The Street Vendor Act in India: what is still to be achieved for women vendors

By Irene Doda
August 25, 2022
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With this article we kick off a mini-series of analysis blog on the Street Vendors Act, an Indian legislation of 2014. This first episode is dedicated to the women vendors and the impact of this legislation on their livelihoods

About the author: Tuba Junaid is currently in her final year of a Masters’s in Public Policy at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. She is a graduate of English literature and Economics from Aligarh Muslim University, India. Before coming to LKYSPP, she worked extensively in grassroots India establishing a for-Profit Social Enterprise, with the primary objective of providing women with dignified and enhanced livelihood opportunities with digital inclusion. Her main research interest lies in the area of technological changes and their impact on jobs and the workplace, especially on how to integrate the informal economy.

Street vendors form an integral part of the Indian economy—most of the population depends on hawkers for affordable goods and services. By making goods and services available at doorsteps, or at places that are conveniently accessible, street vendors reduce the cost involved in the market exchange of everyday purchases.  Not only that, but they also make up a sizable proportion of the informal economy and create opportunities for entrepreneurship and self-employment.  

Roughly 2.5% of India’s population is engaged in street vending (Bhowmik 2003). Besides being a source of self-employment and entrepreneurship, vending plays a central role in urban life. Over 1,00,00,000 street vendors in India contribute 50% of the country’s savings and 63% of the Gross Domestic Product (Sankrit 2015).

To understand the complexities and challenges of street vending in India, we look at the Street Vending Law and how women, especially, with their unique challenges, work around it. We take oral account(s) from vendors commercially operating in the specified local market in Aligarh, a tier-II city in Uttar Pradesh, India. Detailed interviews were extended to specifically understand the gaps in the implementation of the Street Vending Act by talking to committee heads as well as relevant urban planning authorities in the city centre.

Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay 

What is the Street Vendors Act?

As we all know in India, street vending constitutes a sizable proportion of the informal economy. For several decades vendors have faced harassment, extortion, and forced eviction at the hands of local authorities and found no relief from the protection of the law.

After 50 years of judicial and regulatory clashes, to legitimize a vendor’s right to livelihood and regulate urban streets,  the Street Vendors Act was introduced. It was bringing a uniform framework to regulate vending, but also distributing rule-making and decision-making powers to state governments and local authorities. It is not only a legal framework that protects street vendors, as it centres around improving their livelihoods and defending them from evictions and harassment. It also inscribes the values of democracy and makes the decision-making authorities conduct surveys, issue vending certificates, and safeguard vendors’ natural markets and their rights to the city. 

What are the main breakthroughs of the Street Vendors Act?

The act has recognised vendors as an essential piece of Indian urban areas and allowed lawful acknowledgement to them by safeguarding them from evictions. It permitted street vendors to be included in the city planning process by easing up to 2.5 per cent of the city populace to take part in street vending. It has created a framework that is participatory and decentralized, and primarily led by the town vending committees (TVCs). TVCs oversee specifying, recognizing, and distributing vending zones in a city. Each TVC requires at least 40 per cent of its members to be street vendors, with the rest of the committee including representation from local authorities, planning authorities, police, residential welfare associations, non-profits, and market associations. The law has laid out various inclusionary measures for the legal support and promotion of street vending through vendors’ welfare, training, and capacity building. It Explicitly commands anticipation against expulsion and harassment. 

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

The unique Challenges Faced by Women Street Vendors

Women street vendors are more likely to experience criminal exploitation, sexual harassment, and abuse. On a day-to-day basis, they face a set of additional challenges compared to their male counterparts. First of all, the issues related to Unpaid Work and Care Responsibilities. The double liability of adjusting paid work and unpaid housework make it difficult for women street vendors to concentrate fully on street vending and thereby earn a living.

Furthermore, In contrast to their male counterparts, Women vendors are more inclined to illnesses due to the shortfall of public latrines. Because of the absence of admittance to public latrines, most women street vendors experience urinary tract infections and kidney problems. This makes the women street vendors more exposed to unreliable circumstances and hampers their capacity to work outside the house to satisfy the needs of street vending.

There is also an issue of credit availability. Most women street vendors have lesser disposable income than male street vendors as they will generally spend a greater amount of their pay on family costs, food, travel, and instruction. It additionally blocks the capacity to save and accumulate assets. Moreover, research shows that Women street vendors depend more on informal sources of credit like moneylenders and wholesalers; The notoriously high rates of interest by informal sources of credit is a huge setback because that pushes the street vendors into indebtedness.

Finally, women vendors are at risk of sexual harassment. Women street vendors must work for long hours and work for extended periods of time and are more defenceless against wrongdoing. They are survivors of sexual outrages executed both by state bodies and non-state elements. In some cases, municipal authorities abuse their power and abdicate their responsibility. This leaves street vendors with no legal recourse.

What does the Street Vendors Act Promise Women?

The Street Vendors Act, of 2014 was successful in bringing to the mainstream the main problems of street vendors, which is the lack of space and security. However, the one major setback was that the Act fails to recognise that male and female street vendors have sometimes entirely different sets of needs. It falls short of addressing the special challenges that women street vendors face daily. 

Although, there are certain specifications that address needs and issues related to women’s street vendors. 

The Act provides that one-third of the members representing the street vendors in the Town Vending Committee shall be from amongst women vendors. It guarantees the representation of women by the motive to incorporate them into the system. This is important because women street vendors constitute a significant population affected by the decisions and policies. Participation of women street vendors in the decision-making process will help bring forth the specific women-centred challenges to the mainstream. Moreover, The Act provides that the Town Vending Committee may “give preference to women for issuing vending certificates”. This provision equips the Town Vending Committee with the right of positive discrimination in favour of women. The idea behind it is that Women street vendors are in more need of vending opportunities than their male counterparts.

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