Saturday, May 25, 2013


World over street foods are offered from the side pavements of many roads in major cities and towns where real estate is exorbitantly expensive and non-affordable to most small scale food vendors. It is true that this is a despicable practice due to its nuisance value to the citizens who are forced to walk on busy roads endangering their lives in the process. From time to time eviction efforts are made by the civic authorities but without much lasting success. Though most street vendors are supposed to be poor, they bribe the police as well as the civic officials to continue with their business without any harassment and hindrance. Since this sector has grown rapidly due to the affinity of even well to do citizens to the hot foods served by them on the road side, wishing away this phenomenon is no more possible and it has assumed a different dimension from a humanitarian angle. It is unbelievable that in India there are about 10 million hawkers across all the cities and towns doing a thriving business and since they constitute a sizable vote bank, the present political dispensation ruling in the country, in a desperate effort to expand its vote bank,  has cast its eyes on this group promising many things to attract their loyalty. A bill to offer many sops to these vendors has been just cleared by the government which is sought to be rushed through the Lok Sabha shortly. Here is a take on this new "sop avatar" being pushed through hastily for reaping the "harvest" in the forthcoming national election.

Ahead of the 2014 elections, the UPA government on Wednesday offered a major sop to the about 10 million street vendors across India – a part of its targeted aam admi vote bank. After hanging in fire for over a year, the Union cabinet cleared the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, which once enacted will go a long way in protecting the rights of vendors by giving them legal protection. Presently, there is no law to regulate and safeguard the interest of urban street vendors in India The bill mandates municipalities to set up restriction free vending zones/ night bazaars where hawkers can sell their wares without being harassed by the authorities. Town vendor's committee which will have representatives from municipalities as well as vendor associations will demarcate space where vendors can operate. The Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation ministry which is piloting the bill intends to introduce it in the ongoing budget session of the Parliament. However, it looks unlikely with the opposition continuing to disrupt the session. The bill will allow anyone over 14 years to apply and register as street vendor on payment of one time fees. Once registered, the vendors would be given identity cards entitling them to sell their wares in specified vending zones. It will do away with the existing license system that has become a tool of harassing the street vendors. In a city, 2.5 % of the total population would be eligible to register as street vendors. Besides, it will also help authorities regulate hawking activities in public spaces such as pavements, parks, and thoroughfares. The bill was earlier introduced in Lok Sabha last September and was subsequently referred to the Standing Committee on Urban Development. The committee which made several recommendations such as allowing vendors outside railway stations to be included under the bill's ambit were incorporated by the urban poverty alleviation ministry in the draft bill that was cleared by the cabinet Wednesday.

It was almost 25 years ago that the issue of street hawkers was brought to national attention and a few NGOs did try to bring in reforms to streamline the vending kiosks emphasizing on hygiene, sanitation and consumer safety. Many civic bodies introduced a sort of licensing and monitoring their activities through their health department officials. Even international attention was focused for some time on street vending which is prevalent in many countries in Asia and lot of efforts were made to "modernize" the kiosks with emphasis on cleanliness, safe water use and strict personnel hygiene. The present Bill is a good initiative and if properly drafted to cover the entire gamut of the issue, it can be a significant step in creating a win-win situation to both the vendors as well as the consumers. Unfortunately political chicanery to steal credit may yet derail the Bill. It is imperative that all political parties irrespective of their color or creed or biases contribute in refining the Bill so that it is practical, useful and of immense benefit to the urban consumers.    


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