Street Vendors in India

Introduction

Today, vending is an important source of employment for a large number of urban poor as it requires low skills and small financial inputs. Broadly defined, a street vendor is a person who offers goods or services for sale to the public without having a permanent built-up structure but with a temporary static structure or mobile stall (or head-load). Street vendors could be stationary and occupy space on the pavements or other public/private areas, or could be mobile, and move from place to place carrying their wares on push carts or in cycles or baskets on their heads, or could sell their wares in moving buses. The Government of India has used the term 'urban vendor' as inclusive of traders and service providers, stationary as well as mobile, and incorporates all other local/region specific terms used to describe them.

Size and Significance

The total number of street vendors in the country is estimated at around 10 million. Some studies estimate that street vendors constitute approximately 2 per cent of the population of a metropolis. Mumbai has roughly 2,50,000 street vendors and Kolkata has nearly 2,00,000. The street vendors market many goods, such as clothes and hosiery, household goods and food items, manufactured by home based workers, who have no other channels of marketing the products that they produce. They also ensure the availability of goods and services at cheaper rates to people.

Working Conditions

Street vendors have poor social protection and their working conditions on the streets expose them to a variety of safety and health issues. The SNDT – ILO study on Mumbai found that around 85 per cent of the street vendors complained of stress related diseases – migraine, hyper acidity, hyper tension and high blood pressure. In general, there are more men vendors than women vendors in India. Women vendors earn less, on average, than men vendors: their earnings range from 40 to 60 rupees per day. The lack of toilets has an adverse effect on women’s health and many suffer from urinary track infections and kidney ailments. The mobile women street vendors also face security issues.

Vendors are often regarded as public nuisance. They are accused of depriving pedestrians of their space, causing traffic jams and having links with anti-social activities. The municipal authorities and housing societies, aided by the media, have targeted vendors at frequent intervals. “The lack of recognition of the role of the street vendors culminates in a multitude of problems faced by them: obtaining licence, insecurity of earnings, insecurity of place of hawking, gratifying officers and musclemen, constant eviction threat, fines and harassment by traffic policemen.”

Wages

The average earnings of street vendors are low - ranging between 40 and 80 rupees per day. They work under gruelling conditions for long hours and are frequently harassed by the municipal authorities and the police. A large part of the vendors’ income goes in bribes and ‘protection money’. Sharit Bhowmik quotes the study on street vendors to estimate that the vendors pay between 10 to 20% of their earnings as rent.

For more information, see Background Note on Street Vendors.

Law and Policies

State legislations relating to street vendors are varied. Most municipalities provide licenses to street vendors. Imphal has the most progressive legislation for street vendors. The Manipur Town Planning and Country Planning Act, 1975 provides that in residential areas, there should be a provision for four to six shops and ten hawkers for every 1000 persons. The Bubaneshwar Development Authority has reserved three per cent of public space as commercial zone. Shops are allotted in this zone on draw of lots. Space is also reserved on the pavement for street vendors.

The Government of India adopted the National Policy on 20th January 2004 which reflects a landmark change in the perception of the street vendors – moving from ‘prohibition’ to regulation. The Introduction to the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2004 states: “Street vending as a profession has been in existence in India since time immemorial. However, their number has increased manifold in the recent years….The role played by the street vendors in the economy as also in the society needs to be given due credit but they are considered as unlawful entities and are subjected to continuous harassment by civic authorities."

See full text of Law and Policies and a summary of court decisions.

Organisation and Voice

Organizational strength and voice is not very strong amongst the street vendors but this is slowly changing. The National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) was established in September 1998 to bring together the street vendor organisations across India so as to take forward their collective struggle for policy and regulatory changes. NASVI is a coalition of membership-based organizations of street vendors, trade unions, and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) working for street vendors spread all over India. NASVI was registered in November 2003. 276 organizations representing 168,278 street vendors from twenty states of India have taken the formal membership contributing membership fee.

Platform of Demands

The policy is at the national level and implementation at the state level has been a challenge. Only three states until now have implemented this policy. Based on this policy, draft laws on the street vendors are currently under discussion. There has been significant progress in advocating for a national law on street vendors in the country. Some of the important demands of workers that have been highlighted by the organisations of street vendors are:

a) The impact that multinational retail chain and foreign direct investment (FDI) have on the traditional retail sector in India, including the street vendors.

b) Protection of their right to livelihood is perhaps one of the most important issue over which struggles are being waged.

c) In addition, the right to have a share of urban space and not to be viewed as a nuisance - rather a provider of urban services - is another issue with which the movement is grappling with.

d) Several draft legislations are currently focused on ensuring adequate livelihoods and protection for street vendors.