Improving the Street Vendors Act: Limitations and Gaps and way forward

By Irene Doda
September 9, 2022
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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.

The street vendors act is an essential piece of legislation for Indian street vendors that has significantly contributed to improving their status in the country and protecting their rights. There are, however, a few limitations and gaps worth analysing. Stemming from our analysis we have identified areas for improvement.

The limited presence of the Town Vending Committee

Interviews with street vendors in different parts of the city shed light on the fact that several vendors are not aware of any such TVC – a mandatory requirement as per the Act. While some of these were organized by town committees, there was no information about decision-making and transparency. Furthermore, most of the vendors are not even aware of the Act itself. The only grievance redressal mechanism they know of is that of a Pradhan or a market head who would informally negotiate disputes on behalf of some of the vendors with the local police and municipal authorities. We noticed that there remains an information asymmetry between the street vendors and the recognition of their rights. Especially, when it comes to women street vendors we noticed their information channel was limited to fellow male counterparts and family members.

Lack of regular surveys on street vendors

The Act requires the TVC to conduct a survey of the street vendors within the area. No such surveys were conducted by any TVCs. The purpose of such a survey is to make sure that vending areas do not get overcrowded. Not conducting such a survey has not only resulted in congestion of chosen market spaces but has likewise made it challenging for existing vendors to have space for business action.

When there are TVCs, the question becomes of their proper functioning.  Despite many deliberations in the TVCs where vendor representatives have pushed for a survey to identify and register street vendors, there has been a bureaucratic lethargy and delay in execution. For example, the TVC meetings are not held timely, and survey and certificate issuance processes are slow.

Exclusionary Urban Planning

Many cities are being developed as smart cities or are formulating master plans without consideration of street vendors.  Where the law focuses on “natural markets” street vendors’ main complaint against the municipal authorities were that the alternate space provided for relocation was often too far and inaccessible for customers and the vendors.

Extortion and harassment

In an informal, unregulated environment, vendors are frequently approached to give bribes for ease of business and to avoid harassment from government authorities. Clearly against the main purpose of the Act which was to provide vendors with a “safe, harassment-free environment”. In our detailed interviews, we found that the nature of harassment from local state authorities (including local municipal authorities and police) also included demanding free goods, confiscation of their goods, unlawful penalties and physical violence against street vendors.

No identity cards/certificates of vending provided to street vendors

Identity cards and certificates of vending provide the street vendors with the lawful right to direct business in an assigned distributing zone. It is likewise a portrayal of her/his citizenship and is a way forward for the information to be included in the urban landscape. Therefore, the lack of formal identification leads to unconstitutional harassment from both government and private authorities.

Only 25% of all respondents have some form of identification i.e., Vendor Certificates/Vendor ID Card/Survey Slips. In most cases, vendors had temporary survey slips or membership cards issued by informal unions.

How to improve the implementation of the Street Vendor Act?

One first step could be to increase the registration of street vendors. It was noted that identity cards and vending certificates have not been issued to all vendors.  It is recommended to give vendors smart cards with relevant information (such as identification and details of vending certificates), which may also be more durable compared to paper-based documents.

Secondly, the investments in the TCVs can be more significant. Invest in the creation of Town Vending Committees (TVCs)The TVCs have not been constituted in several states, making street vendors prone to eviction.  It recommended expediting the formation of TVCs in such states.  It stated that no eviction or relocation should be enforced without consultation with TVCs.

It is also crucial to have equal representation in the TVCs and should be promoted. 60% of a TVC is composed of official representatives nominated by the state governments.  This may override genuine concerns raised by vendor representatives.  Often the chairpersons—who are usually bureaucratic officers—don’t listen to the TVC members, thus systematically undermining the democratic nature of TVCs. It recommended that elected representatives from local bodies, state legislatures, and the Parliament may be involved as ex-officio members, permanent invitees, or observers. 

Integrating the Street Vendors Act with other urban development schemes like the smart city mission urban development schemes such as the Smart Cities Mission, and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan with the objectives and mandates of the Street Vendors Act 2014, can give desirable results. Since these schemes are integral to a city’s strategic planning and welfare, they must recognise the needs and aspirations of street vendors, by (i) integrating the Act with developmental missions and urban planning processes, and (ii) consulting with the TVCs while planning projects under the smart city mission. and (iii) ensuring representation of the vendor community in the Committee formulating the master plan of a city.     

Lastly, it is crucial to create more Grievance Redressal Committees (GRCs). GRCs are crucial for earning the trust of vendors and ensuring transparency of processes.  Only nine states (including Assam, Kerala, and Punjab) have constituted GRCs.  The central government should encourage the constitution of GRCs through review meetings.  Further, a website or mobile application should be developed to ensure traceability, accountability, and transparency in the complaint redressal process.

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