Monday, 20 February 2012

National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009

Street vending is an ancient profession, which continues to play an important role in present day economy and society. It is not only a source of employment but provides ‘affordable’ services to the majority of urban population. Their contribution must be recognised and facilitated.
Vendors also constitute an important component of the demographic, numbering approximately 2% of the population. The total number of street vendors in the country is estimated at around 1crore. Noteworthy that women comprise a large number of street vendors in almost every city.  


Despite their importance in urban life they face much harassment from the police and civic authorities as they are considered as unlawful entities. To address the various issues concerning them and their trade, a policy was formulated in 2004. This was subsequently revised in 2009. The policy also aims to reflect the spirit of the Constitution of India w.r.t. equal protection before law , right to practice any profession, State’s duty to minimise inequality of income etc.  

Definition: A 'Street Vendor' is defined as 'a person who offers goods or services for sale to the public in a street without having a permanent built-up structure.' There are three basic categories of street vendors:
(a) stationary (those who carry out vending on a regular  basis at a specific locatio);
(b) peripatetic (those who vend their goods and services on foot, or by carrying their wares on baskets or pushcarts) and
(c) mobile (those who move from place to place vending their goods or services).

The overarching objective of this policy is:
-      Provide and promote a supportive environment for earning livelihoods to the Street vendors,
-      Ensure absence of congestion and
-      Maintenance of hygiene in public spaces and streets.

Specific objectives are:
1. Legal: To give vendors legal status by implementing appropriate laws and providing legitimate hawking zones in urban development/ zoning plans. Certain sections of the Indian Penal Code (Sec.283) and the Police Act (Sec.34) which criminalize their activity on account of 'causing obstruction in public places' must be suitably modified.
2. A Town Vending Committee (TVC) will be formed to supervise the entire process of planning, organisation and regulation of street vending activities.
3. Registration: Replacing discretionary licenses for vending by nominal fee-based licenses (Here market forces like price, quality and demand will determine the number of vendors that can be sustained and thus number of licenses to be issued).
4. Treating vendors as an integral and legitimate part of the urban distribution system, since they facilitate convenient, efficient and cost-effective distribution of goods and services to the public.
5. Self Compliance: To promote self-compliance amongst Street vendors.
6. Organization: To promote organizations of Street vendors (e.g. Unions / Co-operatives/ Associations) to facilitate their empowerment.
7. Rehabilitation of child vendors to ensure a better future for them.
8. Social Security & Financial Services: To promote social security (pension, insurance, etc.,) and access to credit for Street vendors through promotion of SHGs/co-operatives/Federations/Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) etc.

Critique of the Policy:
  • Although the policy ensures that more than 40 percent of the members of TVCs are from the street vendors’ associations, it remains silent on the fact that only a meager proportion of street vendors in India fall under the fold of unions. Who will represent such a large number of non-unionized street vendors in the TVCs? The National Policy, then, seeks to institutionalize a certain form of participatory exclusion. 
  • Many street vendors’ associations have questioned the limited possibilities of stake-holder participation in the TVCs which are heavily populated by high level state executives.
  • The National Policy does not provide a guideline for the states to handle surplus labor force in the sector. For this reason, the National Policy should be linked with a larger employment generation scheme led by the state.”3

Urgent need for a central law on this issue, applicable to all States and UTs has been expressed by civil society. In response to this the Ministry for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA) has drafted the ‘Model Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street-vending) Bill 2009. However the NAC has pitched for a central law to replace this bill. According to the council, the model bill allows the Centre to wash its hands of the matter and leave the execution of the legislation entirely to the states. The council believes a central law is justified because street vending is not a matter of “mere municipal regulation” but of “livelihoods, employment and social security of a significant number of urban poor households”. It says the central law should “prevail” if the states’ municipal and police laws are inconsistent with it. 7

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