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

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A Law for Street Vendors

Street vendors are jubilant about the new law; now for its implementation.

Street vendors in India, estimated to number approximately 10 million, face an unenviable situation in many ways. They cater to the need for essentials, food and other items of daily use at affordable prices for customers across economic categories. At the same time, given the chaotic city and town planning, they occupy precious space that pedestrians and vehicles grudge them, leading to hostility and even law and order situations. They also end up paying a significant amount of their earnings as bribes and protection money. The recently passed Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act is set to change much of this. Its implementation will require not only a change in the attitude of officialdom, of many residents’ associations as well as of big shopkeepers towards the street vendors. It will also require structural changes in terms of town planning. Hitherto, the political class has hypocritically played both sides, on the one hand vowing to protect the street vendors’ livelihood albeit for a pound of flesh and on the other assuring residents’ associations that the “menace of hawkers” will be got rid of.

The new law has been hailed by activists as the first to accommodate the claims and needs of the poor in urban plans. Not only in India but in much of the developing world street vending provides the opportunity of “self-employment” to the unemployed poor. Invariably, the design and planning of urban spaces largely ignores their contribution and needs, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. India has been no exception. Eviction drives and demolition of “illegal” structures are a common occurrence often backed by harassed pedestrians, vehicle drivers and residents. The authorities also indulge in these exercises on the pretext of “beautifying” urban spaces, often throwing vendors into areas where they lose their customers and earnings.

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