One of the most important innovation in the material advancement of the human civilization is the concept of division of labour. Different groups are entrusted with different responsibilities which ensures that most activities can be accomplished efficiently and promptly. This of course creates the scope for class formation that brings with it the concomitant problem of hierarchy which becomes ossified with time. As the advantages gained from these distinctions are hoarded and transferred over generations, the interests of the different groups begin to diverge. Those who exercise control always try to ensure that changing material conditions do not change the underlying guiding principle, i.e. the deprived should never become empowered. Authoritarian socio-political systems whether they be monarchy, dictatorship, or caste system have always made sure that the social process should always correspond to this fundamental principle. However, democracy, with all it defects, is a little different. It confers the power to decide the trajectory of the social process upon the always more numerous oppressed working classes. And it is hoped that the institutions which are established in the wake of this empowerment are able to break free from the regressive principle of the past and bring about better prospects.[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The governing class of Meghalaya is not disinterested but openly hostile to the interest of the working class[/perfectpullquote]
But the old forces have found not only a way to reconcile with this new system but to co-opt it as an instrument to perpetuate their hegemonic practices.As such, not only are unjust laws made but attempts to bring about empowering proposals are also suppressed. None exemplify this more that the current state of affairs regarding the situation of the hawkers and street vendors in Shillong.
That the governing class of Meghalaya is not disinterested but openly hostile to the interest of the working class is evident when the draft rules and schemes made under the Meghalaya State Vendor (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act are examined. The whole exercise, i.e. drafting of the rules and schemes, can be summed up in these words: shoddy, unintelligent, disingenuous and anti-working class.
It was highly expected that the draft rules and schemes would be contrary to the ‘Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014’ which was passed by the Parliament. After all the state government had brought its own legislation for the same which had none of the safeguards and empowering provisions of the Central Act. The draft schemes and rules did not disappoint in that regard but what was surprising was the highly shoddy work done on it. Because the State Act was highly defective, the draft rules and schemes tried to rectify some of it by importing terms and categories form the draft model send by HUPA which are based on the Central. Natural Market and Heritage Market which are very important categories regarding identification of the vending got mention for the first time but without any elaboration on their functions. The category of Natural Market is used in the Central Act so that such areas cannot be declared as a no-vending zone while no vendors can be evicted from heritage markets. However, not only these functions are not stated but there is also an attempt to sabotage these qualities by stating that such categorizations would be based on congestion considerations. Effectively this means that the cause for congestion in the City are the less than 3000 street vendors and not the more than 1 lakh vehicles plying in Shillong. The poor working class is to be blamed for the ills of the city. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]What does this all mean for the state of democracy in our society when the institutions who are supposed to represent the interest of the working class is in fact working against the prospects of the working class itself?[/perfectpullquote]
The anti-working class attitude of the government is taken to one of its extreme when provisions are taken from the model draft scheme but are modified to commit harassment on the former. For example. the provision of the vending fees is taken from the draft model provided by HUPA but it is perverted to perpetuate financial harassment. While in the model draft scheme there is mention of ‘10% annual increase’ (Chapter IV (11)), in the draft rules framed under the State Act it has changed to a ‘minimum of 10%’ which means that the charge will always be higher. Disingenuous argument about Meghalaya being a hilly state is made for reducing the holding capacity to 1.5% from the 2.5% provided by the Central but at the same time the length of the street to be made available for street vending has been decreased from the 3.5 metres given in the model rules and schemes to 8 metres. Such duplicitous behavior is littered throughout the draft rules and schemes made by the Meghalaya Government.
Another problem that the draft rules and schemes suffer are the innumerable contradictions that are found all over the exercise. Because of the lack of thought or laziness the copy and paste method used by the government to make the draft rules and schemes has resulted in many provisions contradicting each other with regularity. The holding capacity is mentioned to be 1.5% in Miscellaneous 38 (i)section but is changed to 1% in Miscellaneous 37 (ii) i section. In Chapter VII – 27 (i) the eviction notice period is given to be 7 days (reduced from 30 days as given in the Central Act) which has been changed to 15 days in Chapter VII – 29 (i). These are but few examples which led to many sections in the draft rules and schemes becoming highly unintelligible. This whole exercise is thus not only malicious but also highly shoddy.
What does this all mean for the state of democracy in our society when the institutions who are supposed to represent the interest of the working class is in fact working against the prospects of the working class itself?
The answer lies in vigilance, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” – Thomas Jefferson. Law making is too serious a matter to be left up to the government. Because of the pressure of the working class the government had to come up with draft rules and schemes two years after the illegal State Act was passed and had to notify it to the public for suggestions. When scrutinized it was found that the draft rules and schemes are not only highly objectionable from the legal but also humanistic point of view as well. True democracy can only come about when it is truly participatory wherein the working class does not abdicate the law making powers to those they put in authority only. Unjust laws have to be contested everywhere and every time. The ‘Meghalaya Street Vendor (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act 2014’ is an unjust law and the draft rules and schemes made under it are its extensions.
Add the pdf version of the suggestions sent to the government.