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Bill on street vendors gives hope to hawkers in New Delhi

Court says they have right to earn their living like any other citizen

Image Credit: AP
A young street hawker sells national flags at a traffic signal in New Delhi. As per a new Bill, anyone over 18years can apply and register as a street vendor.
Gulf News

New Delhi: Thousands of street vendors have been providing an abundance of informal services in the city for years. But when it comes to keeping the city clean, the same people are now being threatened with eviction.

Leading uncertain lives and having no fixed address, the Street Vendors (Protection and Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill being proposed could soon shift the fundamentals for all those who make a living on the street.

Earlier, in a judgment with far-reaching consequences, the Supreme Court upheld the right of hawkers to earn their bread and butter from street vending. The Court ruled that vendors have a fundamental right under the Constitution to earn their living like any other citizen.

It said: “The fundamental right of the hawkers, just because they are poor and unorganised, cannot be left in a state of limbo, nor can it left to be decided by the varying standards of a scheme which changes from time to time under the orders of the court.” A member of the National Association of Street Vendors of India (Nasvi) told Gulf News: “Despite years of planning, the majority of street vendors in the city continue to face harassment by government agencies. And over the years things have only got worse.

“We have been giving suggestions to both the civic agencies — the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) on how to go about implementing the National Policy on Urban Vendors. But political will is needed to implement these plans. Now, we hope the bill will provide stability to vendors who live a precarious life.”

Rural poverty has pushed people to migrate to cities and they have been making a living by fulfilling the key needs of inhabitants. Whether it is a quick bite to eat on the street or selling books and magazines, the vendors come in handy.

Thousands of them set up shop using tables, racks and tarpaulin sheets along the road selling fruit and vegetables, plastic wares, artificial jewellery, handicrafts, garments, shoes, toys and other knick-knacks.

While the civic authorities and the police often harass and extort money from the hawkers, they also accuse these vendors of encroachment and holding up traffic at markets and thoroughfares.

A bookseller said: I am from the second-generation in the family to continue this business from the corridors of Connaught Place. It is usual business almost every day. But when a VIP is scheduled to visit the place, the NDMC people evict us. They often throw our things away and abuse us.”

In areas like Connaught Circus and its vicinity, the pavement sellers pay between Rs500 (Dh35) to Rs3,000 (Dh212) a month as ‘protection’ money to the police and civic authorities. In addition, the sellers accuse the police of taking away their goods without paying for them. This results in major financial loss and violation of their fundamental rights.

The vendors are expecting the Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation to introduce the Bill soon in Parliament.

As per the Bill, anyone over 18 years can apply and register as a street vendor with the respective Town Vending Committee on the payment of a one-time fee. Once registered, they will be given identity cards entitling them to sell their wares in specified vending zones.

The Bill also contains provisions to promote natural markets, weekly markets and night bazaars, where vendors can sell their goods. And it will protect the vendors from confiscation of their goods and forced eviction by authorities.

A vendor selling snacks said: “This will prove very beneficial, as it will do away with the existing licence system that has become a tool to victimise us.”

Ramesh has been selling fruit at Shankar Market in Central Delhi for the past 22 years. Though an authorised vendor, who pays Rs800 per month to the NDMC, he said: “We have been requesting a kiosk for many years, but people who grease the palms of officials, are favoured.”

Not enthusiastic about the Bill, he said: “Policies have remained a paper promise and blithely ignored by the authorities. We have been living on hope for so many years. Only time will tell, what the Bill actually offers.”

After a draft policy in 2004, a model bill and national policy on street vendors was announced in 2009. It suggested that states set up town vending committees to register vendors and provide some social security and civic services.

However, in order for it to be implemented, it needed to be made compatible with the Indian Penal Code and various municipal and police laws, which needed to be amended to adopt this perspective.

All along, the issue has faced several hurdles, including from resident welfare associations and organisations, who see hawkers as a menace, blocking traffic in local markets.

The top court ruled that commuters also have equal liberty to use the roads and streets to move freely. “These two apparently conflicting rights must be harmonised and regulated by subjecting them to reasonable restrictions only under the law.”

Meanwhile, the traffic police rejected most of the vending sites identified by the MCD. The contradiction between ensuring vendor rights and pedestrian rights continues to be the main problem facing civic agencies.

A Delhi Police official said: “We have to ensure vendors do not encroach upon footpaths, as pedestrian space is important for security reasons.”