Plight of Indian street vendors: Inherent class bias, bribery stalls lives

Street vendors are evicted from their zones without dues process and relocation.
When it comes to assuring protection and justice to street vendors (feriwalas) in India, Delhi seems a bit serious, even as those like Nagaland and Gujarat lag, shows a report published by think tank Centre for Civil Society on Wednesday.

The Street Vendors Act Compliance (SVAC) Index 2017 studied the status of compliance of the Act in Indian states. Of the 23 states (Telangana has been dropped this time, and so have Union territories other than Delhi), Nagaland scored a zero on CCS ranking, along with nine other states. Reportedly, nine states crossed a 50 per cent mark on the compliance index.

"We came across selective compliance by many states where one parameter has been implemented but other complementing parameters have been ignored," said Prashant Narang, head of iJustice, CCS.

In the report, authored by advocate Prashant Narang and academic Yugank Goyal, the states were marked on the basis of the stages up to which they have implemented the clauses and rules enshrined in the Street Vendor Act:

* Formation of schemes and rules

* Town vending Committees (TVC)

* Conclusion of survey and vendor elections

* Plan and dispute resolution committee. 

Most compliant states as per the index are Delhi, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Tripura. 

Nagaland, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Meghalaya and Rajasthan are worst performers in lieu of implementing the Act. No state complied with the provision of forming schemes and rules within the statutory period of six months and twelve months respectively.

"Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Sikkim, Puducherry, Uttarakhand and West Bengal did not even respond to RTI applications and telephonic calls for data collection," the CCS said.

Rajasthan High Court held the Act not applicable to the State despite the notification whereas the Bombay High court has made it quite clear that, hawkers who prepare food on the streets are not included in the Act.

Surprisingly, Bombay High Court took a more sinister view of this. In 2014, the high court said, "Street hawkers create dirt and nuisance... If we agree to the right claimed by them, they could hold society to ransom by squatting."

Importance of Compliance

Indian cities have parallel cities run by the informal sectors. It offers employment for several millions. Street vendors constitute an important segment of the urban population. They earn their livelihood through their own meagre financial resources. In order to regulate and protect the street vendors in India, the Parliament had enacted the Street Vendors (Protection of livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act 2014 which aims at securing right of the citizens to have adequate means of livelihood as enshrined in articles of the Constitution and fostering a congenial environment for the urban street vendors to carry out their activities, without harassment from any quarter. It also aimed at providing a mechanism for regulation of street vending activities to avoid congestion on sidewalks and to ensure free flow of traffic on roads by a legislative framework to enable street vendors to pursue an honest living without harassment”.

The Supreme Court of India has also recognized their interest and has passed various judgments to prevent the harassment and abuse of the vendors at multiple levels.

While the Act is generally laudable, it has fallen short of expectations in several ways. For instance, even though the Act provides for the timelines for the formulation of the scheme and the rule, it lacks any provisions for a penalty for non-compliance with the deadline.

As leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Atishi Marlena said on this context, "the law is as good as the paper it is written on", the Act does not even grant deemed approval for vendors if the application for license is not rejected within the stipulated time limit. Therefore, undue delay harms the hawkers. 

The delay in compliance by states implies the continuance of atrocities against the vendors - they are evicted from their zones without dues process and relocation, extortion of money by the police and local authorities and confiscation of their goods and equipment.

"No one talks about level of intrusion when it comes to car parking, but when street vendors set up their stalls, we say "after all what they are doing 'is' illegal", said Atishi.

She went on to add that governments face inherent class biases and bureaucratic barriers. "The pressure has to come from both above and below to implement progressive laws."

Indira Unninayar,  a social activist and lawyer spoke on police atrocities against the urban poor. 

"Local authorities treat the street vendors like they're doing them a favor," Unninayar said. 

"Even the court judges seem to be  prejudiced against street vendors, they seek to regulate not empower them," she added.

Rank State SVACI Scores removing all 'na' values
1 Delhi 72
2 Chhattisgarh 64.3
3 Andhra Pradesh 64
4 Jharkhand 59.59
5 Tripura 59.5
6 Manipur 58.86
7 Mizoram 57.81
8 Assam 45.87
9 Kerala 42.92
10 Bihar 41.71
11 Himachal Pradesh 38.7
12 Goa 34.43
13 Meghalaya 33
14 Gujarat 0
15 Nagaland 0

Besides, the central government's failure to protect vendor rights has been taken more bitterly as vendors feel deceived by the promises made extravagantly by the prime minister.

Rakesh Agarwal, a vendor in Rajasthan, said, "I had heard that Narendra Modi rose from a ‘chaiwala’ to become Prime Minister. He calls himself a ‘messiah’ of the poor but he hasn't done anything for us so far."

Earlier this month, the AITUC Street Vendors Workers Union has urged the government to implement the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 in letter and spirit in the interest of the vendors and the workers employed with them. A resolution adopted at the two-day State-level conference of the union which concluded in the city recently said that the Act introduced in 2014 has not been implemented in a majority of the local bodies in the State. The State government should intervene immediately and implement the Act in all the corporations, municipalities, town panchayats etc.

Some of the corporations and municipalities have set up the city / town trading committees. Even in these places, the committees have not met to complete the survey of street vendors, issue biometric ID cards to them, streamline street vending. The government should ensure adequate powers to the trading committees to function as per the Act.

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