The legalising of street vending in India is slowly becoming a reality. Almost a decade after the Centre came up with a policy for street vendors, the Lok Sabha last week passed The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2012.
The bill will move now to the Rajya Sabha for discussion and endorsement.
Under the proposed law, hawkers will have to register themselves with the Town Vending Committee (TVC). This will entitle them to a vending certificate that gives them the right to engage in selling their wares on the streets of cities and towns. It will involve some regulation of their vending activity. For instance, they will be allowed to sell only in specific zones marked by the TVC. Hitherto, street vendors – there are around a crore in India - were able to engage in selling wherever they wished. Under the new law there are geographic and other restrictions. Still, they stand to gain much, importantly the right to hawk, which means they will not be vulnerable as before to harassment by police. The proposed law provides for 40 per cent representation for street vendors, a third of whom will be women, in the TVC. Thus hawkers will play a vital role in decision making regarding their trade.
If implemented efficiently the legislation has the potential to enhance significantly the livelihood security of one of the most economically vulnerable sections of our society. Traditionally, unorganised labour have had little rights and no social security. Street vendors account for a significant section of this unorganised labour. An important obstacle in the way of this legislation’s reformative potential is the police and municipal officials, who have hitherto made small fortunes by harassing street vendors, threatening them with eviction or confiscation of their wares if they did not cough up money. They need to be tamed.
Street vendors are often blamed for crowding busy roads and causing traffic jams. While it is poor administration, inept traffic control, pot-holed roads and too many vehicles that must be blamed mainly for such jams, hawkers squatting on streets or selling things at traffic lights have contributed too to the problem. The regulation of areas where street vendors can peddle their wares is therefore welcome. The law has some loopholes though. It doesn’t specify principles to be followed in issuing vending certificates, determining vending zones, etc. This lack of clarity could undermine the potential of this landmark legislation.