Daryaganj Sunday book market vendors claim that there were no High Court orders to relocate them and MCD is backed by some powerful names in initiating their displacement
In july, vendors of Daryaganj’s second-hand book market were forced by MCD to clear the pavements where they sell books on Sundays. The order for relocation to Mahila Haat on Asif Ali Road was claimed to have been passed by the Delhi High Court, but vendors have a different story to tell.
On Sunday, 16 September, many people gathered as an answer to the call for solidarity by a group of concerned citizens who created a Facebook event called ‘Reclaiming Daryaganj Book Market.’ All vendors and other people who came to show their support had placards in their hand and made a human chain in resistance against the forced displacement.
It was a different sight from that seen on lazy Sundays for decades, when books would be spread out on the pavements as far as the eye could see. Titles new, old, rare, or out of print, you can find them all stacked up in piles; the treasure vendors invested time and energy accumulating.
They memorised the English titles and their authors by heart and could produce a book immediately from the castle of piles, with sharp accuracy and swiftness. You would find bibliophiles, students preparing for various entrance exams and professionals hunting for books on the street between Delite and Golcha cinema.
According to the vendors, the High Court orders were specifically for Netaji Subhash Road and not for Asaf Ali Road but the MCD has forced them to move. They believe that MCD’s arbitrary decision is backed by some powerful names who want to kill the market and the principles it stands for. MCD has confiscated their books without following the due process of filling a form and giving it to the booksellers, and they have little idea about the process of reclaiming them. They said that when they visit those places to take back the books, the officials just revolve them in circles for 2-3 days and extort money from them in both legal and illegal ways.
They claim that their union representative forged 167 signatures in the negotiation with MCD without taking their opposition into account. “Only 20-22 people, who have now set up their stalls at Mahila Haat, agreed with the terms of the MCD. Rest of the signatures were done by our head without asking us. We’ll hold this dharna every Sunday until we get justice. When we made the human chain today, the police whisked away four of our leaders. We are not creating any ruckus here, we are just standing our ground on the unanimous decision to not move.”
They also say that the book market was declared a heritage site and therefore, no one has the authority to remove it.
A representative of the National Hawker’s Federation is also actively participating in the resistance. He says, “The Street Vending Act came out in 2014. Who has the right to remove them from here? The MCD certainly does not. The main power is in the hands of the Town Vending Committee (TVC), which will have 40% representatives of the hawkers, 10% will be NGOs, RWA, SWA and 50% representatives will be from the police, MCD and other government departments. The commissioner of MCD will be the chairman of the committee. The committee will first convey a survey with GIS mapping and based on that, they will be given a registration certificate. After this, the TVC will have to pass a resolution to decide whether this can be a vending zone or not. Till this survey is conducted, no police or MCD can even touch them, yet alone relocate them.”
“Not even a single legal order has been shown to us in this fight of over six weeks. If you want to dismiss us, come with a legal order. The Street Vending Act clearly mentions that a market which is more than 50 years old will be declared a heritage market, and it cannot be made into a non-vending zone,” he adds.
The market re-opened this Sunday at Mahila Haat, but the vendors say that it cannot be called re-allotment since they have been given this place on lease for two years. They have to pay a rent of Rs 175 per day for a 4×6 space to the MCD and they believe that sheer geographical inconvenience of the place would discourage buyers, thereby weakening their sales and stifling the culture they have built here. Their stalls would be on the first floor and to carry heavy books to the site, they’ll have to bear the cost of additional labour. One has to cross two busy one-way roads to reach the Haat, which has the vendors worrying that it can make readers vulnerable to road accidents and the bazaar would be blamed for their death.
They have filed a plea in the High Court and the first hearing will be held on 25 September. Prashant Bhushan will be fighting the case from their side.
A man with white hair and wrinkles on his forehead, Subhash Chandra Aggarwal, who calls himself the president of the market, says, “They want to remove us from here before the 25th. MCD is doing this arbitrarily. I met Khushwant Singh myself and he said that this market is a sone ki chidiya (a golden bird). He found books here which he couldn’t find anywhere in the world. I have met the L-G, IAS officers, SHOs — everyone says that they have studied from the books they have bought from here. We sell cheap books and only one day of the week. The public has no problem with us. Mahila Haat is not a street bazaar, but in this market, passersby used to pick up books from here.”
With watery eyes, he continues, “This is our livelihood. We do not have any other support. The books that you get for Rs 2,000, we sell them for less than 200. Both rich and deprived buy books from us. We give discounts to poor children because we want them to have a bright future. We offer blessings to them to study and make their name in the world. We serve these children. Books of every subject in almost every language is available here and all publishers and writers come to this market. I know every publisher here. I have always believed that honesty is the best policy. One has to think before lying but not before saying the truth. This market should stay here, because not only will we lose our livelihood, but poor children will be deprived of education.”
Aggarwal adds: “It’s been two months and our children have been sleeping on empty stomachs. The government does not know how we have been sustaining ourselves. We sometimes have to beg for money from our neighbours, and on some occasions, even for ration. For how long will we beg like this? This market is here since 7th January 1965 and we request the government to keep it intact. The removal of this market will be a crime against poor children of the nation.”
Another vendor intervened to say, “We are not selling hash or cocaine here. People buy cheap books from us and study.”
Sumit Verma, who was standing there on Sunday with all the paperwork in his hand, said, “All these people who negotiated, who were a part of our Working Committee resigned on camera, and yet they went forward and negotiated on our behalf. Why? they forged our signatures. MCD is backed by Vijay Goel. We went to meet him twice and he was inside, but he didn’t meet us.”
“How will we sell books at a low price if we have to pay rent and wages? What will we do after two years of the lease end? They have not given us anything in writing. What if they remove us from there as well?” asks another vendor.
Verma goes on to say, “They do not talk to me because I speak of the law. They need ‘psychophants’ who blindly worship them and follow their orders.”
At Mahila Haat, 20-30 vendors have put up stalls. Asked why they are not standing with their fellow booksellers in solidarity, one of them said, “What do we do? We didn’t have a choice. We are with them but it’s been two months and we didn’t have any other means of earning our livelihood.”
An independent communication professional, Rohan, who was one of the organisers for the call of solidarity said, “The way mainstream media has been reporting the situation and the High Court orders is condemnable. I will call it shoddy journalism. It’s a very complex issue which the media has tried to simplify. We need to focus on all the aspects. We have been doing whatever we can do to create public pressure and help them, and authorities should know that general people are concerned. I am a lawyer as well, but the High Court order nowhere says that this market should be removed.”
The vendors kept on sitting there with placards in their hands, calling to save the book market. They spread out some books on the footpath but the MCD officials and police came to the site and asked them to stop with their “symbolic protest” and the booksellers started picking up all the books lying there.
Does a market which has been a part of the cultural heritage of this city and the heart of bibliophiles, deserve to be eradicated for “convenience of traffic” and that too without any legal orders?