May 26, 2024

General Studies Paper-2 

Context: 10 Years of Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act has been completed.

About the Act

  • The Act came into effect on May 1, 2014, marking a significant milestone after nearly four decades of legal jurisprudence and the tireless efforts of street vendor movements across India.
  • It aimed to ‘protect’ and ‘regulate’ street vending in cities, with State-level rules and schemes, and execution by Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) through by-laws, planning, and regulation.

Feature

  • The Act clearly delineates the roles and responsibilities of both vendors and various levels of government.
  • It recognises the positive urban role of vendors and the need for livelihood protection.
  • It commits to accommodating all ‘existing’ vendors in vending zones and issuing vending certificates.
  • The Act establishes a participatory governance structure through Town Vending Committees (TVCs) and mandates that street vendor representatives must constitute 40% of TVC members, with a sub-representation of 33% of women street vendors.
  • These committees are tasked with ensuring the inclusion of all existing vendors in vending zones.
  • The Act outlines mechanisms for addressing grievances and disputes, proposing the establishment of a Grievance Redressal Committee chaired by a civil judge or judicial magistrate.
  • Its provisions set a crucial precedent for inclusive and participatory approaches to address street vending needs in cities, at least in theory.

Need of the law

  • Street vendors, estimated to constitute 2.5% of any city’s population, play multifaceted roles in city life.
  • Local vegetable sellers and food vendors are essential providers of daily services. Vending offers many migrants and the urban poor a source of modest yet consistent income.
  • The vendors also make city life affordable for others by providing vital links in the food, nutrition, and goods distribution chain at reasonable prices.
  • Street vendors are also integral to Indian culture — imagine Mumbai without its vada pav or Chennai without its roadside dosai. The law was enacted to acknowledge this reality.

Broad Challenges

  • The Act has faced three broad challenges.
    • At the administrative level, there has been a noticeable increase in harassment and evictions of street vendors, despite the Act’s emphasis on their protection and regulation.
    • This is often due to an outdated bureaucratic mindset that views vendors as illegal entities to be cleared.
    • There is also a pervasive lack of awareness and sensitisation about the Act among state authorities, the wider public, and vendors themselves.
    • TVCs often remain under the control of local city authorities, with limited influence from street vendor representatives. And the representation of women vendors in TVCs is mostly tokenistic.
    • At the governance level, existing urban governance mechanisms are often weak.
  • The Act does not integrate well with the framework established by the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act for urban governance.
    • ULBs lack sufficient powers and capacities.
    • Schemes like the Smart Cities Mission, laden with resources and pushed through as policy priorities from the top-down, mostly focus on infrastructure development and ignore the provisions of the Act for the inclusion of street vendors in city planning.
  • At the societal level, the prevailing image of the ‘world class city tends to be exclusionary.
    • It marginalises and stigmatises street vendors as obstacles to urban development instead of acknowledging them as legitimate contributors to the urban economy.
    • These challenges are reflected in city designs, urban policies, and public perceptions of neighbourhoods.
  • The Act now faces new challenges such as the impact of climate change on vendors, a surge in the number of vendors, competition from e-commerce, and reduced incomes.

Way Forward

  • While the Act is progressive and detailed, its implementation requires support, possibly (and ironically) necessitating top-down direction and management starting from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
  • This needs to be decentralised over time to ensure effectiveness in addressing the diverse needs and contexts of street vendors nationwide.
    • PM SVANidhi, a micro-credit facility for street vendors, has been a positive example in that direction.
  • There is a strong need to decentralise interventions, enhance the capacities of ULBs to plan for street vending in cities, and move away from high-handed department-led actions to actual deliberative processes at the TVC level.
  • Urban schemes, city planning guidelines, and policies need to be amended to include street vending.
  • The Act’s broad welfare provisions must be used creatively to meet the emerging needs of street vendors.
  • The sub-component on street vendors in the National Urban Livelihood Mission needs to take cognisance of the changed realities and facilitate innovative measures for addressing needs.
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