The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act passed by the Indian Parliament on 19 February, 2014 is no doubt an enabling legislative instrument aimed at empowering the lives of more than 12 million urban street vendors and hawkers of India. It is the first forward looking progressive central legislation any country has ever legislated in favour of street vendors. The legislation has several provisions to protect livelihood, social security and human rights of those millions of urban street vendors who have been facing several barriers and onslaughts of the municipal bodies and the police across cities and towns.
If implemented properly, the legislation would put stop on menacingly high ‘extortion money racket’ run by cops and municipal inspectors in almost all urban areas and enable street vendors to build direct links with governance institutions. The participatory linkages developed between the street vendors and the urban bodies would contribute to designing, preparing and implementing more inclusive city development plans.
An inclusive central legislation in favour of street vendors has been one of long felt critical social-political needs of the urban India. The Indian cities have been changing and several opportunities have been coming up, but the working poor like street vendors had been deprived of availing those opportunities. The central legislation has the potentials to counteract against the factors of marginalization of street vendors. The legislation mandates integration of street vendors in the city planning and development processes.
National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) which has been at the forefront leading the struggle of street vendors for a comprehensive and effective central legislation has hailed the enactment of the law, thanked the government and the political parties and called upon the street vendor organizations to take out victory processions in cities and towns.
Hailing the historic legislative development, NASVI national coordinator Arbind Singh has said, “We really struggled a lot. Years long campaign and advocacy interventions took many twists and turns, but at the end of the day ‘We Fought, We Won’”.
The legislation states that at least 2.5 per cent of a city’s population would be eligible for getting vending certificates and it would be mandatory to form Town and Zonal Vending Committee in each and every city. Such committees would have 40 percent representation of elected representatives of vendor organizations, 10 per cent of NGOs and rest of town planners, administrators, police and elected peoples representatives.
The legislation greatly empowers the Town Vending Committee (TVC) and gives it power to decide ultimately on almost all issues of determining the vending zones. It does also have strong grievance redressal mechanism. The most salient feature of the legislation is its overriding effect over all state and municipal laws as well as police acts.
Many experts on informal economy and retail trade in India believe that the legislation would trigger organizing among street vendors and a major task would be to ensure the proper implementation of law. They also opine that the struggle for real implementation of the law would essentially be a battle for municipal and police reforms in India.
By Ranjit Abhigyan