Hawking Hawkers - Two Tales and a Portrait of Anarchy (an 80-page chronicle of, on one hand, the NGO driven hawker policy dialogue in 2001 and, on the other, the simultaneous professionally informed citizens' effort in pursuit of the statutory solutions for hawking problems), offered in February 2002 to various authorities concerned with hawking and/or involved in the policy-dialogue 

Starting somewhere in the middle of the year 2001 Delhi witnessed a raging ‘policy dialogue’ on hawkers, initiated by NGOs with a global presence. Within weeks this precipitated intervention from the highest levels. This, in turn, led to the announcing of an ad-hoc ‘scheme’ and, with the Tenth Five Year Plan for the country and the revised Master Plan for Delhi under preparation, also to funding for more research and seminars by premier urban development and planning institutions.

The first part of this chronicle begins with an account of this ‘policy dialogue’ and goes on to summarise the ‘problem perspective’ and the ‘solution scenario’ implicit in it. Then it outlines statutory Master Plan provisions for hawkers that, although they were entirely ignored in the policy dialogue of 2001, have been in existence in Delhi since 1990, and how these adequately address the concerns that were being raised a decade later. Lastly it comments on a few implications of a ‘policy dialogue’ that made no reference whatsoever to existing statutory provisions that, in effect, made it rather redundant.

The second part of this chronicle is set in Vasant Kunj – a middle-income residential area in the southern fringe of Delhi, designed for a population of 100,000 and being developed by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) since late ‘80s. The housing here is by way of over two dozen pockets of DDA built flats. These pockets are fairly independent and have their separate Residents’ Welfare Associations (RWAs), all of whom have built walls with gates to secure their areas. The layout plan for Vasant Kunj provides for commercial centres and health, education and other facilities as per the norms of the 1990 Master Plan. Informal sector provisions in the Master Plan have not been implemented here and most hawkers are on the roadsides outside the gated pockets and some, with ‘passes’ from the RWAs, operate inside them. In the beginning of 2001 a small group of less than 400 hawkers in Vasant Kunj began a simple effort to secure implementation of statutory Master Plan provisions for space for hawkers. When these ‘little people’ started, they knew that it would be an ‘uphill struggle’ to get DDA to implement statutory provisions that it had kept secret for ten years. But they started with the confidence of being right. After all, they were not asking for any favour by way of regularisation of any violation that they were guilty of, only for DDA to do its job and give them what was theirs by right. But what these ‘little people’ did not know when they started their simple efforts to secure implementation of Master Plan provisions was that they would get caught on the wrong side in a rude encounter with a policy dialogue amongst ‘big people’ claiming these provisions did not exist! The ‘downhill slide’ that followed took them by surprise and left them shaken, appalled, cynical, angry, broken...

Through the uphill struggle and downhill slide in the efforts of Vasant Kunj’s hawkers, the second part of this chronicle presents a subaltern history of the hawking debate in Delhi in 2001.


    • Scale and significance
    • Problems faced by hawkers
    • Governance failures
    • Solutions indirectly relating to the problem perspective
    • Solutions corresponding to the scale and significance of hawking
    • Solutions corresponding to problems faced by hawkers
    • Solutions corresponding to failures of governance
    • Problem Perspective
    • Solution Scenario
    • Condoning culprits
    • Shortchanging victims
    • Abetting anarchy
    • Undermining faith in planned development
    • Undermining responsibility for planned development


    • Ordinary efforts of ordinary people (February to May 2001)
    • Encounters with the extraordinary policy dialogue (May to July 2001)
    • A demonstration to demand Master Plan implementation (July 5 to September 5, 2001)
    • Engaging on the PMO intervention (August - September 2001)
    • Extraordinary efforts of ordinary people (October 2001)
    • Public servants' Wrath and Retribution
    • Ostrich Farm
    • Public representatives' wrath and retribution
    • Me, the Planner...
    • We, the People...


