We recognize that people will move to the cities and we must therefore understand their problems.

Initially people who come to cities require a job and a house. Then they require all the other amenities the city provides recreation, education, entertainment, etc. once they have tasted these, they do not go back to the villages.

When there is development activity whether extending a city or building a new one – who comes first? In India, apart from a few technicians, it is the building labour, and the rehri (the mobile shop). When the development is over, both are driven out. Building labor moves to another developing site, so do the rehriwallas (the mobile shop merchants). But some tough guys stick on to reap the harvest of their labors. They consolidate themselves somehow against the law.

The law requires that people live in proper houses, shop at properly built shops, work in proper offices and move on good roads. But the laborers live in makeshift kachcha or thatched huts: the rehris station themselves on abandoned sites. Thus they have no place in the lawful scheme of things. It is held that they are denizens of slums: wherever they go they will create slums. They must not be part of the city. Everyone forgets that they provided the daily needs when no one else dared step into the place for trade or work.

However, it is fair to conclude that the building labor and the rehriwallas represent the economic standard of the country. This being so, it is important that we built from the bottom: any structure started midway is bound to fail. (The question asked in the survey, the answers obtained and the statistics are dealt with separately in the original report) Here are a few broad observations based on these studies)

The evidence shows that:

  1. There are almost as many rehris in Chandigarh as there are other shops (regular lawful ones)
  2. Whenever possible the rehris are located under shady trees, near the shopping sectors, on any vacant patch of land. The denser the population of the sector, the more the rehris.
  3. Approximately 75% of the rehris cater for foodstuffs, perishables and non-perishable: foods made and served on the spot, fruits, vegetables etc. But the rehris also sell general merchandise, clothing, footwear, crockery and toys and provide such services as stove repairs, shoe repairs, except for some heavy items and luxury goods, almost all the daily needs can be had from the rehris.
  4. There is a general tendency for the rehris to turn into permanent establishments.
  5. The investment on the rehris is generally very small. Approximately $40.00 can establish a rehri. But in order to obtain legal protection many of them are hired by others who can provide such protection.
  6. The busiest periods of the day for the rehris are the hour the offices open in the morning (8 a.m. in the winter, 10 a.m. in the summer) and immediately after office closing time (5.30 p.m.) and 8.30 p.m. respectively) until late after sunset.
  7. For the rehriwallas the day begins early when they buy the daily merchandise in the wholesale market, mainly fruit and vegetables, and prepare eatables (golgappas, chaats, etc.) it ends quite late in the evenings. The relaxation period is around lunchtime, when business is slack.
  8. The rehriwallas do a round of the residential streets after the menfolk have gone to work, for about two hours, and again in the afternoon, providing materials for tea for when the menfolk return from work.
  9. The average earnings of a rehriwalla in Chandigarh is about $60.00 and in the nearby city of Ambala $40.00 per month. This shows that the city of Chandigarh has contributed to raising the income level of the common man.
  10. Approximately 50% of the rehriwallas are married and live in rented one-or two-roomed houses, or garages. About 20%, mostly bachelors, spend their nights on the sites. Thus the problem is not only of trade but of habitation for a substantial number of people.
  11. Although only 20% of the rehriwallas spend the nights on the sites, 60% of the rehris remain there under the vigil of a guard whose expenses are shared by all.
  12. The relaxation and recreation of the rehriwallas is fairly simple. During the slack periods, they play cards. At night, taking some country liquor is common. They take one day off per month.

The various types of rehris in use in Chandigarh.

  • The most common type of rehris is a wooden board platform 66”X39” mounted at a height of 34” on a chassis of 4 bicycle wheels held together by steel rods and strip-framing. The rehri is variously used for selling vegetables, fruits, eggs or for general merchandise. Its chief advantages are: (a) it is reasonably light weight; i.e. it can be pushed easily and lifted over obstacles. (b) it can do business while mobile as well as stationery. (c) it is cheap.
  • The second type has a minor variation in the design of its wooden board platform. It has some small shelves on two sides on which plates can be placed. These shelves are used for eating the spicy foodstuffs served from the rehri.
  • The third type is in the form of a box mounted on a chassis with four bicycle wheels. One side of the box is hinged on top so that when it is opened it acts as a shade. Inside the box are narrow wooden shelves. The floor of the box is used by the owner for squatting upon, and from here he serves his customers from a counter, which is at a height of 2”X10” (for the customer) This is a very sensible design for it provides protection for the merchandise and the owner as well as the customers, It is used for selling cigarettes, Pan tobacco and books, etc. it is not suitable for selling, fruits and vegetables, nor is it very suitable for doing business while doing the rounds of the streets.
  • The fourth type is essentially a delivery van. It is used for home delivery of milk in bottles, gas cylinders and other merchandise to and from shops. But it also serves as a mobile shop for the sale of kerosene oil.

The problems of the rehri.

Most of the problems arise from the general unlawfulness of the rehri business. Even if some rehris are issued licences to ply in the streets, no authority seems to accept them as desirable or healthy elements in a city. It is only the tough persons who can survive in such a situation.

