Street hawkers left in wilderness in absence of vendors' law

Last Updated 16 January 2011, 04:03 IST

According to experts, over two per cent of India's urban population earns its living through street hawking and vending, selling fruits, vegetables and a host of other items on the roadsides.

The income generated collectively by street hawkers is also not worth ignoring, and according to estimates the group accounts for an income up to Rs 500 crore daily nationwide.

However, in the absence of a law or regulations laying down protection for their livelihood, the street vendors are not only left at the mercy of local municipal bodies but also have to go through daily harassment at the hands of goons, shopkeepers and policemen.

After years of campaigning, the campaigners for the cause say that the issue of a legislation for street vendors is stuck on the question of which is the appropriate government -- the state or the Central -- to frame a law to protect the livelihood of the community.

"In a recent ruling the Supreme Court of India ruled that a law to ensure fundamental rights and protection of work for street vendors should be enacted by the appropriate government," says Arbind Singh, of the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), a federation of 540 street vendor organisations across the country.

But, he says, there is no clarity over which is the appropriate authority for enacting this law.

"After the SC ruling, we approached the Ministry of Urban Development but they said the government of the states is the appropriate authority in this regard," he says.

Operating in an environment where they have no lawfully designated places to set shop and no law against uprootment, the vendors are perpetually vulnerable to harassment and displacement.

Large-scale displacement of street vendors was witnessed recently during the recent Commonwealth Games in Delhi when they were kicked out of several areas.

"We were almost without work for as many as 20 days, and estimating that a vendor earns somewhere between Rs 100 and Rs 200 a day, each one of us lost over Rs 3,000 in earnings," says Manoj Kumar, who heads a street vendors association in Mayur Vihar where according to him some 70 to 80 hawkers were deprived of work during the Games.

Kumar says almost one lakh street vendors in Delhi have registered with the MCD, in line with a Supreme Court order in 2007, but the civic body is yet to issue even a single licence.

The government brought out the first national policy on street vendors in 2004 and then a wider one in 2009, but there has not been much movement on a national law to regulate this trade.

"If only street vending was regulated and legalised, not only would it add to the tax payable to the government but it would also bring an end to the atrocities and harassment faced by these vendors and hawkers on a daily basis," Singh says.

He says his organisation would ask for the Attorney General's view on the issue and would also approach the Supreme Court again in the near future.

"We are preparing to move the Supreme Court to ask them to define what is meant by appropriate government," he says.

According to estimates of NASVI, India has approximately 1 crore street vendors and their business roughly amounts to Rs 500 crore a day.

(Published 16 January 2011, 04:02 IST)

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