Not too far long ago, the term Chaiwala (tea seller) assumed significance in an increasingly caustic political environment in India, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed that he once sold tea at train stations.
NEW DELHI: Though Modi embraced his humble roots much to the dismay of those who ridiculed him, it appears that the Union Railway Ministry has done little in the way of making life easier for people who earn their livelihood as the Prime Minister once claims to have done.
An organisation called the Chaiwala Welfare Association has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging a rule restricting the operation of stalls/trolleys on railway station platforms.
By way of background, the Railways has been issuing Catering Policies with a view to streamlining how railway stations across the country function optimally. A common theme of the past few policies has been the decongestion of railway platforms, which are usually choc-a-bloc with vendors and stalls. To this end, the Catering Policy 2010 sought to restrict the renewal of licenses of these stalls and vendors.
On being refused renewal of their licenses, a few of these vendors approached the High Court of Judicature of Hyderabad, which in 2013 directed that their licenses be renewed by the railway authorities. On appeal, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court judgment in 2016, albeit with the following caveat:
“We, however, make it clear that only those licensees may be eligible for renewal of their licenses who can declare on affidavit that they do not have the license of more than one shop or kiosk in their name or benami license at the railway stations with periodical reasonable increase of license fee.”
Subsequently, the Railway Ministry issued the Catering Policy 2017, which was initially not in tune with the Supreme Court ruling. However, a circular was later issued stating stipulating that only those units would be eligible for renewal of their licences who declare on affidavit that they don’t have license for more than one refreshment room/catering stall/trolley etc.
Later, as it was found by various vendors’ societies and co-operative firms representing individual vendors, the railway authorities were granting only one license for each society/firm, and refusing affidavits submitted by the individual vendors that form these organisations. This, the petition states, is a violation of the individual vendors’ fundamental right to livelihood.
The petition, filed through Advocate-on-Record LR Singh and drawn by Wasim Qadri, reveals,
“It is humbly submitted that in the said judgment this Hon’ble Court took a pragmatic view and directed that only one unit will be renew in respect of one individual vendor, with an object to eliminate the concentration in one hand. However said direction is not applicable to Association/Partnership Firms for obvious reason that the trolleys/ Shops are given to the Society/Partnership Firms, which consist of its member who don’t own anything individually…
…the members thereof jointly form a body corporate and they run the Co-operative Society/ Firms jointly but by individual efforts and the members are poor section of the society and need protection in consonance with the principle laid down under the Directives Principles of State Policy.”
Apart from the Chaiwala Welfare Organisation, other societies have already approached the Supreme Court over the very same issue. A Bench of Justices SA Bobde and L Nageswara Rao had issued notice in that petition, which was argued by Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid. It has been prayed that the present petition be heard along with the existing one.
It has also been prayed that the Court direct the railway administration to not eliminate individual vendors who have been selling food and beverages on railway platforms for decades.
Download the Petition here: Chai_Wala_Association_final