ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Legal Protection for Street Vendors

Legal Protection for Street Vendors

The Supreme Court has directed the government to pass the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2009 by 30 June 2011. However, the bill does not include significant clauses of the National Policy for Urban Street Vendors as recommended by the National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector. If passed in its present form, it will constitute a mockery of street vendors' rights. If the government is serious about protecting the livelihoods of the urban working poor, it must incorporate not only the clauses of the national policy but also the progressive steps taken in this area by the governments of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

Street vending has been prevalent in our country since ancient times. Though most of these small traders were local people there were also those who came from far off places like Afghanistan, Tibet and even China. Today, this section of the urban employed is perhaps the most visible in the urban informal economy. In fact, some may feel that they are too visible and that their overbearing presence on the streets (and pavements) is a menace for commuters. The civic authorities in most cities treat these “intruders” in public spaces as a nuisance. The urban elites view them as eye sores. On the other hand the urban poor, especially the working poor, view street vendors as a boon. These street traders provide cheap food, clothes and other items of daily use. They are also easy to access as they conduct their business in convenient places in the city used by a large number of commuters. In other words, street vendors in effect subsidise the goods that the urban working poor need for their daily existence. This is a classic case of how one section of the urban poor (street vendors) subsidises the necessities of other sections of the urban poor – a task that should be performed by the government. Who are street vendors?

In most cities in the world the urban poor survive by working in the informal economy. This trend is prominent in developing countries. Poverty and the lack of gainful employment in the rural areas and in the smaller towns drive large numbers of people to the cities for work and livelihood. These people generally possess low skills and too low a level of education for the better paid jobs in the organised sector. Besides, permanent protected jobs in the organised sector are shrinking and even those with requisite skills are unable to find employment. For these people then, work in the informal sector is the only means of survival. This has led to rapid growth of the informal sector in most large cities. For the urban poor, hawking is one of the means of earning a livelihood, as it requires minor financial input and the skills involved are low.

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