup had begun to use the spacious structure for bringing call girls and having booze sessions at night. Every morning we would see used condoms and cheap whiskey bottles scattered all over the place.
With so much violence and a string of criminal cases filed against us, administering the pilot project for civic discipline became impossible. The police and local goons began bringing in numerous vendors from outside to break civic discipline and provide them hafta.
|Mehboob, a Muslim vendor who
led the Sewa Nagar group, came
to act by common consensus
as the chief priest of the Goddess.
The Cleaning Brigade was also beaten out of the area indicating clearly that the police and the politicians have acquired a vested interest in promoting chaos and squalor because that makes most middle and upper class citizens view vendors as the source of urban squalor and chaos. They are thus misled into believing that clearance operations are a necessary and legitimate action against vendors.
Did the Broom Wielding Goddess Fail Us?
Does the collapse of the Sewa Nagar project as a model market for hawkers mean our Goddess failed to protect us? Far from it!
The making and unmaking of the Sewa Nagar project has demonstrated to all concerned that it is eminently possible to enforce civic discipline among vendors, if only the administration has the political will to do so. It has exposed very graphically the role of the police, the MCD staff and our elected representatives in promoting civic chaos. Even in its failure, we have been vindicated forcefully.
Administering the pilot project in a highly criminalized neighborhood was consuming too much of our energy and made it impossible for us to keep our other important activities going. Among other things, the print edition of MANUSHI Journal had to be suspended.
Even though the Sewa Nagar project fell apart, we have won major victories in the High Court and the Supreme Court with a similar pilot project in Nehru Place where vendors who came under MANUSHI discipline mark Wednesday as the Swachhnarayani Day and hold an evening aarti on each Wednesday.
After several years, the MCD got a pro-citizen Commissioner in Mr KS Mehra. This was when we were being implicated in a string of false cases. He ensured that the local officers in charge of the Sewa Nagar area did not play an active role in supporting the goons. Even though the original Agreement signed between MANUSHI and the MCD was for a five year period, Mr Mehra is keen that we revive the project. He ordered the Deputy Commissioner of the area to lend support to MANUSHI for this purpose. But we have let the MCD know that, unless they take determined action to evict criminal elements from the area, we cannot take charge of civic discipline. Given the active patronage given by the MP, MLA and Municipal Councilor to the goonda brigade, it is unlikely that any Deputy Commissioner will dare take determined action against the hoodlums who have taken control of Sewa Nagar.
|Breakdown of civic discipline after Manushi was prevented through repeated violent attacks from manging the pilot project. Drains are choked and pavements are littered. Police assisted the local goons in bringing new vendors to stand in front of existing stalls to destroy the sanctity of the Line of Discipline
The lower staff of the MCD in any case was always hand in glove with the goons. In fact, one of the devious strategies that the MCD staff adopted to harass MANUSHI was to make a bogus claim in court that MANUSHI had failed to deposit tehbazari dues worth several lakhs. This is when they are well aware that after goondas take over, MANUSHI staff cannot enter the area without risking their lives. Therefore, we suspended active collection of tehbazari. We dutifully send them the tehbazari fee of any vendors who come to the MANUSHI office to deposit it.
Fifthly, and equally important, MrRakesh Mehta, the officer who in his tenure as the Municipal Commissioner of Delhi had made it possible for the Sewa Nagar project to get the Supreme Court sanction, took charge as the Chief Secretary of Delhi in November 2007 to April 2011. When MANUSHI was being implicated in all manners of false cases, it was his honest report to the Lt Governor that acted as a shield for us. In 2011, he also set up a Task Force for drafting a new vendor friendly law for Delhi. Together we drafted model legislation for Delhi. This mandates the setting up of a Street Vendor Protection Authority to institutionalize a transparent, efficient and time bound mechanism for registering vendors and providing hawking spaces to them. We are currently working with the Delhi Government to get it enacted as a law.
We also got support from the former Science & Technology Minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, to carry out a photo census of street vendors in parts of Delhi to demonstrate to the municipal authorities how to have reliable data about the actual hawkers on the streets so that when hawking zones are created, genuine vendors get legal space for vending instead of letting politicians and their henchmen grab vending spots and zones.
Finally, the fact that we are still alive and fighting it out for over all policy reform for street vendors proves that we enjoy Her protection. I feel grateful that the Goddess gave us the wisdom not to make Sewa Nagar into our be- all -and end- all issue. Our Goddess has given us the required patience and resilience not to expect instant results, not to get demoralized when the going gets tough, to accept defeat with equanimity and not let victories give an exaggerated sense of achievement.
She has not only released our energy for many important issues but even as far as street vendors are concerned, we have been able to focus on policy and law reform to benefit all vendors rather than get drowned in the process of administering a small project in Sewa Nagar dominated by a nexus of criminals and corrupt politicians and officials.
However, it is a telling commentary on the state of our law and order machinery that a project:
1) Undertaken by the Municipal Commissioner of Delhi, with the sanction of the Supreme Court;
2) Provided support by the Prime Minister of India as well as the present Lt Governor of Delhi.
3) Funded by the MPLAD Fund of a senior minister in the Congress Government;
4) Managed by a well known and conscientious organization like MANUSHI in the heart of South Delhi in the vicinity of elite colonies like Lodhi Estate and Defence Colony, can be taken over by a bunch of local criminals with such ease, simply because the local police joined hands with local goondas and local politicians of both the BJP and Congress who provide them with active support. Those who endangered the project were petty thugs and small time criminals at one time. However, today they feel enormously powerful in their area because they have seen that, with the local police in their pocket and the Municipal Councilor, MLA, and MP lending them support, the Prime Minister and Lt Governor count for nothing before their goonda might.
The manner in which the National Policy for Street Vendors is implemented has implications that go far beyond the right to livelihood of street vendors. When vulnerable citizens see the police join hands with extortionist mafias, they lose respect for laws and law enforcers, leading to greater crime in society. Today all our markets are under the control of criminals with political links. They don't stop at preying on the poor. The growing political clout and money power at the disposal of criminals renders everyone unsafe, no matter how many security guards they position outside their homes. Safety is indivisible and we all have a stake in ensuring the security of livelihood of all citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable.