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Need kinder laws for street-vendors navigating urban environment


Must sensitise civic &
police officials towards street-vendors' rights

By Kumar Ritwik

The economic liberalisation of the 1990s brought with it malls and shopping arcades. However, the timeless allure of traditional marketplaces, deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness of Indian society, persists. A significant part of that allure is individuals who earn a living vending goods, spices, vegetables, clothing, toys and more from movable wooden carts or from pavements, commonly known as ‘street-vendors' or ‘hawkers' in .

Their numbers and presence are so visible that no individual residing in or having visited India could claim to have not seen them at work on the busy streets of a bazaar in urban India. With the burgeoning populations in Tier-I and Tier-II cities the number of street vendors has correspondingly surged to approximately four crores.

An abrupt surge in numbers brings with it several concerns pertaining to the housing capacity of urban spaces, traffic disruptions and related security challenges. Lately, civic authorities in densely populated metropolitan cities, such as Mumbai and Bengaluru, and upcoming metropolises such as Gurugram have intensified raids and eviction drives against street-vendors.

The iconic Banjara Market, a makeshift handicraft market in Gurugram, has been a victim of recurring demolition and eviction drives over the last couple of years, with its inhabitants (predominantly from the Gadiya Lohar community) living in constant fear of being rendered homeless every couple of months.

At the same time, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has recently announced a survey of an estimated five lakh street-vendors in Delhi. The survey was done to ensure arrangements can be made for these street-vendors to set up their shops with dignity at designated locations.

But different state governments have adopted measures that are poles apart in their attempts to deal with the issue. Naturally, it becomes important to understand India's legal framework regarding street-vendors' rights in order to better implement robust safeguards, fostering a -friendly and rights-based environment for such hawkers, in consonance with principles enshrined under Articles 14, 19(1)(g), 38(2), and 41 of the Constitution of India.

The Supreme Court in Maharashtra Ekta Hawkers Union versus Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai provides a broader definition to the term ‘street-vendor' as encompassing those persons offering goods for sale to the public at large without a permanent structure or place for such activities, whether stationary on pavements or mobile with pushcarts or baskets on their heads.

Through such an expansive definition, the diverse and dynamic nature of street-vending was recognised, highlighting the adaptability and resourcefulness of vendors navigating urban environments.

These vendors have now become integral to the urban , serving as crucial links in its supply chain and providing affordable and convenient services to a significant portion of the urban population.

Despite such widespread dependency, these street-vendors have continued to receive raw treatment from the State machinery with ongoing harassment and regular targeting by civic officials. Often, the harassment is a result of the continuous tussles between the vendors' right to conduct business on the roads and the commuters' right to use such roads freely.

In an endeavour to strike a balance between these two sets of rights, the Supreme Court in Sodan Singh versus New Delhi Municipal Committee held that though public streets are meant for use by the general public and not laid to facilitate the carrying on of private business, these businesses can add to the comfort and convenience of the general public if properly regulated.

Therefore, the right to carry on such trade could not be denied on the ground that the streets are meant exclusively for passing.

In light of the huge influx of people in metropolitan cities in search of livelihood and negligible scope for expansion of roads, the court aptly observed that there was a marked difference between the hullabaloo around vendors occupying spaces and the noise (or lack, thereof) around the ever-increasing vehicular population.

While there is no restriction on the purchase of vehicles despite choked roads, the State machinery has always attempted to regulate (more often, curb) such vending.

Therefore, moving away from such one-way regulation, it is imperative that the regulation is made so as to harmonise both sets of rights, i.e., the right of commuters to move freely and use roads without impediments under Article 19(1)(d) & the vendors' right to business under Article 19(1)(g).

In this context, the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood & Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 (hereinafter ‘SV Act 2014') was enacted with the intent of curbing harassment and victimisation that vendors are often subjected to by local authorities as well as ensuring a regulated manner of vending at designated places.

The Supreme Court was apt in observing that acts of destroying vendors' goods and belongings regularly only prove that “the minions in the administration had not yet understood the meaning of ‘dignity' as is enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution”.

While various provisions and the implementation/non-implementation of the SV Act 2014 are of concern, Section 12(2) in particular pertains to the designation of ‘no-vending zones' within urban areas by the appropriate government, wherein no individual shall be allowed to carry out vending activities.

Unfortunately, such zones are often designated arbitrarily by local authorities, without any or proper consultation with street vending associations or aspiring licence-holders.

Consequently, many bustling areas of business for street vendors are unjustly marked as ‘no-vending zones', necessitating either costly relocations or bribery to sustain operations at the same location or close by.

Moreover, there is a huge disparity between the colossal number of applicants and the number of licences actually issued. To be fair, Section 5 enumerates certain conditions for the issuance of vending licences and certificates.

It requires that every street vendor submit an undertaking that: (1) Such vending shall be carried on by themselves or through any of their family members only. (2) No transfer or renting out of such vending certificate or transfer shall take place. (3) The concerned applicant does not have any other means of livelihood.

Although almost all applicants submit such an undertaking, verifying whether such conditions are being truly met or not is too lofty, even for a highly efficient civic authority.

Practically, there is no possible way of ensuring that such vending is indeed being carried on by the applicants themselves or their family members alone or if the same has been transferred to a third person or whether such vending is their only means of livelihood either.

In addition, Section 15 of the SV Act 2014 mandates vendors to uphold cleanliness and maintain public hygiene in vending zones and adjoining areas, and is susceptible to frequent misuse.

The lack of clarity and demarcation of what constitutes ‘adjoining areas' in a vending zone provides a loophole for corrupt officials to exploit, perpetuating intimidation and further harassment.

Further, Section 16 of the SV Act 2014 places an unfair burden on such vendors to maintain civic amenities, apart from ensuring that the public property in the vending zone remains in good condition.

Although it is incumbent on all residents to ensure no destruction or damage is caused to public property or civic amenities, the responsibility of maintaining such amenities rests with civic officials.

Therefore, such a responsibility cannot be thrust upon poor individuals trying to make ends meet.

Lastly, Section 27 issues a directive stating that no vendor that carries on activities in accordance with the scheme laid out in the SV Act 2014 shall be subjected to harassment by any person, police or other authorities.

However, there are no penal provisions that apply in case a person, police personnel or civic official does engage in such harassment, which has become increasingly routine of late.

On the other hand, Section 28 lays down penal provisions with respect to vendors in case they act in contravention of the terms and conditions of the SV Act 2014.

Addressing these multi-faceted challenges, therefore, becomes crucial to safeguarding livelihoods and street vendors' rights without compromising on fostering an inclusive urban development with equitable opportunities for them.

Needless to say, certain basic facilities must be accorded to street vendors in order for them to survive in a dignified manner. Awareness workshops, in collaboration with civil society stakeholders, ought to be conducted so as to ensure that street vendors are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the Act and enacted rules that vary across states.

A significant first step would be a large-scale registration drive to be conducted in different cities, as any policy decision meant to benefit such vendors ought to be firmly rooted in statistics and data-driven sets.

The recently-launched Prime Minster Street Vendors' Atmanirbhar Nidhi Scheme (PM SVANidhi Scheme) under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, can provide a solid base for the same with ±65 lakh vendors already on-board for disbursement of collateral-free micro-credit loans valued at over ₹ 8,600 crore, an incentive measure that has the potential to create a positive impact on the living conditions of street vendors with easier credit access.

At the same time, it must also be understood that merely drafting appropriate laws would inevitably fall short of addressing many challenges faced by street vendors.

These must be accompanied by social interventions that directly target the underlying issues and grievances, affecting the authorities as well as the street vendors themselves.

A concerted effort must be made to implement provisions outlined in Section 32 of the SV Act 2014, particularly capacity-building initiatives, and and training programmes.

In this vein, measures such as sensitisation training for civic and police officials to enhance their understanding of street vendors' rights, sensitive and uniform eviction policies with relocation provisions, fair opportunities for hearing before eviction Orders are passed, and clear, time-bound process to designate vending zones can significantly enhance prospects and mitigate conflicts.

By embracing these proactive measures, stakeholders can collectively work towards ameliorating the socio-economic conditions of street vendors on a broader scale, fostering inclusivity and sustainable urban development.

(IPA Service)



The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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