Can there be a just & humane plan for Sweepers’ Line in Them Iew Mawlong, Shillong?

On 9th July, 2018, Meghalaya & Greater Shillong Progressive Hawkers & Street Vendors Association and Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR) submitted a detailed proposal about Sweepers’ Line/Punjabi Lane in Them Iew Mawlong to Mr. Prestone Tynsong, Deputy Chief Minister of Meghalaya and Chairperson of High Level Committee for Rehabilitation of The Residents of Punjabi Lane setup by Govt. of Meghalaya. Unlike, many who merely sloganeered about Removal of the residents of Punjabi Lane or rejecting any rehabilitation plans or proposed Shopping Mall, Flyover or Hotels in the area, Hawkers & Street Vendors have come up with a concrete plan acknowledging the historical reality of the Punjabi residents of Them Iew Mawlong, as well as a vision of Shillong which looks at the city from below.

 


Mr. Prestone Tynsong
Chairman,
High Level Committee for Rehabilitation of The Residents of Punjabi Lane
Govt. of Meghalaya

SUBJECT: SUGGESTIONS REGARDING SWEEPERS’ LINE IN THEM IEW MAWLONG

Sir,

We, the members of Meghalaya & Greater Shillong Progressive Hawkers & Street Vendors Association and Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR)  provide following suggestions to High Level Committee for Rehabilitation of The Residents of Punjabi Lane setup by Govt. of Meghalaya with regards to:

1) Formulation of a just and humane solution for the long-term residents of Sweepers’ Line in Them Iew Mawlong keeping in mind protections envisaged under Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and Tribal nature of the state of Meghalaya. 

2) Redevelopment plans for the area. 

3) Safety and security of livelihood of Hawkers and Street Vendors.

Sweepers’ Line

We feel that we have to contribute to finding a solution to this long-standing issue because Them Iew Mawlong and its vicinity has been, historically a place which has also sustained hawking and street-vending. We have existed in close proximity with the residents of the area and our interactions have been both beneficial and conflicting. For instance, as an Association, we depend on some of the residents to clean our spaces while we have also resisted attempts by some of the residents to forcibly claim our locations that we have been using for years. Although this kind of dominance does not only come from the residents but also others who are not residents of this locality, but they too have tried to use force to illegally intimidate us.

From the time the Association came into being, we have resisted this kind of criminal intimidation, both from individuals and the State. In this light, we have been demanding for the implementation of the central act on hawking and street vending, namely, THE STREET VENDORS (PROTECTION OF LIVELIHOOD AND REGULATION OF STREET VENDING) ACT, 2014, which shall oversee security and peace for the hawking community. Therefore, any plan for Sweepers’ Line has to keep this reality of security at the center of its consideration.

As an Association, we acknowledge the effort made by the High Level Committee and we wish to participate in this process. Following are our concrete proposals:

JUST & HUMANE SOLUTION

Communities who inhabit Sweepers’ Line have made Shillong what it is. Brought by the British Army from Gurdaspur district of Punjab, where they had been historically marginalized and oppressed by the Caste System, Shillong gave them an opportunity to live a life with dignity through their contribution to the municipal system of the city. Although Shillong by its tribal context meant that they were free from the dominant caste structures, exploitative nature of colonial and post colonial administration meant that their work was poorly paid and their residential conditions rudimentary and barrack based.

But, over time, this residential line has been overrun by expanded commercial activity. Moreover, the residents’ increased population, casualization of work, along with the scarcity of basic amenities in these municipal barracks/quarters, has resulted in the increasing ghettoization of the community and the locality. This ghettoization and precarious nature of existence for the residents has also meant that the lane has over the years seen tensions arising out of petty criminality and intimidation. We as hawkers have faced the brunt of it.

This cannot go on; residents deserve a humane environment to live in.

Any proposal for a solution has to give the residents a dignified living, decent housing with proper water system, drainage, electricity etc. while ensuring that the old process of ghettoization has no space in future. Space is not a problem considering the close proximity of empty cantonment land.

We also feel that any residential plan needs to ensure multi ethnic population and thus offer subsidized housing also for working people like hawkers and street vendors along with the long-term residents of this place.

All this has to be done under the overarching legal reality of the Sixth Schedule, Land Transfer Act and the protections and rights accruing to the indigenous tribal population of the state of Meghalaya.

REDEVELOPMENT

Any redevelopment plan of the area has to keep Hawkers’ & Street Vendors as the central stakeholders because in terms of actual population of people engaging in livelihood activity, it is us the hawkers who are in a majority in that area. We don’t only provide services for the residents of Shillong but also sustain our families. In this regard we feel that much more than a Shopping Mall or Parking lot, it is imperative that redevelopment contributes to generation of livelihood and employment for as many people as possible and this can only be possible if this area is developed holistically as a Street Vendors’ Market.

We demand that once the Central Act THE STREET VENDORS (PROTECTION OF LIVELIHOOD AND REGULATION OF STREET VENDING) ACT, 2014 on Hawking is implemented, the whole area should be declared a legal Vending Zone, as this is a heritage and natural market (as defined by law) with facilities like Godowns, Cold Storages, Creche & Day Care centres, Toilets, Health clinics geared towards providing us with a safe and healthy work environment.

We also demand that the area should dedicate some parts of it for a clean and efficient public transport facility like a bus lane.

This is a draft sketch of our vision for this area which incorporates the ideas of justice and humanity

SECURITY & SAFETY 

Historically, this area has been susceptible to intimidation and harassment of people in general including customers, petty traders, farmers, taxi and bus drivers from some criminal elements. The non-existence of quick redressals from police has meant that some of these experiences have turned into long-term resentments. We demand people friendly, well equipped, transparent and efficient policing to ensure that such acts do not go unpunished and people are safe in this area.

We the street vendors and hawkers demand a secure livelihood free from criminal harassment, not only from private individuals but also the state apparatus which has chosen not to implement legal safeguards as outlined in THE STREET VENDORS (PROTECTION OF LIVELIHOOD AND REGULATION OF STREET VENDING) ACT, 2014 

This is a historic moment. We can use this opportunity to rethink our vision for the Urban reality of our land. A city that does not have structures that are responsive to people’s needs, especially of its working classes, is a city always on the verge of crisis. We need therefore to think about institutions of local self-governance, which acknowledges the realities of tradition but is also ready, to accommodate labour needs, population movements and cultural diversities.

We hope that our suggestions and demands are part of any recommendations made by the committee because Shillong needs to become a People’s city, which respects its marginalized, acknowledges its history and celebrates its plurality.

Thanking you,

Sincerely yours

Meghalaya & Greater Shillong Progressive Hawkers & Street Vendors Association and Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR)

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