Legalising vending

India has taken a long-overdue step towards ensuring the livelihood security of its street vendors with both Houses of Parliament giving their assent to the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2014. This is a landmark legislation that has the potential of impacting positively the country’s roughly 10 million street vendors.

 Hitherto, these hawkers were operating in a grey zone, ever vulnerable to harassment and exploitation by the police and other officials. The street vendors legislation could change that as it legalizes street vendors and bestows on them the right to ply their business on streets and pavements. It requires hawkers to register themselves with their respective Town Vending Committees (TVCs). The Vending Certificate they receive, which is essentially a licence to ply their business, is expected to free them from the daily harassment by cops, eviction from pavements and so on.

 However, it is still too early for street vendors to heave a sigh of relief. It is possible that they will be exploited now at another likely bureaucracy. Licensing officials are likely to expect vendors to grease their palms. Vendors can expect to do much running around before they get their vending certificates. This could defeat the purpose of a well-intentioned legislation. The street vendors legislation provides for a stiff fine for those hawkers who are unlicensed. Will the government ensure that licences are given without harassment?

Critics argue that by legalising street vending, the legislation will worsen traffic jams by encouraging hawkers to sell their wares at traffic intersections or on busy roads. It will not. While legalising street vending, the legislation envisions the demarcation of exclusive vending zones with varying degrees of restrictions imposed on each. Thus the Vending Certificate is a licence to hawk only in demarcated areas. The legislation therefore regulates the trade, even as it provides a measure of relief to an important section of the urban unorganized sector.

Street vendors are often blamed for traffic jams, dirty and overcrowded pavements. But rarely do we acknowledge that we are dependent on them for purchase of vegetables or street food. We should be saluting them for generating employment for themselves even as they provide services for others. The legislation improves the status of India’s street vendors from illegal hawkers to legitimate businessmen. It enables them to move out of the shadows.

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