In a country of 1.2 billion people more than 40 million people earn their livelihood by street vending. These are the people who form the vibrant and sprawling bazaars for which the country is famous for. Finally there is a legal framework for these informal workers that gives structure to their work and protects their livelihood.

Artika Ashdhir Asia, India, Precarity
Vegetable at Gulbai Tekra, India. Photo by Meena Kadri

Vegetable at Gulbai Tekra, India. Photo by Meena Kadri

For a tourist who comes to India the first time, these street vendors are the people who sell the culture and traditions of India in form colourful dupattas, miniature elephants, street food etc. For an ordinary citizen of India it is these street vendors that provide a platform for an easily accessible market for an inexpensive shopping experience. Thus they are a very important part of the country’s economy and the tourism industry.

Street vending is a practice that has been in practice since ancient times, but always ignored and not taken as a serious occupation. However after 64 years of having an independent government, both the lower and the upper houses of the Indian Parliament have passed “The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill (The lower house passed it in 2013, the upper house passed it on 19th February 2014). This actually is a good message to the 94% informal workforce, saying that at least one informal occupation comes under the purview of the Indian Law.

This epic victory comes after a long struggle where organizations like NASVI (National Association of Street Vendors), SEWA and Dr.Sharit Bhowmik, professor with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and his associates. Dr.Bhowmik has spent years working with organizations like NASVI and SEWA on this bill, studying the occupation and thus promoting the need for a legal framework for street vendors.

A quote from Dr.Bhowmik’s report on street vending in 10 cities in India rightly sums up the reasons to protect the livelihood of this section of the India’s informal workforce

“For most street vendors, trading from the pavements is full of uncertainties. They are constantly harassed by the authorities. The local bodies conduct eviction drives to clear the pavements of these encroachers and in most cases confiscate their goods. A municipal raid is like a cat and mouse game with municipal workers chasing street vendors away while these people try to run away and hide from these marauders. Confiscation of their goods entails heavy fines for recovery. In most cases it means that the vendor has to take loans from private sources (at exorbitant interests) to either recover whatever remains of his confiscated goods or to restart his business. Besides these sudden raids, street vendors normally have to regularly bribe the authorities in order to carry out their business on the streets. All these mean that a substantive income from street vending is spent on greasing the palms of unscrupulous authorities or to private money lenders. In fact in most cases street vendors have to survive in a hostile environment though they are service providers.”

So now lets look at the salient features of this epic Bill:

1. Establishment of a Town Vending authority in each Local Authority that will implement the bill.

2. The Town vending committee will have representations from the officials, non-officials and the street vendors, there will be 40% representation from the street vendors to ensure participatory decision making for aspects relating to street vending activities like determination of natural market, identification of vending zones, preparation of street vending plan, survey of street vendors etc.

3. There will a survey of the existing street vendors in the country, and it will take place every 5 years and on the basis of that they will be given a certificate of vending.

4. All existing street vendors, identified in the survey, will be accommodated in the vending zones subject to a norm conforming to 2.5% of the population of the ward or zone or town or city. Where there are more street vendors they will e accommodated in the adjoining vending zone.

5. There is a provision for establishment of an independent dispute redressal mechanism under the chairmanship of retired judicial officers to maintain impartiality towards grievance redressal of street vendors.

6. For the protection of street vendors from harassment by police and other authorities the bill provides for an overriding clause to ensure they carry on their business without the fear of harassment by the authorities under any other law.

So when you read the bill, its impressive, it actually seems that the bill is meant to create a conducive atmosphere for street vendors to do their business and thus protect their livelihood. But, the problem comes while implementing it. Corruption is one virus that is very rampant in India at the moment. The bill has a lot of room for this virus to come in, set a base and lay eggs and all. That ways a lot of written legislations are framed in such a manner, but lets be positive and hope that the bill make the lives of 40 million people a little better than what it is right now. It is important to savour a landmark victory which for a change is in favour of the unorganised sector in India.

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Artika Ashdhir

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