Street vendors constitute a major mass of urban poor. They represent the informal/unorganized sector of retail industry and stand in sharp contrast to organized retailers like hypermarkets, supermarkets, big retail chains, etc. They contribute immensely to local economy and provide cheap and affordable services to cross sections of society. And, in performing that, they stand quite independent as they do not depend on government subsidies or private charity.
The total employment provided through street vending is massive when one considers the fact that they sustain certain industries by providing markets for their products. Many of the goods sold by street vendors, such as clothes and hosiery, leather and moulded plastic goods and household goods, are manufactured in small scale or home-based industries. Such industries employ a large number of workers and they mainly rely on street vendors to market their products. In this way street vendors help sustain employment in those industries.
Travails of Street Vendors
Street vendors contribute to the growth of the city, but their own growth gets retarded. Poor municipal governance and vested urban interests perpetuate their marginalization and compound vulnerabilities. The realtors court to the municipal authorities and the police personnel to execute plans to chase away the vendors and hawkers and when they find it hard to do, they relocate the poor to the peripheries of the city where services are poor and livelihoods opportunities are scarce.
‘Protection Money Racket’ is a big scar on the face of the civic bodies and the police. It runs in hundreds of crores every year. The municipal inspectors and the police station area constables collect money from vendors and in cases of denial by the vendors, the incidence like arm twisting, harassment, victimization and forced eviction takes place.
Growing livelihood insecurity, atrocities of police-municipalities and attacks on human dignity of street vendors who spend more than 10 hours a day in vending and associated work are major cases/indicators of human rights violation in the city. The level of harassment is such that it undermines the fundamental right of the street vendors to carry on their businesses to earn a descent living as mandated by several international human rights treaties, international and national courts as well the Indian Constitution.
The street vendors can never even dream for proper social security cover. There are several Acts and schemes, such as the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act and the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna (RSBY) under which the street vendors fall, but the lack of proper implementation of those deprive them of their entitlements.
Financial inclusion remains a pipe dream with formal banking institutions flouting the norms and the directions of the national regulator Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which mandate the banks to reach out to informal workers in camp based mode. Despite the RBI making the self declaration a valid proof of an individual, the banks adopt cumbersome process and betray a strong anti-poor bias. The lack of accessibility to formal financial services often lands the vendors in the trap of blood sucking moneylenders.
All the above deprivations led pathetic conditions apply to women as well, but women specifically face much more disastrous situations. As they are the home makers and have the customary duty to feed their family, their day starts early in the morning with household work and then their struggle for earning the livelihood begins. They face specific challenges, such as difficulty related to deal with male dominated world at workplace and several other gender discriminations. The worst condition prevails among child nurturing women vendors. There is no market in entire Delhi where one can find crèche for the small children of women vendors. The condition of water and sanitation is so alarming that it always leads to severe health hazards among vendors, especially women vendors and their children.
The street food vendors in many cities confront peculiar situations. They play a very critical role in the urban food distribution system and add to the colour and beauty of the city, but their culinary acumen and expertise is demeaned. Despite the facts that the Ministry of Food Processing and Industries formulated a scheme for street food vendors and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) initiating proper regulation of street food vending through constituting a National Committee on Street Foods, the street food vendors often bear the brunt of authorities.
Over the years, the street vendors have suffered a lot, but have also struggled at many fronts. Last year, the sustained struggle of street vendors across states led to legislative development in the Lok Sabha which passed the much awaited Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill. Just after three days, the Supreme Court of India also gave a landmark order on 9 September, 2013. However, the bill is still pending in the Rajya Sabha. It had to get passed in the Rajya Sabha in the last session, but it could not. The absence of comprehensive legislation protecting the livelihood of street vendors and the non-accountability of municipal and police administration has made street vendors vulnerable to the attacks of extortionist police and municipal officials.
In the above context, National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) is spearheading campaign across cities and calling upon political parties to stand in support of street vendors’ labour rights campaign.
Recently, NASVI has started approaching leaders of political parties to ensure that they mainstream the Street Vendors’ agenda in their Election Manifesto.
On 30 January, 2014, NASVI joined a meeting called by the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi at Jawahar Bhawan in Delhi. NASVI put forth street vendors’ agenda before Mr. Gandhi and called upon him to include the issues in the election manifesto of the Indian National Congress.