  • Anex-1. The Bellagio International Declaration of Street Vendors
  • Anex-2. Recommendations of the MoUD-SEWA workshop
  • Anex-3. Prime Minister's New Policy for Street Hawkers and Rickshaw Pullers in Delhi
  • Anex-4. National Seminar on Impact of Hawking on Traffic Management in Metropolitan Cities
  • Anex-5. Terms of Reference for research study under Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojna Program


I never wanted to be a grievance collector. And I still don’t…

On the hawking issue, I do believe that, as a planner, I see the 2001 situation with some clarity. This chronicle has been written on the premise – or, at least, in the hope – that a lot of what happened was a misunderstanding arising out of the fact that many well-meaning persons engaging directly or indirectly on the matter were seeing it only in parts.

The intention is to make this chronicle of the recent past a tool to shape the coming future.

I am writing to all those in government to whom letters were sent by or on behalf of the hawkers in Vasant Kunj in their year long effort to secure implementation of statutory Master Plan provisions to ask them to get in touch with me if they are interested in my chronicle.

To the following amongst them (none of whom I knew personally before 2001), who responded at any point, I am also asking if they would like to write a piece for an ‘ending’ to this chronicle.

  • Mr P K Hota, Vice Chairman, DDA (He had, in June 2001 not only given an assurance but also said, in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way that whatever is a Master Plan provision must be implemented, especially when people want it to be)
  • Mr P.S.S.Thomas, Housing and Urban Development Advisor, Planning Commission (He not only invited me – despite me being ‘underage’, so to speak – to the Round Table discussion in August 2001 but also took my presentation seriously enough to subsequently take up the points that it raised. Again in December 2001 he not only gave me a long and patient hearing, he even got back himself to make a suggestion).
  • Mr V P Singh (He wrote, in September 2001 to the PM about master plan provisions for hawkers being ignored in the ongoing policy dialogue as well as about the case of Vasant Kunj’s hawkers)
  • Mr N Vitthal, Chief Vigilance Commissioner (He gave me, in December 2001, not only a patient hearing but also an opportunity to screen our film before the Commission).
  • Mr Taj Hassan, DCP (South West) (In January 2002, in response to a personal letter to express my concern about what was happening here around Republic Day, he sent an officer to speak with me. Already, in August 2001 (when local police had wanted to stop the demonstration) and in October 2001 (when it had stopped hawkers from leaving the roadside) he had given us a sympathetic hearing).

I am also making this special request to the MPs who responded to our request to raise the matter in Parliament, although I don’t even know them. I am not making it to Commissioner (Planning) who ‘responded’ (too late) only when PMO directed or to CM’s Bhagidari Nodal officer whose acknowledgement of my letter did not answer any of the concerns raised in it. Nor am I making it to Minister or Minister of State for Urban Development who, though they told a reporter in October (and, in the case of the latter, also me a month later) that they would enquire into the matter, did not do so. Nor am I making it to our MP who, although he said (after the ‘misunderstanding’ on December 2 was ‘cleared’) he would raise the matter, did not do so and seems to continue to see it from a purely personal perspective. Nor to our MLA and MLC who, despite flamboyantly lending support to the demonstrators, did only damage afterwards. No one else in government even acknowledged our prolific correspondence.

Outside government, I am not writing to the NGOs who led the ill-informed policy dialogue of 2001. I know they are now aware of the efforts of Vasant Kunj’s hawkers and master plan provisions for hawkers. Since they have not shown any interest in wanting to engage, I see no reason to consider them genuinely interested parties or having any other locus standii that requires a professional like me to engage with them. I am also not writing to the Times of India and BJP-Sandesh as I see no point.

I am, instead, writing to the following people ‘outside government’ – with the request to contribute to this chronicle their (more objective than mine) analysis. These are people who have expressed interest. Most of them have shown sustained concern and lent considerable moral support as well.

... list private ...

I will complete this chronicle after I have heard from all those that I am writing to.

Gita Dewan Verma Planner February 2002