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After Eviction & Floods, Hawkers Along the Yamuna Told to 'Stay Hidden Till G20'

"The police just removes the vendors if they set shop," claimed a resident of Bela Estate on the Yamuna floodplains.

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"The police comes for checking sometimes. They have told us that 7 September onwards, we should try to stay hidden, and not come near the main road," said Kamal Lal, 35, as he strolled around Bela Estate on the Yamuna floodplains in Delhi.

For almost six months now, scores of residents of Bela Estate and Moolchand Basti have taken shelter under the Vijay Ghat flyover near Geeta Colony, first due to the eviction drive by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), and then due to the floods that ravaged the national capital in July.

"The police just removes the vendors if they set shop," claimed a resident of Bela Estate on the Yamuna floodplains.

Residents of Bela Estate along the Yamuna floodplains have taken shelter under a flyover near Geeta Colony.

(Photo: The Quint)

Just a kilometer away is Raj Ghat, the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi which is expected to be visited by several dignitaries during the upcoming G20 Summit.

The area under the flyover, where families have taken shelter, is usually not crowded on a weekday. But on Tuesday, 5 September, most people, who are either street vendors or hawkers, had stayed in claiming that the police has disallowed them from setting shops in light of the summit.

"The police just removes the vendors if they set shop. The road leads to Raj Ghat, and the foreign guests will be passing from there. They definitely won't want the vendors to be seen around," Lal said.

The troubles of the residents of the Yamuna floodplains in Delhi have not ceased in the past six months.

Since March 2023, when the Delhi High Court ordered the eviction of residents from the floodplains, the DDA has carried out multiple demolition drives. The troubles multiplied in July after the Yamuna flooded, further forcing thousands of families to live on the streets in temporary shelters.

"The police just removes the vendors if they set shop," claimed a resident of Bela Estate on the Yamuna floodplains.

Nearly a thousand people have been evicted from the Bela Estate in consecutive demolitions since March 2023.

(Photo: The Quint)

Now, most street vendors from the floodplains have temporarily lost their source of daily income.

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'First They Took Our Farms, Now We Can't Set Shops'

Most street vendors residing near the floodplains claimed that the police has not allowed them to set shop anywhere since before Independence Day.

Bhagyashri (38), the sole breadwinner for a family of seven, has not been able to earn anything for the past week, she told The Quint. A vendor with a bicycle-driven cart selling water bottles, beverages, and snacks, Bhagyashri said that their problems have only increased since the beginning of the year.

"The police just removes the vendors if they set shop," claimed a resident of Bela Estate on the Yamuna floodplains.

Murti Devi (left) and Bhagyashri (right) have not been able to set shops anywhere near Raj Ghat for almost a month.

(Photo: The Quint)

"It's been a month that the police has not allowed us to set shops on any streets nearby. We used to live on the floodplains before. I have five children. My husband is disabled. He cannot work," Bhagyashri said.

Many said that they are living off of money borrowed from relatives or friends. A few have also taken to manual labour at construction sites till the curbs on street vendors ease.

Murti Devi (35) has a similar story.

"I used to sell kachoris and other eatables on my bicycle. But we have been sitting here waiting since a month. I have two children to feed," Murti Devi said, adding that the G20 summit has paused their earnings.

Suresh (25), too, has not been able to set shop anywhere nearby since Independence Day.

For his grandmother, Rukmani Devi (80), who is one of the oldest living residents of the floodplains, the source of income has been snatched for the second time this year.

Rukmani Devi and her husband had tilled the farms along the floodplains for years before the authorities reclaimed their farmland a decade ago. They had been working on other farms till her family was evicted a few months ago.
"The police just removes the vendors if they set shop," claimed a resident of Bela Estate on the Yamuna floodplains.

Rukmani Devi,  one the oldest living residents of the floodplains, lost her farms when the government reclaimed lands about a decade ago. 

