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Revealing the informal
The informal sector in Kerala is regulated by bureaucratic high-handedness. Various flaws exist in licensing of occupations like, auto-rickshaw driving, slaughtering, cobbling etc. Ironically, this state is pro-poor and is known for trade unionism.
THE LAST time I was in Cochin, I didn’t pay much attention to the auto-rickshaws plying on the city’s busy streets. They were just my sole means of conveyance. But on my next trip, I will. And you wonder why such a change in attitude! All credit goes to the law, liberty and livelihood project, a study conducted by think-tanks of the centre for public policy research (CPPR) and the centre for civil society (CCS).


The study, which was aimed at documenting the livelihood regulations and entry level barriers in the informal sector, was conducted in 63 cities across India with the help of young interns.


In Cochin, it was coordinated by the CPPR staffer Caroline C. The purpose aimed at unveiling the laws applicable to entry-level professions like cycle-rickshaw pullers, mobile and stationery street vendors and to document them with the effort to create public attention to issues faced by them. The study is funded by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust (SDTT), Mumbai.


There, the licencing of trades is regulated by the Corporation of Cochin under the purview of the Kerala municipalities Act and Rules 1994. The Corporation issues two types of licences; namely, dangerous and offensive trade licences, and prevention of food adulteration licence.


The fees for the same are fixed by the council. On a general platform, any one wishing to carry a trade on Cochin’s streets has to obtain prior permission from the municipality/corporation as per the Act and the trade must be registered 30 days before its commencement.


The same general application form is used for all trades, except an additional one for the prevention of food adulteration Act 1954 (PFA) for food trades. The following documents are required for a licence: Receipt of the building tax and an ownership certificate (proof of legal occupancy). If the shop is in rented premises, the applicant will have to submit a consent letter from the owner.


After the assessment of the application form, the concerned authorities will inspect the premises and if deemed fit, the licence is granted. The licence has to be renewed 30 days before the end of the financial year (March 31), after which a fine is imposed for late renewal.


An interesting fact was brought to light through the study: Small food courts, mobile vegetable vendors and cobblers in Cochin are not issued licences and the corporation considers them illegal.


The municipal secretaries and health officers are the concerned authority on health issues and food inspectors from the urban local bodies, on government notifications, collect samples of all food meant for sale and send them to Government Analysts. If any article is found adulterated, the persons concerned are prosecuted and fined under the provisions of the PFA. 


And, in case, you happen to be a late eater, it’s wise that you grab your manna (eatables) early as it is mandatory that all shops close at 10pm. In the case of slaughter houses, the Corporation directly owns them and private ownership is not permitted. Nevertheless, tenders are invited from the general public to run them and butchering licences are issued for the same. No other person can slaughter any cattle, sheep, goat or pig for sale as food.


Moreover, no person is allowed to carry on the trade of a butcher, fishmonger or poulterer without a licence from the municipality. Cleanliness and health precautions are one of the main priorities of the corporation.


According to a tender issued, the slaughter rooms have to be cleaned at least twice a day. Each animal has to be certified by a veterinary surgeon or health officer, only after which it can be slaughtered.


Other than this, several other directions are issued by the Corporation for the smooth running of slaughterhouses. One such is the rule that large amounts of fresh water should be kept at the slaughter house at all times and that lungs and other animal wastes have to be disposed off within hours of the slaughtering.


Injured individuals, drunks, and persons having communicable diseases are not allowed in the slaughterhouse and, interestingly, if a dog is found in the premises, the owner is free to kill it without prior notice. The slaughterhouse can function only from 10am to 12am.


For auto-rickshaws, there are two types of permits: Regular city permits and prepaid city permits. Currently, the regional transport office (RTO), Cochin, which is the regulatory board, is not issuing the former, but only issues prepaid permits and renews those already given. The regional transport board has fixed a quota of rupees 3,600 for city permits.


Although, this was done to avoid overcrowding, it is actually causing a shortage of auto-rickshaws in the area. It, nevertheless, allows out-of-city permits in accordance with the provisions of sections 69, 73 and 80 of the motor vehicle Act of 1988.


To drive an auto-rickshaw, a person must submit an application form and submit the following requisites: Proofs of owned vehicle in the name of the applicant and address.. The applicant should be a permanent resident of the Cochin Corporation area. The issued permits allow the driver to take passengers only from areas within the permit and anyone found driving in the city without a permit will be fined a minimum of rupees 500.

As studies reveal, over 90 per cent of India’s work force earns its livelihood in the informal sector, which accounts for 63 per cent of the country’s GDP. As citizens of India, it’s high time we knew how things function in our country.


Gone are the days of oblivion and ignorance. Keeping this in mind, the project aimed at informing the public about the functioning of these trades and related aspects. With available documents relating to legal and governing factors, and with, the power of the Right to Information Act (RTI), the interns dug out details that would otherwise have been not known.

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