Street power

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has done well to take special interest in improving the lot of street vendors in the country. The prime minister has written to all state chief ministers to ensure that the national policy on street vendors, released this year by the Centre, is effectively implemented by them at the earliest. It is an updated version of an earlier policy of 2004 which was hardly implemented by any state. The national alliance of street vendors which held its annual meeting in Delhi last month has prepared an action plan and the government has promised to give it a positive response. The importance of the street vendors’ economic and social role is underscored by their numbers. It is estimated that there are about 10 million street vendors in the country. The informal economy they constitute represents a good part of the national economy. A sizeable number of them are women.

Though it is recognised that they play a major role in urban life, the street vendors lack security of trade, are harassed by authorities, especially the police, and subjected to ill-treatment. Most of them are poor and earn their livelihood on the street. But they work under threat of eviction and confiscation of goods. Paying bribes is a condition of subsistence. The most important need is to register the vendors, ensure regular and legal space for them to work and incorporate vending zones in the city master plans.

Town vending committees are envisaged to regulate the activities. At present there is no legislative support for these plans. State governments should frame necessary laws for this as urban planning is a state subject. The Centre has forwarded a model bill to all states and they can enact the law with necessary local changes.

The states can make use of  programmes like JNNURM and other employment and social schemes to help the street vendors, after creating the legal basis and suitable environment for their work. Registration and regulation will also help to streamline the vending activity and even help local governments to promote public health and cleanliness. The most important benefit is that millions of people, among them a large number of women, will get a chance to live a more secure life. The states should act on the prime minister’s suggestion without delay.

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