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The right to sell

The SC has declared hawking a fundamental right — but with no national law yet to regulate hawkers’ rights, street vendors are still treated as a menace by authorities.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2011 01:23 IST
Satya Prakash

Fourteen months after the Supreme Court declared hawking a fundamental right and asked the government to come out with a proper national law to regulate hawkers’ rights, the issue is still hanging fire.

Noting that the housing and urban poverty alleviation ministry has already drafted a Model Street Vendors Bill, 2009 the SC had in October 2010 said the appropriate government should take steps to translate the bill into law by June 30, 2011.

But the UPA government maintains that it is committed to bringing in the bill, which has since been revised in 2011. At a National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) function in the capital, housing and urban poverty alleviation minister Kumari Selja said the government has started the process for it. According to NASVI there are around one crore street vendors in the country and their annual turnover is estimated to be around R 1.82 lakh crore. In Mumbai alone there are 2.5 lakh people engaged in vending activities generating over Rs 4,500 crore annually and Delhi has over 2 lakh street vendors with an annual turnover of around Rs 3,650 crore.

While in 2004, the Central Government came out with a National Policy on Urban Street Vendors that recognises hawking/vending as an age-old practice beneficial to both urban population and those engaged in occupation of street vending. According to the policy, two per cent of urban population can be street vendors/hawkers, who provide various goods and services at the doorsteps of a large section of the population. http://www.hindustantimes.com/images/HTPopups/181211/18-12-11-metro18d.jpg

Since hawkers/vendors have been persecuted and fleeced by police and municipal authorities, the policy talks of amending Section 283 of the IPC and Section 34 of the Police Act that make it punishable to cause danger/obstruction in public way, street etc. Based on the national policy the UPA government has drafted The Street Vendors (Protection and Promotion of Livelihood) Bill, 2011 which provides a statutory basis to street vendors’ rights and a framework for practising trade or business of their choice.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, says, “All citizens shall have the right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business) and the services rendered by them to the urban population. However, the police and municipal authorities generally treat street vendors as a menace causing traffic problems. They are often thrown out without any proper notice depriving them of their livelihood. But nobody talks of thousands of vehicles being bought everyday that actually causes traffic and parking problems. A point that was highlighted by the Supreme Court. “There is a section that, due to its ever increasing wealth, is buying any number of cars, scooters... No restriction has apparently been imposed by law on such purchase,” the SC said in its October 2010 verdict declaring hawking a fundamental right.

Countries such as South Africa, Philippines, have national laws while many others have national policies recognising the contribution of street vendors. New York and Singapore provide licences to street vendors to carry on their business. Most of the European Union nations are tolerant towards them. In Delhi, where it has been a practice since time immemorial, MCD and NDMC are currently regulating vending activities under the SC’s order till a law is enacted.

Arbind Singh, coordinator of NASVI that has been fighting for a national law on street vending, says: “It should be national law for street vendors on the lines of NREG Act, as hawkers face problems due to varying interpretations of the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors and the schemes framed under it by municipal bodies and courts. It should not be left to states to enact separate laws.”

Singh further adds that while the government is talking of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail it will adversely affect vendors. “If vending zones are not created in the cities, our vendors working in the unorganised sector will be rendered jobless,” says Singh. “If vending zones are created in cities, vendors/hawkers would compete with foreign retail giants and in the process consumers would benefit.” But notwithstanding NASVI’s demand, it looks unlikely that the bill will be introduced in this session of parliament , scheduled to end on December 21, unless extended. Till then, their daily struggle continues.