Millennium Post

The rights of hawkers

The proposed bill to protect urban street vendors, who are a section of the urban poor, is a progressive piece of legislation. Such a legislation is necessay to ensure a legal framework to protect the livelihood of street vendors amidst rapid urban change and the onslaught of urban projects which pose a threat to their dignified survival. At present, there is no law in India to effectively safeguard the interests of street vendors, or to deal with them, though there are at least as many as 10 million of them in our country. Street vendors are often regarded as a perpetual public nuisence on pavements by the rich and it is sometimes aggressively argued that these be restored as public space when street vendors ‘encroach’ on them. It is suggested that their business on the roads becomes a source of traffic congestion and their informal setting and business refuse cause unsightly urban vista. But, as the Supreme Court has ruled in its enlightened judgement in the Sodhan Singh versus NDMC case in 1989, if properly regulated according to the exigency of the circumstances, the small traders on the side walks can considerably add to the comfort and convenience of the general public, by making available ordinary articles of everyday use for a comparatively lesser price. The Supreme Court has also laid down that 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.

In spite of this, in the absence of a law, street vendors have to suffer from all kinds of humiliations, especially at the hands of the authorities. It is not just that their goods are confiscated or that they may be evicted from chosen spots or assaulted but that they are also subject to criminal rackets, including extortion such as that benefits the local municipal authorities and the police, organised, at times by local mafias. There is thus a necessity to end the continuing harassment of street vendors and lack of security for carrying on their business, even while there may be a need to protect urban spaces from excessive encroachments. Thus, the conversion of the National Policy for Urban Street Vendors into a law will go a long way to protect the rights of this disempowered group.
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