The worst problem is that the rehris tend to become fixed on favoured spots. On some spots rehris can be seen permanently fixed, their tires deflated or torn, their platform joined together, and a large canvas or tarpaulin awning protecting them from the elements. In such a situation they are like regular ramshackle shops. They represent the peak of the illegal practice.

Other problems that arise from the lack of acceptance of rehris as a proper institution are:

  • Unpaved sites full of dust and filth which become slushy when it rains.
  • Unsanitary conditions caused by lack of proper drainage and collection of litter and waste from vegetables and fruits and other eatables.
  • Lack of protection from rain and wind in inclement weather (there is not much of this type of weather in Chandigarh) and from sun where there are no trees.
  • Lack of places of rest, recreation and social intercourse.
  • Lack of supply of tapped water and sanitary facilities.

Desirability of rehris in the urban scene.

1. Economic: As already stated, the rehriwallas may be taken to represent the economic standard of the country. If so, then the first priority should be given to the welfare of those who ply rehris. Those with regular shops can fend for themselves. Again, as already observed, the rehris sell particularly all things that the regular shops sell. Not only that, they sell what the shopkeepers cannot afford to sell (e.g. ground nuts, baked deal, moth, channas, chats, golgappas) and provide service like stove repairs. The price of the rehriwallas are low, because their investment is low. The investment of the state for providing proper rehris sites is bound to be much lower than regular shops. The rehris provide job opportunities for a larger number of people than the shops, because the latter tend to concentrate wealth in few hands. What is more, the rehris can be mobile or stationery at will. They can be taken to any place, at anytime, whenever there is activity and concentration of people. Thus, in Chandigarh, the rehris visit cinema halls, schools, hospitals, etc., at appropriate times. During festivals, like Dussera, when a lot of people come to witness Ram Lila, the rehriwallas serve their needs. During important sports, the rehriwallas are there. The state functions on Independence day and Republic Day would be incomplete without rehris. Thus, they can serve you at your doorstep, or you can go to them on their sites. Since a large number of people ply rehris, there is keen competition between them. You can always be sure of reasonable value for your money from rehris. In fact all types of people throng to rehri markets and put up with the unsanitary conditions, because they find things cheaper there.

2. Social: The rehriwallas are generally considered socially undesirable types. This largely arises from the illegal nature of their business, and their comparatively low economic standards. If their counter part, the regular shopkeeper, does some illegal business, he can very easily hide it under the grab of his wealth and, therefore, he remains a socially desirable person.

Our observations in Chandigarh shows that most rehriwallas are fairly well educated upto junior secondary standard. Whereas they may take some liquor, they do not form a group of drunkards.

They are wise enough to realise that it is a bad business to give any suggestion of being drunk during business hours. Most of them do a clean daily business. Most of them have families, and children go to school.

It may be that their counterparts in old cities like Ambala, where we made some observations, are not as well educated or as well behaved and that they suffer from inferiority complex. This is because they have always been natured in an environment of filth and ugliness so that they are unable to assert themselves. However, Chandigarh, though not accepting rehris as a regular urban institution, does provide a neat and serene environment which arouses a certain pride in the people who live there. That is why the rehriwallas there have a better economic and social status.

3. Aesthetic: This is one aspect about which every one seems to feel sore. There is dirt, there is filth, there is ugliness yet why does the place attract such crowds? It is only that the things are cheaper there? This certainly is a very vital reason, but not the only reason it has to be recognised that the place is full of vitality. Instead of closed door, quiet shopping, so many shops and so many things can be seen here at the same time. You flit from shop to shop, buy one thing here, another thing there, you bargain and you select, and you hear the full throated calls of the vendors extorlling the virtues and low prices of their merchandise. You are attracted by the animated lively atmosphere. Is that not architecture?

One of the considerations in aesthetics is the physical form. The normal shopping streets or squares can be said to have an architectural impact of their own. That is so, but that is not all. The apprehension about physical form arises from a lack of understanding of architecture in the urban scene. Too often architecture is misunderstood as the art of providing space which is attractive, full of character and animated by the human presence. In this sense, the space where rehris are located is a much more lively place than any shopping street. It is not beautiful because we do not design it; because we do not consider it worth our while to think about its potential for goodness and beauty. Beauty can be achieved with very little additional expense and some thoughtfulness for the human needs. The architect need not assert his idea of elevational compositions, but he has to be an imaginative person. He has also to understand that his job is not merely to catch for rich clients. He has to serve the needs of man and of space.

The role of rehris in urbanization.

The increase in per capita income is reason enough for the existence of rehris, but rehris also provide a better service in most articles of merchandise than the shops do. For this reason, they are a viable asset in the urban scene. How to make them beautiful and orderly is essentially work of the architect.

