The hawker problem has been plaguing the major cities of India for decades. In Kolkata eviction of hawkers happened on a large scale with the ‘Operation Sunshine’ in the mid nineties. But it was much ado about nothing since the hawkers took no time to reclaim their positions on the footpaths. The entire hawker eviction process is a politically sensitive and a highly paradoxical situation. While once must address the concerns of street vendors, the daily harassment of pedestrians must not be thrown into the air.
Narayan Das, a handcrafts vendor at Gariahat, was elated on 7 Spetember, when he found out that a legislation to protect street vendors’ livelihoods was in the offing. With a radiant smile on his face, as the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill-2012 was passed by the Lok Sabha, he was treating his customers extra-specially on that day.
There were enough reasons for Narayan to celebrate. He expects the “daily routine” of harassment at the hands of municipal authorities and the police to decrease.
“Today history was made,” he says.
Highlights of the Bill
- The Bill aims to protect the livelihood rights of street vendors as well as regulate street vending through demarcation of vending zones, conditions for and restrictions on street vending.
- Any person intending to undertake street vending needs to register with the Town Vending Committee (TVC). He may then apply for a vending certificate that will be issued based on various criteria.
- The state government shall frame a scheme for street vendors. The local authority shall, in consultation with the planning authority, frame a street vending plan once every five years.
- The TVC comprises of the municipal commissioner, representatives of street vendors, local authority, planning authority, local police, resident welfare association and other traders associations.
- This Bill shall not apply to Railways land, premises and trains.
- Extending of total cooperation and protection to the hawkers vending in bus stands, taxi stands, metro stations, buses (both public and private) and trains because these vendors have been identified as providing ‘essential services’ in the said places.
- Running stalls or the vending of goods are to be done by the hawkers ‘personally’, they cannot lease, rent or sell the vending businesses under any circumstances.
- Any eviction or relocation notice should be accompanied by a 30 days period
- Confiscated goods will undergo a ‘panchnama’ and has to be released within a maximum period of 15 days
- In the case of the imposition of a penalty, the penalty value cannot exceed the total value of the confiscated goods, and the maximum upper limit of a penalty has been fixed at Rs 2,000.
Criticism of the Bill
Currently, street vending is regulated under municipal laws enacted by state legislatures. Parliament’s competence to legislate on this issue depends on whether the Bill is interpreted as substantively addressing rights and obligations of street vendors (Concurrent List) or relating to municipal zoning (State List).
The Bill does not specify principles to be followed by governments in issuing vending certificates, allocating vending zones and the number of vendors per zone. Absence of such norms could defeat the purpose of enacting a law to ensure uniformity in the legal framework.
The Bill does not require the stakeholders to be consulted in the formulation of the street vending plan. This could lead to a lack of safeguards in ensuring that plan is determined in a fair manner.
The central law will have overriding effect on state laws that are inconsistent with the Bill. Current state laws differ with the Bill in terms of powers of the TVC, and mechanism for dispute resolution.
The Standing Committee recommendation on the tenure of the TVC has not been included in the Bill. Members of the Town Vending Committee should have a fixed tenure, which will eventually put a check on nepotism or corruption.
The bill is silent on the time frame for the TVC to issue vending certificate. This is liable to create a lot of hassles for the hawkers, and will give rise to bribery and corruption.
Apart from providing legislative protection to street vendors, the bill also aims at streamlining the unorganised retail sector. According to the National Sample Survey for 2009-2010, India has roughly four crore street vendors, with a total daily turnover of around Rs 8,000 crore. This also constitutes the vast majority of India’s retail sector (96 per cent, according to a 2008 report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations). The bill hopes to consolidate this huge working mass through a couple of innovative measures.
Supreme Court on Hawker Policy
In a breather to urban street vendors and hawkers, the Supreme Court on 12 September 2013 restrained all states and Union Territories from taking any action against them and directed the governments to implement the 2009 national policy for their regulation.
“The goods and belongings of the street vendors/hawkers are thrown to the ground and destroyed at regular intervals if they are not able to meet the demands of the officials. Perhaps these minions in the administration have not understood meaning of the term dignity enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution,” the bench said.
“One reason which has contributed to this scenario is that unlike other sections of the urban population, they neither have the capacity and strength to demand that the government should create jobs for them nor do they engage in begging, stealing or extortion. They try to live with dignity and self-respect by doing the work as street vendors/hawkers,” it said.
Controversy over Bharat Nirman campaign
Even before the passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha, advertisements about its benefits have been published in several dailies and aired on television channels. The Trinamool Congress lambasted the UPA government for taking credit for a vendor-protection bill that is yet to be approved by the Rajya Sabha.
“The way the ads are being floated is absolutely unethical. The bill is half-way…. It is awaiting the consideration of the Rajya Sabha. The way they have advertised it, with minuscule disclaimers at the bottom, shows that they have taken Parliament for granted,” TMC spokesperson informed the media at a press conference.
“If they can advertise a bill before it has got the Rajya Sabha’s consent, they might as well do away with the upper House. They have insulted Parliament by advertising about the bill,” the party spokesperson added.
He added that while Trinamul was in no way opposed to the bill, the party was “vehemently opposed to the unethical way” in which the Centre was publicising it. He alleged that the UPA II government had done the same with the food security bill, too.
While the present bill represents progress, it remains to be seen how effective it will be in providing genuine security to hawkers. There is often a wide gulf between the letter of a law and enforcement of its spirit. It is for the administration to fulfill the rule of law, once the bill gets a go ahead in the Rajya Sabha.