The right to vend

With national urban policies repeatedly failing to improve access to cities and protect the livelihood rights of those who live in them, the hope and effort of more than 10 million street vendors lies in pushing the government to enact a Central law to secure their rights. But where policies have failed, will a new law help? The recent national consultation on urban street vending has made it clear, despite four decades of struggle, that hawkers and mobile vendors still find Indian cities reluctant to include them. While cities are willing to accommodate on-street car parking, they view handcarts used for vending and providing services on roads as a hindrance. As a result, the low income, self-employed street vendors often face harassment and the threat of eviction. To correct this unfair situation, a national policy on urban street vendors, formulated in 2004, recommended that states and local bodies register street vendors, issue identification cards, and amend legislation to mitigate their vulnerability. The key proposal was to formulate Town Vending Committees at the ward level with vendor representation to identify areas for hawking. This policy had no impact. Instead of finding innovative ways to improve its implementation, the government formulated a new policy in 2009. This too has failed. Barring a handful of cities, neither has registration been completed, nor spaces adequately earmarked for vending.

The stark contrast between such a lukewarm response and the enthusiastic state promotion of organised retail is conspicuous. The Central government cannot hide behind the excuse that urban development is a state subject. If it has the will, as witnessed in the case of urban renewal projects, it can effectively influence city level policies through various financial incentives. With states also showing no commitment, and cities such as Mumbai and Ahmedabad pursuing irrational cut-off lines which bar a large number of vendors from getting a licence, the street vendors' decision to press for legislation is understandable. The logic is that a Central law, which can be enacted under the concurrent list that includes economic planning and labour welfare, will help enforce their rights through courts. However, enforcement would remain an issue and needs attention. Equally important is the creation of more spaces such as vendors' markets within existing cities and growing suburbs. The Central government must sincerely pursue its promise to secure dedicated funds in the forthcoming 12th five-year plan for such activities. Improving financial assistance and training of hawkers would also be critical. Co-opting street vendors is a necessary and important step towards making our cities inclusive and equitable.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 8:19:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-right-to-vend/article2904484.ece

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