At this stage it is worthwhile to review what happened in Chandigarh in the beginning of its development – when there were no markets and no shops. There was only building labor, a few engineers and architects and their needs were met by a wooden makeshift stall, just outside the city boundary. Some temporary shops were also built in Sector 19 where the architects and engineers offices were situated and a number of temporary houses had been built. These temporary shops met the daily needs of the people. The chief supporters were the servants of the staff of the project. Servants were easily available then and salaries went a long way. At the very first opportunity, shops were built by the State in Sector 22, where regular houses had been built, yet the temporary stalls remained, and gradually the rehris multiplied. They began to cater to the need of the housewives who had now appeared on the scene. Very soon a regular rehri market established itself under the mango trees in Sector 23, next to Sector 22. It is still there. It was the first to be more or less officially recognised. Official recognition, however, did not mean provision of any facilities. It meant that the rehris were allowed to be there. Recently some sites have been covered to provide shelter for the rehris. Recognition or no recognition, rehris have grown with the shops, and their numbers now seem to be equal.

The question that needs to be examined here is: if the architects had thought of the rehris as a possible and desirable method of providing shopping facilities (and not as a tolerated temporary encumbrance) what would have happened? The answer is:

  1. The development cost would have been less.
  2. The design of rehris would have been taken with seriousness, and variety of designs would have evolved.
  3. The site for the rehri markets would have been carefully chosen and designed, the basic amenities provided for
  4. Employment would have been found for a larger number of people.
  5. As in many other fields, Chandigarh would have provided leadership in this field also.

The difficulty still remains of accommodating the families. The observations show that people with families earn enough from the rehris to be able to hire a small house. Even at the beginnings, 3-4 rehris combining together could acquire a house for their families assuming that both husbands and wives work during the day. This is by no means an ideal solution, but much better than people sleeping on the pavements and on verandahs and staircase. This could be proposed for the very beginning of a new town or the expansion of an existing town.

We are now ready to suggest general criteria for the design of rehris and rehris markets.

  1. The rehris should be lightweight
  2. It should be provided with a cover of canvas or plastic to keep out sun and rain.
  3. A design should also be evolved so that, instead of pushing, a rehri can be driven like a bicycle.
  4. A design should provide facilities for a man to sleep if he has no house. Such a design should have the possibility of enclosing the rehri from all sides when required and of storing merchandise in a locked space.
  5. The rehri market should be developed in conjunction with the same sites on which regular shops are intended to be developed.
  6. Even when the regular shops are built, sites should be earmarked for continuing rehri sites.
  7. The rehri sites should be generously planted with shady trees.
  8. The rehri site should be properly paved and well drained.
  9. There should be provision of water taps at frequent intervals. These will not only supply the needs of water for the rehriwallas, but will also be used for washing up the entire site at least once 3 days.
  10. There should be an adequate system for collecting and disposal of garbage.
  11. Sites which have more than 50 rehris should be provided community facilities, such as toilets and a common place for sitting together for relaxation and gossip. This should consist of a small room and a shady open space.
  12. Sites should be earmarked for rehris near places for public entertainment, or where large numbers of people are expected to gather. Such sites need be no more than a paved area for about 10 rehris.
  13. Housing for rehriwallas should be provided near the sites which are likely to have more than 50 rehris. These would normally be near the shopping centres of the higher density sectors or neighbourhood units.
  14. The organization of rehri sites should be kept flexible. Thus it is not necessary to develop and pave a whole rehri site from the beginning. The development can take place gradually as the number of rehris visiting the site increases. In a competitive market, ups and down are always likely to take place.
  15. It should be ensured that the site is cleared of all rehriwallas for a certain period of day.

Thus each rehriwallas must go on rounds during that period and the time should be utilised for cleaning up the whole site.

Location of rehri sites in Chandigarh.

It is by no means the intention of the thesis that the shops should be replaced by rehris. The shops have got to be there. But they need not be in as large numbers as they are today.

Let us imagine the urban scene of Chandigarh, particularly its neighbourhood units or sectors. At present each is crossed by one street of shops at the middle of its longer (1200 meter) side. The maximum distance to reach the furtherest shop of the sector is about 500 meters. That is not excessive. But for the items for which a housewife has to shop daily, or sometimes twice a day, this is not very convenient. Such items are: milk, bread, vegetables, meat, fish etc.

If we imagine that shopping street of a sector with a well-defined site for the rehris, we shall not vitiate the urban scene; in fact we shall enliven it. At present the line of shops is interrupted at the place where the open space of the sector (running SW–NE) crosses it. It is at this place that a very suitable rehri market can be developed. Since no physical volume is built, it will not interrupt the flow of open spaces. Further, in the pedestrian movement along the open spaces, the rehri markets will produce suitable landmarks. Then, morning and evening, there would be crowds bargaining, teasing with all enjoying the pleasures of selling and buying.

The open spaces of the sectors are expected to contain community facilities like community centres and health centres. Such complexes could also contain the basic amenities for the rehri markets. These need only be toilets and a room for sitting together. It will be in conformity with the Chandigarh Plan that these areas are well provided with trees, so useful for open-air markets.