(Photo: The Quint)

Since then, she, along with her family members, has been selling eatables on bicycles.

"The authorities took our farms on the floodplains first. Now the police asks us to not put any stalls anywhere. Not like we are qualified for any other better jobs," she said.

G20 Facelift at the Cost of the Poor?

For months ahead of the summit, the beautification of the national capital was carried out in full throttle. However, the beautification efforts have also been marred by the demolitions of scores of slum clusters without proper rehabilitation, masking slum clusters with green sheets, and evicting hawkers from strategic locations.

While the DDA has been facing heat over demolitions, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) is being blamed for evicting street vendors.

In July this year, the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) released a statement criticising the MCD for “evicting street vendors on the pretext of beautifying the streets," including those certified under the PM Street Vendor’s AtmaNirbhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) scheme.

NASVI representatives also met MCD mayor Shelly Oberoi in July over the issue.

"The police just removes the vendors if they set shop," claimed a resident of Bela Estate on the Yamuna floodplains.

Suresh (25) a Kachori vendor has not been able to set shop since before Independence Day.

(Photo: The Quint)

"Events like G20 have always been opportunities for those in power to exploit the poor or the people who are dependent on the state, especially those from unorganised sectors, which street vendors are a large portion of. There are close to 3 lakh street vendors in Delhi. The evictions of hawkers started in Delhi last December in the Najafgarh and Mahipalpur areas," Rajesh Kumar Singh, Advocacy Manager, NASVI, told The Quint.

He added that in the name of G20, now plants have potted where the street vendors once stood.

According to the Street Vendors Act 2014, no street vendor can be relocated or evicted by the local authority from the place specified in the certificate of vending unless they have been given 30 days notice for the same.

Singh has been a part of several attempts to block the eviction of hawkers from various locations since December.

"We have been telling them that if you want to beautify for G20, why don't you beautify the stalls of the vendors too? Put G20 logos on their stalls, give them proper clothes, etc. We would have supported that," Singh said.

When evictions across several locations peaked in July in areas like Laxmi Nagar, south Shahdara, ITO, Karkardooma, and Mandavali, NASVI representatives carried out protests and met with MCD officials.

"The South Shahdara MCD commissioner said that it was an order by the Lieutenant Governor (LG). The LG's order said that all encroachments had to be removed. The street vendors eventually had to go to the High Court which ordered that no evictions of hawkers should be done in the name of G20, especially those with valid certificates," Singh said.

"The police just removes the vendors if they set shop," claimed a resident of Bela Estate on the Yamuna floodplains.
"Last month we had a meeting with the ACP of Delhi who said that it is only till G20 – and there will be no issues thereafter. But it's a loss of livelihoods for approximately two months. There are several places where they have put barricades and deployed guards so that hawkers don't return," he added.

The Quint has reached out to both the MCD and the DDA for clarity on any official order to evict street vendors from any locations. The story will be updated once we get a response.

Various surveys suggest that most street vendors come from slum clusters in the national capital, many of which have also faced demolitions in the past six months. Very few of the slum clusters could manage to get a stay on the evictions from the courts.

According to a statement in the Parliament in 2021, the Housing Ministry said that as many as 13.5 million people live in unauthorised colonies in the national capital.

In the recently concluded Monsoon session of the Parliament, Kaushal Kishore, Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs, told the Rajya Sabha that there are 675 slum clusters housing over 15.5 lakh people across the national capital.

"The police just removes the vendors if they set shop," claimed a resident of Bela Estate on the Yamuna floodplains.

With the source of income taken away, many in Bela Estate are struggling to feed their children.

(Photo: The Quint)

Narrating her ordeal, Murti Devi said, "Generations of my husband's family have been born and lived in the floodplains. First, they broke our houses. Then, they came for the drinking water connections. We had a house on the floodplains, now we are living on the streets. We sell kachoris only so that we can feed and educate our children. If we were educated enough to have proper jobs, would we have to go through any of this?"

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