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

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Right to the City

The Street Vendors Act of 2014 and the Collective Struggles of Women Vendors

This paper provides a historical analysis of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 and the subsequent amendment in 2016. It highlights the relationship between the struggles for the right to livelihood, urban spatial governance, and legislative intervention. The legislation fails to address the conditions created by urban and developmental planning, everyday forms of violence and harassment, and the gendered nature of public space entitlement. The paper foregrounds the voices of women street vendors in New Delhi. It critically examines the laws, policies, and activism and points to internal contradictions and limitations within each of these efforts to alleviate the condition and livelihood of street vendors.

The research conducted for this paper was part of a postdoctoral project at the Western University funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada to which the author is grateful. The author would also like to acknowledge the valuable comments and suggestions of the anonymous peer reviewer that helped in improving the clarity of the paper.

Street vending accounts for a significant portion of the informal economy in urban areas around the world. The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 (hereafter the Central Act) recognises vending as a legal right to livelihood and aims to protect the rights of vendors as workers. Street vendors, despite being indispensable to the civic economy of urban centres, have faced the brunt of urban development projects, city planning, cleanliness drives, surveillance projects, and political agendas. Henri Lefebvre’s famous call for the “right to the city” resonates in movements and activism led by street vendors in diff­erent countries of the global South (Harvey 2008; Lefebvre 1970, 2003). For instance, women vendors in Delhi participated, in large numbers, in the movement for a central legislation that would recognise vending as a means of livelihood and decriminalise their presence in public spaces. The act, however, is embedded within limits set by regulatory frameworks and urban governance. This paper locates the collective struggle for protective legislation led by women vendors historically. In their struggles and everyday presence in the workplace lie ­political articulations and demands for the right to the city and its public spaces that have historically been denied to them. Instead of reading the legislation as a goal, or the movement led by women vendors as a means to an end, this paper examines the possibilities immanent in their struggles and org­anising efforts. Overall, this paper demonstrates the fractured rel­ationship between spatiality of urban governance and the right claims to livelihood through law.

The aesthetic form that New Delhi, as a “world-class city,” has been aspiring for in its urban planning and city renewal schemes leaves little room to accommodate street vendors and places severe limits on their free movement in public spaces. In the shrinking public spaces of cities, women vendors are ­affected by everyday harassment and violence, which include both formal and informal forms as well as official and unofficial regulations. Although this paper examines the movement and struggles that led to the formulation and enactment of the Central Act, 2014, it is important to locate this study within a longer history of urban planning in ­Delhi. This is to show the historically located dynamics bet­ween law and order in urban centres and the concomitant political activities of the marginalised sections of urban populations are most gravely affected by such processes.

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Updated On : 8th Jul, 2022
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