A decade-long battle to recognise the rights of street vendors across the country may finally yield some result. The Union minister for housing and urban poverty alleviation, Kumari Selja, recently announced that the Centre would introduce the Model Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill in this winter session of Parliament. She was speaking at a conference organised in Delhi by the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI).
“The Central government is committed to accord a new deal for achieving secured and dignified livelihood and social security rights of street vendors ... (who) got disenfranchised in the processes of rapid urbanization and unequal urban distribution system,” said Selja while addressing over 1,000 street vendors who had gathered for the meet. “The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation had drafted a fresh national policy on street vendors in 2009 after a review of the previous policy. The policy underscores the need for a legislative framework to enable street vendors to pursue an honest living without harassment from any quarter. We had drafted a Model Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2009 and circulated it to all states and union territories, requesting them to take cue from it while legislating on the subject,” she added. She lamented that “the progress on state legislation had not been encouraging.”
Only three states recognise vendors' rights
|Town committes to regulate vendors
• The model bill says town vendors’ committee (TVC), comprising officials, vendors' representatives and citizen members, would regulate the vendors
• TVCs will demarcate spaces within the cities where vendors can operate
• TVCs can also issue licences, make bye-laws or rules to regulate the practices of street vending
• They will also determine terms and conditions for providing benefits of insurance, maternity benefits, old age pension and other social security schemes to the street vendors
• The bill also empowers TVCs to create terms and conditions for the registration of street vendors for a particular city
• It will also redress grievances and disputes among vendors
Of the 28 states and seven union territories, only three states—Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan—have passed laws recognising the rights of street vendors. NASVI coordinator Arbind Singh says the success in the three states is a result of pressure mounted by local street vendors’ organisations to pass laws for the protection of this section of the urban poor. Previous studies by Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), which is also force behind the model legislation, found that in cities such as Ahmedabad in Gujarat, 70 per cent of former textile mill workers, facing job losses took to street vending in 1999-2000. Often at the mercy of the local administration, street vendors face major losses when their goods are confiscated by municipal and police officials.
Vendors in large states like Tamil Nadu, which has the largest number street vendors associations, have not been able to put enough pressure on their governments to draft such a law. “The idea is to negotiate with state governments and keep discussions open for the legislative processes to work. Most of the local organisations in Tamil Nadu have kept the debate to themselves, while organising protests and rallies on a large scale,” added Singh.
Street vendors' representatives from Chennai, however, blamed lack of representation in politics. “In the previous government, we had to wait for four months to get an appointment with state urban development minister M K Stalin. Our struggle has not progressed beyond protests against police evictions. It is only now that street vendors in Chennai are not evicted following continuous struggle, said L Mangeshwaram, who heads Tamil Nadu Manual Labourers' Organisation, an umbrella organisation of more than 6,000 street vendors’ organisations in the state.
In West Bengal, the National Hawkers’ Federation’s is protesting the state government's version of the legislation. Secretary of the federation, Shaktimaan Ghosh, said a massive rally will be organised next month by street vendors. “The draft of the proposed state bill, which is still open for consultation, makes exclusive zones in Kolkata, where entry for hawkers is prohibited. This is illegal,” said Ghosh. He said organisations such as NASVI should gherao Parliament during the winter session and force the lower house to pass the model bill.
The origin of the model street vendors' bill can be traced to a task force set up by the Union government in August 2001. This followed a survey by NASVI, which presented its findings to the Union urban development ministry. A smaller drafting committee, consisting of the members of NASVI, Self Employed Womens’ Association (SEWA), Union government and state government officials, was also formed to work on the draft for a national policy on street vendors. The drafting committee aimed to keep the content of the policy consistent with the Supreme Court's landmark decisions on street vending related matters. The policy was finalised in 2004. Later, the prime minister ordered a review of policy following complaints by street vendors.
Singh says disagreements between states and the Union government have now been resolved. “The initial hiccups of state v Centre in drafting legislation could be solved after the National Advisory Council stepped in and previous Supreme Court judgements were cited to pave the way for the street vendors’ bill,” added Singh, referring to a presentation and consultative meeting held on October 4, 2011, this year.
Model bill's provisions
Based on the reviews of the policy for street vendors, the model bill says town vendors’ committees (TVCs) would regulate vendors. According to the bill, TVCs will demarcate spaces within the cities where vendors can operate. TVCs can also issue licences, make bye-laws or rules to regulate the practices of street vending, and also determine terms and conditions for providing benefits of insurance, maternity benefits, old age pension and other social security schemes to street vendors.
The act also empowers TVCs to create terms and conditions for the registration of street vendors in a particular city, while also redress grievances and disputes among vendors. TVCs would comprise members of the local municipality and street vendor representatives. “The bill recommends that representatives from street vending associations constitute 40 per cent TVC members, while local authorities, community and residential associations, and other civil society organisations each should form 20 per cent of TVC membership. The TVC is thus viewed as a participatory mechanism through which ground-level realities can inform the local policy process,” says an analysis by non-profit Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing. The report presented in April 2011 was authored by researchers Shalini Sinha and Sally Roever, who studied street vendors in various cities over a few years.
The bill aims to abolish the existing license systems in various forms across the cities and towns. The national policy on urban street vendors has been adopted in all the twenty eight states, with surveys for TVCs being set in motion. Some states, such as Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Bihar have, in fact, adopted street vendor-friendly policies, upholding the rights of the street vendors.