Peddling reforms for street vendors?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken a step towards unshackling the poorest of entrepreneurs — the street vendors.
In a letter to chief ministers, this week, Singh called for a “new deal” for urban street vendors and implementation of the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009 — which would enable vendors to ply their trade without harassment.
These include hawkers, sidewalk traders or even the people selling clothes or utensils at the weekly market.
For them, the landmark economic reforms of 1991 carry little meaning.
The Centre for Civil Society, citing an example of persistent ‘license raj’, says that only 75,000 of half a million cycle-rickshaws plying in Delhi are licensed.
The rest pay an estimated 80 million rupees a month in bribes.
Like rickshaw-pullers, street vendors also have to cough up money to the police, fearing eviction or confiscation of wares.
It was estimated that they pay 400 million rupees yearly in bribes in the national capital alone.
People paying these bribes have an average daily income of Rs. 70 for men and Rs. 40 for women as estimated by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector. They borrow from money lenders at rates up to 110 percent.
In Sodan Singh and Others versus New Delhi Municipal Council in 1989, the Supreme Court had ruled : “The right to carry on trade or business mentioned in Article 19 (1) g of the constitution, on street pavements, if properly regulated, cannot be denied on the ground that the streets are meant exclusively for passing or re-passing and no other use.”
The revised National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009 by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation recognizes the “need for regulation of street vending by way of designated ‘Restricted-free Vending’, ‘Restricted Vending’ and ‘No Vending’ zones based on certain objective principles.”
It lays down that there should not be any cut off date or limit imposed on the number of vendors who should be permitted to sell their goods.
The policy aims to “eschew imposing numerical limits on access to public spaces by discretionary licenses, and instead moving to nominal fee-based regulation of access.”
A model bill on regulation of street vending has been drafted but it is for the states to enact the laws.
That is where the prime minister’s letter comes in.
As part of its campaign for street vendor rights, civil society group Manushi set up in 2005 a temple dedicated to what it describes as a secular goddess “Swachha Narayani”.
The goddess holds a broom to symbolize strength from unity and cleanliness, a clock to signify changing times, a coin to communicate right to livelihood and also a weighing balance, video-camera and pen.
So is the goddess ready to smile on vendors and small entrepreneurs?
[ Photos: A hawker sells computer and electronic spare parts on a pavement in Kolkata while another hawker in Mumbai prepares a cosmetic for men as a customer looks into a mirror. ]