Mumbai: In a significant ruling, the Bombay High Court ruled that no hawker has a ‘right’ to squat on public streets. The HC further held that public streets are meant only for vehicular and pedestrian movement and must be dedicated to public use only.
This comes as the HC dismissed a batch of petitions filed by associations of some stall-holders in Bhandup, who were asked to vacate the premises, as they were operating within the 150-metre zone of Bhandup railway station.
A bench of Justices Satyaranjan Dharmadhikari and Gautam Patel, while dismissing all the pleas, said, “No statute nor any judgment can be read as recognising absolute, unconditional and unrestricted right to hawk on public street. By their very nature, public streets are meant for vehicular and pedestrian movements and rather they are dedicated to the use of public.”
“Such streets are the property of the public. They cannot be used nor occupied by anybody in a manner causing inconvenience to the public. Equally, none squatting on a public road or a pavement or footpath abutting it can dictate to the civic authorities that they should not be removed or shifted even if their activities result in obstruction and inconvenience to movement of the public at large. Public interest is therefore paramount,” the judges observed.
The observations were made in response to the contentions of these hawkers, who accused the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) of conniving with a renowned developer, who has constructed a mall on Bhandup Station Road. They claimed that the BMC was only trying to ‘protect’ the business of the shops inside the mall and was uprooting their only means of livelihood'.
The BMC on the hand, stated that the hawkers were operating within 150 metres of Bhandup station and several educational and religious institutions. The civic body further claimed, it would only be relocating these hawkers to a ‘municipal’ market, which is at the very location where the latter have been carrying on their businesses for decades.
During the course of the hearing, the hawkers, through their counsels, also suggested various ways on how citizens could access Bhandup station and the educational and religious institutions in the area.
Irked by the suggestion, Justice Dharmadhikari said, “The hawkers cannot dictate to the general public how they must reach a railway station or their work or residence. We, therefore, cannot uphold their stand.”
The bench further noted that the present location, where these hawkers have been hawking, indeed falls within a prohibited zone.
“The right to hawk on a street or road but otherwise outside the prohibited zones is, at best, protected by the statute. That too is not in absolute terms. All statutes of this nature are equally protective of larger public interest, public health plus public safety,” Justice Dharmadhikari observed.
The bench further noted that these hawkers were causing a hindrance to the smooth flow of vehicular and pedestrian movements. “The hawkers have limited rights. They cannot claim absolute and unconditional right to squat on pavements or footpaths. They cannot say that they will erect structures or stalls on footpaths from where they will sell their goods and articles permanently. We wonder whether this stand will ever be accepted by a court,” Justice Dharmadhikari ruled.
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